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ANSYS BLOG

November 22, 2022

How to Engineer Mission Success 

The design engineers at an American aerospace giant were under pressure and in pursuit of a new way of developing products.

Despite a long string of successes using the traditional design-build-test-and-repeat process, it had to change. The company was undertaking an enterprise-wide transformation to become more agile and bring products to market faster. Combined with engineers’ own desires to convey ideas quickly and more clearly within and across teams — as well as to customers — there was little choice but to move to a leaner model-analyze-build methodology.

Getting there included adopting the digital mission engineering approach created by AGI, now Ansys Government Initiatives. Digital mission engineering is the use of digital modeling, simulation, and analysis to incorporate the operational environment and evaluate mission outcomes and effectiveness at every phase of the life cycle. By modeling the mission, digital mission engineering provides insights far beyond requirements validation, empowering teams to conceptualize, communicate, design, build, and sustain value-driven solutions. 

STK space systems

Mission (Digitally) Accomplished

When engineers used digital mission engineering to optimize an airborne communications gateway for a variety of warfighters, the approach helped them understand electromagnetic effects, better allocate the channels to be used, and ensure the right antenna placement and pattern.

The engineers improved the warfighters’ capabilities — and they did it all in about half the time it usually takes to go from concept to analysis. In short, digital mission engineering was a potent way to deliver a high stakes product while also providing the kind of empirical productivity and performance boosts the C-suite sought.

In this case, the gateway would have to act very much like a satellite, with multiple radios and antennas in various locations — some under the wings, others on top of the fuselage — as well as a number of technical links and voice systems.

Obviously, having so many emitters and antennas in a limited space creates an interference nightmare for engineers. There are millions of channel combinations to analyze and solve. Digital mission engineering enabled the team to model the gateway’s mission, understand electromagnetic effects, better allocate the channels to be used, and ensure the right antenna placement and pattern. Because engineers could make planning adjustments without reinventing the wheel for every change, digital mission engineering accelerated analysis turnaround.

The process began with engineers creating a digital concept of the mission they wanted to accomplish.

Next, they integrated Ansys HFSS and Ansys STK to determine a link budget, which measures the total transmitted power in a radio system, including all gains and losses. Finally, engineers used a matrix of simulation tools to evaluate and verify the mission. That included:

  • Importing computer-aided design (CAD) geometry files of the airplanes into HFSS to create nominal antenna designs, understand the installed electrical response at various locations, and pick the right spots and pattern for the antenna. 
  • Exporting the information from HFSS into Ansys Emit, which is used to predict interference in a complex system where multiple emitters operate simultaneously. The results indicated which channels or radios would have a destructive effect on critical avionics and other systems and services.
  • Mitigating co-site issues by filtering to tackle interference challenges and using frequency planning to reallocate the channels and antennas, then redoing the analysis in HFSS.
  • Importing the antenna response as installed and the selection of clean channels into STK. This enabled engineers to visualize the effects of all of the components in the design reference model while they simulated various airplane maneuvers and orbits. As a result, they understood how and where the warfighter could be operated safely under real-world conditions. 
  • Using simulation software to model new waveforms and help control the cabling loss budget. 
Automated space system arch design

As an example of digital mission engineering in aerospace, Ansys STK allows you to design the architecture, mission, and spacecraft, while defining requirements for payloads, communications, and ground infrastructure.


Stitching all the Strands Together

Anyone who has ever worked in product development has probably experienced this: Teams that are aligned toward the ultimate goal of product success aren’t necessarily in sync. If they’re using legacy design processes, it’s likely that one team will pass data from their simulation model to the next team, who will manually input the data into their own models, and so on down the line.

Not only is this telephone-game-like routine inefficient, but it also makes it nearly impossible for engineers to predict how their decisions will affect other systems, or even the product overall. Because the model is not being continuously updated by all stakeholders, some teams might be working with data that differs from that being used by other teams on the same project. Problems can travel through the development process without being noticed until the point of prototyping.

The purpose of the “digital thread” is to overcome this disconnect. By providing a process and data management framework to synchronize and share data, the digital thread links all teams to an authoritative source of truth. The digital thread ties simulation software upstream to requirements and downstream to digital twins, predictive missions, and maintenance.

Yet, even with all these advantages, the digital thread is still missing something: how a component, system, or product will perform in its dynamic operational environment. And that’s where digital mission engineering comes in.

Digital mission engineering centered

The Meaning of Mission

Digital mission engineering was first implemented in the aerospace industry and its use there continues to expand, including to deep space satellites. At the same time, Ansys and our customers are proving that the same workflows can be successfully applied to a diverse set of other systems, including automotive vehicles, maritime vessels, and smart cities.

However, defining the mission differs among industries and even within industries. Visit the headquarters of an aerospace contractor or automotive original equipment manufacturer and ask what “mission” means, and you’re likely to get a very different answer depending on who you talk to. 

Corporate execs will think of the company’s business mission, in other words, its purpose, priorities and drivers, maybe helping governments boost defense or helping consumers get from point A to point B in safety and comfort. But that’s not the mission we’re talking about.

Engineers may see the mission from the perspective of how the component or system they’re designing functions, and how that functionality equates to the mission. But this is also not the mission that we’re talking about.

The “mission” in digital mission engineering considers how product requirements will be met in the environment where the systems under design will operate.

Connect Systems and Missions

Let’s look at another example: A cell phone’s mission may be to maintain data rates, links, and voice communication anywhere within a crowded urban environment. The design must extend to being simulated with its mission to truly understand the proposed design’s ability to meet its intended requirements. That includes analyzing:

  • Dynamic environmental factors, such as natural radio frequency (RF) interference on complex communications networks.
  • Systems-of-systems interactions, such as taking a picture while streaming a video conference call while connected to a Bluetooth headset.
  • Objects in motion. Platforms as well as their environment are dynamic in nature and must be modeled to validate designs against their requirements. For example, a phone may rely on positioning information from the GPS satellite constellation so it is important to consider how buildings may impact visibility and signal strength as the device travels through the city.

That’s the essence of digital mission engineering. It means modeling systems and systems-of-systems in a realistic operational environment so you can evaluate how they will perform before you bend any metal on a prototype. In this way, critical engineering and planning decisions can be made early on, preventing errors from perpetuating and avoiding resource waste. 

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