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Original Title: A Finite Element Parametric Modeling Technique

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& Beihang University

Chinese Journal of Aeronautics

cja@buaa.edu.cn

www.sciencedirect.com

of aircraft wing structures

a,b,*

Tang Jiapeng , Xi Ping a, Zhang Baoyuan a, Hu Bifu a

a

School of Mechanical Engineering and Automation, Beihang University, Beijing 100191, China

b

School of Mechatronic Engineering, North University of China, Taiyuan 030051, China

Available online 31 July 2013

KEYWORDS Abstract A nite element parametric modeling method of aircraft wing structures is proposed in

Finite element model; this paper because of time-consuming characteristics of nite element analysis pre-processing. The

Geometric mesh model; main research is positioned during the preliminary design phase of aircraft structures. A knowledge-

Knowledge; driven system of fast nite element modeling is built. Based on this method, employing a template

Parametric modeling; parametric technique, knowledge including design methods, rules, and expert experience in the

Skeleton model; process of modeling is encapsulated and a nite element model is established automatically, which

Template; greatly improves the speed, accuracy, and standardization degree of modeling. Skeleton model,

Wing

geometric mesh model, and nite element model including nite element mesh and property data

are established on parametric description and automatic update. The outcomes of research show

that the method settles a series of problems of parameter association and model update in the pro-

cess of nite element modeling which establishes a key technical basis for nite element parametric

analysis and optimization design.

2013 Production and hosting by Elsevier Ltd. on behalf of CSAA & BUAA.

Open access under CC BY-NC-ND license.

1. Introduction and practical value that can improve product quality and

performance, reduce production costs, shorten design cycle,

Computer-aided engineering analysis based on the nite and so on.1

element (FE) method is recognized to be a very effective FE modeling is data pre-processing for FE analysis. The

numerical simulation and optimization technique in the eld calculation accuracy of the FE method depends on the degree

of aircraft design. It has important guiding signicance of approximation of physical characteristics of the model and

its real structure. Therefore, establishing a correct and reason-

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +86 10 82316747. able FE model is the most important issue to carry out FE

E-mail addresses: roshking@163.com (J. Tang), xipingi@buaa. analysis and optimization. However, there is an encountered

edu.cn (P. Xi), drunkenst@163.com (B. Zhang). problem that a signicant amount of time and workforce is

Peer review under responsibility of Editorial Committee of CJA. required for creation and modication of the FE model. In

addition, it is one of the major difculties in application of

the FE method. Therefore, high-quality and automated FE

modeling has been an important direction of research on

Production and hosting by Elsevier

aircraft structural FE technique.2

1000-9361 2013 Production and hosting by Elsevier Ltd. on behalf of CSAA & BUAA. Open access under CC BY-NC-ND license.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cja.2013.07.019

A nite element parametric modeling technique of aircraft wing structures 1203

variations.

Internal components of aircraft wing are not greatly differ-

ent in spite of numerous parts, such as wing and horizontal

tail. Some of them are composed by skins, spars, ribs, and

stringers, especially for a high aspect ratio wing used on no

matter an airliner or a UAV. Although structural dimension

and the number of components are usually different, they have

almost the same function, layout, and generation process of

components. Therefore, the components of aircraft wings have

a strong template feature.

Computer-aided techniques have been used extensively in

the process of aircraft design, but application modes of com-

puter-aided design and analysis software emphasize results

rather than process. Results are static, and the process of re-

sults of acquisition and change requires a large number of

manual operations, which leads to much workload in design,

modeling, analysis, and change, and largely affects efciency

of the structural design process. In fact, any process of design

Fig. 1 Process of nite element modeling of aircraft wing or analysis includes a number of rules and methods. Although

structure. the objects manipulated by software tools may be different,

these rules and methods are invariable. They can be general-

The current process of FE modeling of aircraft wing ized and encapsulated in a template. Design and analysis are

structures is shown in Fig. 1. Firstly, geometric model is gen- carried out through the template, which may achieve knowl-

erated by the CATIA system manually, and then imported in edge-driven modular design. The process is shown in Fig. 2.

