With the help of Europe’s most powerful computer, DTU – Technical University of Denmark, researchers developed the optimum structure for an aircraft wing in under five days.
Four DTU researchers have calculated how to achieve the best and most resistant aircraft wing structure using the least amount of material. In essence, the method known as topology optimization identifies the strongest structures in relation to a specific load while employing as little material as possible. The researchers’ findings are described in an article in the renowned scientific journal—Nature.
Associate professor Niels Aage from DTU Mechanical Engineering compares the inner support structures in the aircraft wing model with structures found in nature—e.g. bones or the interior of a bird’s beak. These structures developed with the same aim—namely to reduce weight while providing adequate resistance to the stresses to which they are subjected. In this way, their shape and function are similar to the designed aircraft wing. “A bird’s beak has evolved over a very long time,” says Niels Aage.
“Evolution isn’t necessarily smart—or rather—nature can accommodate flawed mutations and thus move in multiple directions at a time. However, every time we take a step forward in the development of our design, we move in the right direction—so you might say it’s a clever form of design evolution.”
In the same way as a bird requires fewer resources and less energy with a light and strong beak, the research group ended up with a lighter and stronger design capable of reducing the aircraft wing’s weight by 2-5 per cent—or 200-500 kg per wing. This translates into a fuel savings of 40 to 200 tonnes annually.
Large and small LEGO bricks
Niels Aage has long worked on developing models that calculate optimal solutions for very large structures—a task which the research team shared and which led to the development of a code that proved capable of solving problems associated with very large structures. With access to a supercomputer via the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE), the researchers were able to apply their code in practice, as the supercomputer can handle large models in extremely high resolution.