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Will Electrification Disrupt Aerospace Companies?

Electrification can change the aerospace industry.

The aerospace industry has two current electrification initiatives that could disrupt major players.

The first electrification initiative is centered on more electric aircraft (MEA). This MEA philosophy lightens the load of aircraft by tossing heavy mechanical and hydraulic systems out the hatch in favor of electrical components.

The second aerospace initiative replaces traditional propulsion systems with electric or hybrid options. After all, electrical propulsion makes aircraft more efficient, quiet, environmentally friendly and compliant with new regulations.

This trend is not mainstream yet — so don’t expect to see major airlines advertise electrically powered flights any time soon. However, drones, high-altitude platform stations (HAPS), urban air mobility (UAM) and sub-regional commercial air transportation are already based on the electrification of aircraft propulsion.

Electrification Could Disrupt the Aerospace Industry

Image of an airplane highlighting areas that could see electrification.

The electrification of transportation industries is not shocking news. Automotive engineers have amped up development of electric powertrains for over a decade.

However, aerospace is late to get on board with this trend. This is because much of the electric technology has yet to handle the power densities and voltages needed to meet the safety standards required for certification.

This creates an opportunity for new and rising players to disrupt the industry. Not convinced?

Check out Flightpath 2050. It outlines Europe’s vision for the aerospace industry. It states that future industry leaders will be the ones that develop breakthrough technology with respect to energy, environmental performance and the management of complexity.

In other words, expect to see a few startups coming from nowhere. They will emerge from stealth mode just like so many others did in the space sector. These new players could be acquired, but some could become industry leaders.

In this fast-paced scenario, simulation is the most economical way to build the knowledge to understand electrification of the aerospace industry.

How Simulation Speeds Up the Electrification of Products

Startups are pushing the electrification of airplanes. (Image courtesy of statista).

Aerospace companies are struggling to envision how they will electrify such complex systems.

Typically, these companies build copper birds which are huge test rigs used to prototype hardware that is plugged into it. This approach is very safe and well understood.

But market demands are changing too quickly to make physical prototyping viable.

The industry needs to speed up innovation by managing risks faster and economically. This is where simulation really helps. It empowers design teams to explore hypotheses and scenarios that cannot be easily reproduced in a physical test.

This fail-sooner-and-cheaper mentality helps engineers learn about phenomena and optimize their designs accordingly.

Can we replace all physical testing with simulation?

No, regulations still require physical tests and these tests are a great way to ensure that the final designs work. However, engineers can do much more development within a virtual environment.

Simulating Aerospace Electrification Will Put You Ahead of the Curve

Simulation can drive your virtual system prototypes.

Aerospace companies understand the importance of using simulation to model fluid dynamics and structural mechanics.

However, this space still has an electrical simulation adoption gap.

Perhaps this is because high-fidelity electrical and electromagnetic simulation is much younger than computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and finite element methods (FEM).

However, aerospace engineers can get ahead of the curve with engineering simulation from ANSYS.

Using multiphysics simulations, engineering teams can simulate electromagnetic performance across components, circuits and systems. This allows them to better evaluate thermal, vibration and other critical mechanical effects in a wide range of applications such as:

  • Batteries and fuel cells.
    • Improve thermal efficiency and safety.
    • Identify performance-critical parameters.
    • Ensure operational reliability from cell- to system-level.
  • Electric machines.
    • Optimize performance and efficiency.
    • Customize and automate design workflows.
    • Identify noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) issues in the design cycle.
  • Power electronics.
    • Ensure short-circuit protection.
    • Validate virtual electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) / power quality.
    • Assess mechanical reliability
    • Optimize thermal management.
  • Full system simulation.
    • Simulate the interaction among structural mechanics, heat transfer, fluid flow, electromagnetics and embedded software.
    • Ensure that individual components interact as planned with virtual system integration.

To learn about some of these simulations, you can check out these white papers on battery thermal management and electric power train design.

Engineers are also able to add hardware and software into the development loop. This means that the engineer can test physical hardware and its control software within a simulation. This can be done using the ANSYS SCADE suite. The tool can even generate certified hardware control code. Engineers can then use this control code, physical hardware and simulations to verify the full behavior of their system.

To learn more, watch this presentation from the More Electric Aircraft Conference from Seattle. You will discover lessons from the automotive industry that can be used to better simulate electric aircraft.