PATRAN. Secondly, FE meshing and property loading are All templates in this paper are developed by using Micro-

usually completed via manual software operations. Therefore, soft Visual Basic and script language VBS. The script records

as most operations of FE modeling are interactive, design the procedure of geometric modeling and data processing. The

quality and results rely heavily on technical level and experi- operation can repeat automatically without manual interven-

ence of designers while lack effective means of digital design tion when the script replayed. A same type but completely dif-

knowledge and experience accumulated in the design process. ferent model can be generated if different parameters are given

In addition, because of the complexity of wing structure, the to the script. After determining design parameters and con-

interactive approach is difcult to meet the demand for rapid straint parameters, the script le of actual models is produced

modeling during design. Aircraft structure design is also an in the sample script le, and then a specic geometric model is

iterative process. A new round of adjustment of the structure driven to be generated by corresponding software. A template

layout and repeated meshing and nite element property load- can be abstracted as a function:

ing are needed in each iteration.

A method of nite element parametric modeling is pro- y fx 1

posed in this paper. The layout of wing structure, geometric where x is the input parameters including design parameters

mesh model, and FE model including nite element mesh and constraint parameters. Design parameters of the template

and property data are established on parametric description are used to change the characteristics of the model and con-

and automatic update. The generation processes of skeleton straint parameters are mainly applied to restrict and control

model, geometric mesh model, and FE model of wing structure relationships between various models. y is the output parame-

are achieved based on CAD parametric technology. The meth- ter, which is usually a geometric or an analytical model.

od settles a series of problems of geometric model description, There are not only rules, but also initial data, intermediate

parameter association, and model automatic update in the pro- data, as well as nal data within a template. Therefore, a tem-

cess of FE modeling which establishes a key technical basis for plate can also be considered as a way to describe design objects

parametric FE analysis and optimization. and design process. Compared with traditional methods of de-

Work in this paper is positioned in the preliminary design sign object descriptions of nal results, a template not only

phase of an aircraft structure. After rapid FE modeling contains nal results of design objects, but also includes the

completion, the denition of the aircraft structural preliminary process of design object generation. The greatest advantages

design is formed, and the nal FE analysis model and the of this approach are repeatability, traceability, and variability

optimized size parameters of the main components can be of a design object.

output.

edge reuse in view of case reasoning, which is based on thing

similarity and multiplexing principle of design methods.3 The

basic idea is that template extracted from a class of analogous

things and any similar things can be deemed as a template. The Fig. 2 Knowledge-driven modular design.

1204 J. Tang et al.

In the process of FE modeling, a variety of templates in de- 3.2. The process description of component creation

sign are associated with coupling organically caused by data

stream formed among templates. Thus, when the input param- The geometric characteristics of wing structure is determined

eters of upstream design change, all relevant aspects of down- by the region boundary denition and the internal layout char-

stream design automatically adjust to match this change. acteristics of the structure is usually determined by positions

and other parameters of the components such as spars, ribs,

3. Parametric layout of wing structure and stringers.7

The internal components and the layout manner of wing

Structural design of an aircraft wing requires a layout of spars, structure can be dened as the following forms:

ribs, and stringers based on the reference plane of the wing and

generation of a skeleton model of wing structure. Skeleton <structure layout>::=(<spar>, <rib>, [stringer],

model, the backbone of the model design, is an assembly de- {<station plane>, <axis>, [web surface]})

sign model with multi-rank abstract levels, signied with geo- <layout manner of spar>::=(<in proportion>)

metric elements of points, lines, surfaces, and all kinds of <layout manners of rib>::=(<parallel aircraft symmetry

benchmarks in CATIA. Skeleton model includes station axis>, <parallel a certain rib station plane>, <perpen-

planes, axes, web surfaces, and other structure layout informa- dicular to spar>)

tion of components. <layout manners of stringer>::=(<in proportion>,

<parallel spar station plane>, <parallel a certain stringer

3.1. Structural layout denition station plane>)

The simplest possible parametric coordinate system is used for The wing structure layout can be generated based on the

the purpose of specifying positions of wing structural compo- reference plane (z = 0). Structural parameters of the compo-

nents.4 This coordinate system is shown in Fig. 3. nents are dened and the process of the components creation

The parametric coordinates are as follows: c is the chord- is as follows8,9:

wise coordinate (0 at the leading edge (LE), 1 at the trailing

edge (TE)); s the spanwise coordinate (0 at the root, 1 at the (1) Spar is assumed to be continuous from the top airfoil

tip); z the thickness coordinate (+1 at the airfoil top surface, surface to the bottom airfoil surface.

