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Lightness in the air

The wing structure of the Embraer aircraft was developed with the support of a small company

The delivery the first wing of the Embraer jet 190 by the Brazilian subsidiary of Kawasaki, one of the main aeronautical industry companies in Japan, was celebrated with a special ceremony at the end of last year. After all, there are great expectations that the airplane, of capacity for up to one hundred passengers and officially demonstrated in February of this year, will grab an expressive share of the world market for commercial jets. Among the partners who have been working on the development and in the construction of the plane is Fibraforte, a small company located in the town of São José dos Campos, in the state of São Paulo. The company was responsible for the application of computing tools in the development of the wing structure with the objective of making it lighter, an essential requirement in the aeronautical industry. This is a methodology of wide application that could be also used in projects of satellite structural design with the possibility of reducing weight and diminishing production costs.

Before gaining the confidence of the company, Fibraforte initially worked for Embraer on a program aimed at the automation of the processes of product development. Jadir Nogueira Gonçalves, the company’s president, explains that the project covers the initial concept, goes through the stage of structural analysis, complying with manufacturing regulations, and reaches the construction of a model, which is the mathematical translation of the appliance into a virtual tool, later transferred into manufacturing equipment.

This methodology, called Knowledge Based Engineering, has as its philosophy the elimination of repetitive tasks carried out by engineers. This is translated by the mounting of a database, the creation of software and by the integration of tools from other existing projects. “The result is a training base that creates and establishes the rules for the projects adopted by the company”, Gonçalves underlines.

Simplified routines
The invitation to provide a service for Embraer was given at the end of 1999, when the company was kicking off the project for the family of jets 170/190 and in which Fibraforte was beginning to develop a project in the area of optimizing of structures, funded by FAPESP and coordinated by the civil engineer Susana Angélica Falco Meira, who is currently working as a naval consultant in Rio de Janeiro.

For the small company run by two aeronautical engineers, this involvement evolved into a promising commercial relationship with foreign companies, partners in the manufacturing of the planes. Before this, the company had as its focus the provision of engineering and manufacturing services to the aerospace industry, among which was the supply of components for the China Brazil Earth Resources Satellite (CBERS), ordered by the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe).

“In the beginning, the business conquered in the aeronautical industry was in the area of structural calculations and product project, and, as time went by, we also began to apply our knowledge in the area of optimizing of structures”, Gonçalves tells. This knowledge were  acquired from a proposal that had as its initial objective the development of software for the optimizing of structures with simple work routines and that would be easy to be understood and executed by project engineers. The system should be used in conjunction with others already in existence such as MSCNastran, commercialized by the American company MSC Software. In the opinion of Gonçalves, the definition of a problem of structural optimization by MSCNastran is a complex task that demands a considerable amount of theoretical knowledge on the question, which consequently limits its use. Normally the calculations are still done manually because even the MSC program demands a series of interventions by the user.

The observation that this repetitive task took great amounts of time for projects that have tight deadlines, inspired the engineers at Fibraforte to work on a tool that would automatically give the required response and it would be enough for the user to follow the proposed steps. To this end, one of the programs chosen to be inserted into MSCNastran was Faipa, an algorithm (methodology to resolve a problem in a finite number of steps) for optimization created by Professor José Herskovits, from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. The union of the two tools proved to be really more efficient in the resolution of some structural problems, but the time spent and the manner of resolution were not exactly what the researchers had hoped for.

However, it was this process that showed the existence of a promising market for the development of automation tools for the optimization of structures having commercial programs as their base. “During the process of contacts with MSC we discovered that the software MSCAcumen, used to create a made to order structure model for analysis, had an interface with other company products such as Nastran, and thus made it possible to automate the routines within an engineering environment.”, Gonçalves says. This discovery led to the development of a basic program, which systematized the sequence of functions executed right from the conception until the generation of the project’s report, demonstrating that it could comply with all of the requirements of performance and safety. Adapted to the needs of the client, it saved the users’ time, as they just have to follow the indicated steps in order to find the best structure for the project.

The Project
Development of a Tool for Optimizing Structures (nº 99/06295-3); Modality Small Company Technological Innovation Programme (PIPE); Coordinator Suzana Angélica Falco Meira –  Fibraforte; Investment R$ 227,593.00 and US$ 26,000.00