Lightweight Innovations For Tomorrow (LIFT) recently announced an exciting new aerospace project that will feature a three-way partnership between itself, The Ohio State University, and GE Aviation. Lawrence E. Brown, executive director of LIFT, sits down to talk about the details of the project, and expands upon the importance of public-private collaboration in today’s manufacturing world. Steve Engelhardt reports
As the need for new technologies continue to persist across manufacturing, the relationship between the sources of this innovation and the end users of such has increasingly grown intimate. So when LIFT announced in early 2016 an ongoing aerospace project that would respectively involve a leading research institute and renowned global industrialist in The Ohio State University and GE Aviation as its prime partners, it sent yet another message that only through collaboration between public and private entities can the U.S. manufacturing sector achieve the rapid progress it needs.
Specifically, the new project will focus on utilizing computer analytics in the development of titanium and its integral role in the aerospace world. “Titanium is a lightweight metal that really has the potential for more uses in aircraft engines and other aerospace design if new technologies can reduce the cost of designing and testing new parts,” says Brown, adding that the “lead partners on the project, GE Aviation and The Ohio State University, will focus first on advancing computer analytics to better understand and predict the performance of titanium alloys.”
In aerospace, engineers often have to ‘make and break’ a lot of test parts before they can be sure the design is specifically right for a critical component of an aircraft engine. This becomes a bit problematic when you consider titanium, a generally expensive alloy due to its high strength to weight ratio.
“The cost of titanium itself and the time it takes to design and test new components are significant barriers to progress,” Brown says, continuing, “But if we can advance the abilities of our computer models to better predict how a particular design will perform, we can test less and thus drive materials costs down, which leads to overall shorter lead times in the development of new designs.”
Brown says that the use of computer analytics in manufacturing could serve as a huge step forward for all kinds manufacturers in this country, not just aerospace, and said such technology has only recently become available as computers have finally reached processing speeds fast enough to handle the engineering needs of modern manufacturing. “In the earlier days, computing took way too long to get a single result,” he says, adding, “However, today, they have advanced to the point where their use can lead to results in a few hours, whereas it would have otherwise taken up to a few days.”
To put it into scope, let’s look at turbine fans for example, which are located inside an aircraft engine. Responsible for extracting energy from the high temperature, high pressure gas produced by the combustor, these components obviously operate in demanding conditions when in use. Thus, the engineering and testing of new titanium technologies with regards to such can be extremely costly when considering the traditional ‘make, break, and bust’ system of research and development. With computer analytics, engineers are perform some of the modeling and simulations of the thermal mechanical processing that the titanium alloys would undergo in the real world, all the while saving time, money, and material resources.
One of the approaches currently being utilized within the project to achieve such is what’s known as integrated computational materials engineering (ICME). ICME is an approach to design products, the materials that comprise them, and their associated materials processing methods by linking material models at multiple length scales. “The focus of this approach is on the materials, and by that I mean understanding how processes produce material structures, how these structures give rise to material properties, and how to select materials for a given application,” Brown says, adding, “With regards to titanium, we have found this analytical tool to be a critical technology in helping us achieve our overall goal.”
And yet, Brown stresses that none of this would be possible without GE Aviation and The Ohio State University being proactive and coming together to combine their resources and achieve something great. “It’s an all hands on deck kind of deal, where you have these two entities who, rather than sticking to their own sandboxes, have come together to take late stage developments and apply them directly into a manufacturing environment where they can have an impact today.”
The dance between the public and private sectors in manufacturing has long been a hesitant one, but as we are starting to see, when the two come together, the outcome is one that greatly exceeds what either could have achieved on their own. And as manufacturing in this country stares down a number of issues in the coming years including workforce development and an emerging level of foreign competition, these type of partnerships could ultimately be the determining factor in whether the U.S. is able to sustain and grow one of its most critical economical sectors, or falter.
LIFT, operated by the American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute (ALMMII), is a public-private partnership to develop and deploy advanced lightweight materials manufacturing technologies, and implement education and training programs to prepare the workforce. ALMMII was selected through a competitive process led by the U.S. Department of Defense under the Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing Innovation (LM3I) solicitation issued by the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research. ALMMII is one of the founding institutes in the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, a federal initiative to create regional hubs to accelerate the development and adoption of cutting-edge manufacturing technologies.