1 at the airfoil bottom surface). (a) The start, section point, and end position of a spar

All position references for structural components must be are specied in terms of the parametric coordi-

linked to this parametric coordinate system or specied rela- nates P(c, s) and the connecting line of all points is

tively to other structural components.5,6 Thus, the positions the axis of the spar.

and orientations must be stated in one of the following (b) Determine station plane based on the axis and ref-

manners: erence plane.

(c) Station plane and the top or bottom airfoil surface

(1) Parametric coordinate positions P(c, s, z). intersect separately, and then the intersection area

(2) Positions relative to other structural elements (e.g., ribs is lled to generate a web surface of the spar.

parallel aircraft symmetry axis). (2) Rib is also assumed to be continuous from the top airfoil

(3) Orientations relative to durable parametric geometric surface to the bottom airfoil surface.

references (e.g., parallel or perpendicular to a specic (a) Position is often dened by a spar or a certain

% chord line). rib. The rib station plane is always parallel to

(4) Orientations relative to other structural elements the aircraft symmetric axis at the junction of the

(e.g., parallel or perpendicular to a specic component). fuselage and the rest are mostly perpendicular to

the front or rear spar axis, or selected parallel to

a certain rib station.

(b) Station plane and the top or bottom airfoil surface

intersect separately, and then the intersection area

is lled to generate a web surface of the rib.

(c) Determine the start and end positions of a web

surface of the rib.

(3) Stringer is virtually identical to a spar except for a ag

specifying whether the stringer is on the top or bottom

surface of the airfoil.

(a) The start and end positions of a stringer are spec-

ied in terms of the parametric coordinates P(c, s)

or the station plane of a certain spar. The con-

necting line of all points is the axis of a stringer.

(b) Determine station plane based on the axis and ref-

erence plane.

(c) Station plane and the top or bottom airfoil surface

intersect separately to generate top and bottom

Fig. 3 Parametric coordinate system. airfoil surface stringers.

A nite element parametric modeling technique of aircraft wing structures 1205

bottom airfoil surface stringers.

designers, but they will directly affect efciency and quality

of skeleton model creation. When all types of IDs increase with

the complexity of a model, unreasonable name rules may cause

confusion in the process of modeling. In skeleton model, com-

ponent information including axis, plane, and serial number of

segmented components must be identied. Name rules require

specication and certain regulation. Each individual compo-

nent corresponds to a name. Element name denition rules

are as follows:

Component ID + element type + serial number of

segmented component

Fig. 4 Template of skeleton model generation.

spar, 2#rib, or top airfoil surface stringer). Multiple ele-

ments share a component ID for segmented

components.

(2) When a variety of elements describe a component (one

section of a spar is described as axis, plane, and the coor-

dinate system), the identity must be distinguished by ele-

ment type. If a rear spar is divided into two sections, the

rst section of the axis is named rear axis 1 and the rst

section of the station plane is named rear station plane 1.

(3) When a component is divided into many sections, it

must distinguish the identity with the section serial num-

ber such as rear spar axis 1 and rear spar axis 2.

to ensure the formation of an associated model system. There-

fore, in the same CATPart le, geometric elements cannot have

the same name. If other models cite the elements of skeleton

model, model numbers and element names must be cited Fig. 5 Skeleton model of a wingbox.

simultaneously to ensure uniqueness.

3.4. Automated generation of skeleton model 4. Parametric design of geometric mesh model

The template parametric technique is used in the process of Geometric mesh model as a discrete form of skeleton model is

skeleton model generation. Knowledge including design meth- in an important status in FE modeling. A connection is estab-

ods, denition rules, and experiences used by designers in the lished between skeleton model and FE model.10 Based on geo-

process of modeling is encapsulated in a template. Program metric mesh model, properties of each element can be

drives CATIA to complete skeleton model generation auto- individually dened and viewed as optimization variables

matically. In the process of design, based on parameterization and check objects in the FE analysis and optimization.

of wing structure, the layout of new or similar parts can be car- Compatibility is required for FE mesh of an aircraft wing

ried out through data replacements and parameter modica- structure.11 If two components cross, on the line of the inter-

tions with the same template. Fig. 4 is the template of section, in order to ensure that the right combination of adja-

parametric modeling of skeleton model of horizontal wing cent curved surface patches mesh in combinatorial surfaces, it

structure. is necessary to guarantee the same discrete form on common

Before running the template, users need to pick up several boundary and FE mesh to be completely consistent. On the

upstream planes or surfaces of wing structure and input infor- line of the intersection, that is to say, nodes of the FE mesh

mation of the components in the template interface. Paramet- of two components must be coincident. Therefore, in order

ric modeling of spars, ribs, and stringers are rapidly completed to set up an FE model, starting from the untrimmed geometry,

in ve minutes for wingbox and less time for horizontal tail skeleton model produced by the structural design department

and other horizontal wing structures except for active wing needs mesh discretization.

parts. Skeleton model of a wingbox generated by the template The purpose of mesh discretization is to convert topological

as an example is shown in Fig. 5. The upper airfoil surface is relations to constraint relations of common edges and points

hidden for clearer demonstration. of the components in the skeleton model. A wing structure is

1206 J. Tang et al.

always a mesh element model constituted of components. ST = {S1,S2, . . .,Sm}. Combine SL and ST to form a set

There are various segmentation lines on skins and webs, such union SHL = {L1,L2,. . .,Lk+m}.

as spar or rib caps and stringers. These curves and boundary Step 3 Based on the intersection algorithm of curves, all

lines of surfaces divide the surfaces into small surfaces called the internal points of intersections are generated. Cut all

geometric mesh elements. All these small surfaces cannot be di- curves in SHL with these points and get a curve segments

vided. If two components cross and the line is l, the vertexes set SLG, which is the set of one-dimensional elements of

and edges of the geometric mesh elements of the two compo- wing structure.

nents overlap completely on the line. Step 4 SLG is able to encircle a closed loop and the ele-

Designers generally have to perform quite a lot of manual ments consisting of the closed loop are two-dimensional

work before a model geometry being ready for meshing. In mesh elements. Solve all of the corresponding mesh

particular, designers need to cut the surfaces of all model com- elements, completing the generation of two-dimensional

ponents along their intersections in order to produce sets of geometric mesh elements of aircraft wing structure.

surfaces that are suitable for meshing, such as surface segments

with no more than four edges and each edge matching with one

and only one edge of the adjacent surface segments.12 Fig. 6 4.2. Automatic generation of geometric mesh model

shows two examples of which one model has been properly

segmented and the other has problems. The process of skeleton model segmentation is well known to

be time expensive and often trivial. Besides, every time a

4.1. Geometric mesh model element generation process and change occurs in skeleton model topology, the segmentation

algorithm process has to be performed again. However, until the entire

model surfaces are properly segmented, the automatic meshing

Geometric mesh model of an aircraft wing structure includes functionalities provided by most of the FE preprocessors can-

two types of elements: one-dimensional and two-dimensional not be used. Nevertheless, the segmentation process features

elements.13 The generation process and algorithm of geometric some of favorable characteristics that make it a good candi-

mesh model elements are described as follows: date for KBE (knowledge-based engineering) applications:

lengthy, repetitive, and plenty of geometric manipulations

Step 1 Suppose M is a set of geometric surfaces of skele- based on logic mechanisms. In fact, designers apply a set of

ton model. Given a geometric curve surface F, according to mental rules and practices when manually performing the

the topological relationship of the components in skeleton segmentation process. Based on knowledge engineering in this

model, SL = {L1,L2,. . .,Lk}, the set of lines of intersections paper, rules and specialist experience are encapsulated in a

is obtained when M and F intersect. template. Geometric mesh model is generated which is driven

Step 2 Suppose a set of all top and bottom airfoil by program rapidly. The model produced by the template is

surface stringers on the geometric curve surface P is shown in Fig. 7.

Geometric mesh model is the premise and basis of FE

meshing. It has a great impact on the quality of the following

FE mesh.

cal properties and material properties.14 It contains all geomet-

ric and topological information of geometric mesh model.

Meshing is conducted in geometric mesh model elements to

ensure that the adjacent element mesh is consistent exactly

Connectivity on the common boundary. Properties of the components are

errors stored in geometric mesh model, and element properties in

(a) Faulty connectivity FE model inherit directly from geometric mesh model. Every

time that a reconstruction of FE model is needed, the mesh

Fig. 6 Geometric mesh model comparison. Fig. 7 Geometric mesh model of a wingbox.

A nite element parametric modeling technique of aircraft wing structures 1207

ties in FE model are always correct when the geometry

changes.

Methods of traditional analysis and optimization design are

based on FE model. Therefore, the descriptions of geometric

characteristics and physical properties of the structure are ap-

plied on FE model. This approach has obvious limitations dur-

ing applications because the physical description is based on

FE model, on which topological relations cannot be changed

in the calculation process. However, for the structural analysis

problem with a practical engineering background, most of the

physical properties of FE model are associated with the struc-

ture of a hierarchical topology of geometric elements directly

or indirectly.

The method of FE modeling in this paper is based on geo- Fig. 8 Finite element property denition.

metric model. In the process of modeling, the denition and

generation of FE model are established on geometric model.

The following three problems need to be solved:

nection relation of the components in geometric mesh model to

(1) FE property data denition. FE model, achieving automatic conversion from geometric

(2) Automatic FE meshes generation. mesh model to FE model.

(3) Automatic FE property loading. The theory of FE meshing has been very mature.1517 In

this paper, mesh seeds are arranged on the edge of two-dimen-

sional elements depending on the size of seed distance to con-

5.1. FE property denition trol the accuracy of a mesh, which can guarantee uniform

distribution and coordination of the mesh. Meshing module

The rules of aircraft wing structure property denition are controlled parameters of mesh size, and FE mesh elements

described as follows: are generated automatically by the meshing program based

on different aircraft wing structural characteristics as well as

<properties>::=(<structure types>, <element types>, the line and surface numbers. High-quality quadrilateral

<material properties>, <physical properties>. . .) elements are chosen in most of the regions and triangular ele-

<structure types>::=(<plate element>, <rod ele- ments are employed in the local transition zone, as illustrated

ment>, <beam element>, <shell element>. . .) in Figs. 8 and 9.

<element types>::=(<CROD>, <CQUAD4>, Due to the different layouts of wing structure components,

<CBAR>, <SHEAR>. . .) a triangular area always appears at the lap between rib and rib

<material properties>::=(<Aluminum alloy>, <Tita- as shown in Fig. 9. The triangle area on the skin is composed

nium alloy>, <Magnesium alloy>, <Alloy steel >, by trapezoidal and triangular discrete elements. When a trian-

<Composite materials>. . .) gular discrete element is smaller, it can be treated solely as an

<physical properties>::=(<thickness>, <sectional FE mesh element. If the triangular area is larger, separate

area>, <coordinate>. . .) divisions are usually needed.

Taking into account the complexity of FE meshing, meth-

Selection of elements is very important. Appropriate ele- ods and rules are summarized and encapsulated in a template

ment can reduce computational time and improve computa- during manually performing the mesh division. The template

tional efciency. A bad choice may affect the calculation of FE model generation is shown in Fig. 10. Pick up geometric

results, such as the different results obtained from the selection mesh model and input the mesh reference size in the interface,

of beam or rod elements. According to the different mechani- and then run the template. Program is implemented automat-

cal characteristics of wing components, FE model elements can ically and FE model is generated rapidly.

be selected by the following principles:

Spar cap, rib cap, and stringer which bear the axial force

caused by the wing bending moment should be simplied as

rod elements, namely one-dimensional elements. Spar web,

rib web, and skin which bear shear loads and bending loads

should be simplied as shell elements, namely two-dimensional

elements. The types of elements used for each component are

shown in Fig. 8.

ing to ensure that meshes of adjacent elements are consistent

exactly on the common boundary, which can transfer the con- Fig. 9 Finite element model of a wingbox.

1208 J. Tang et al.

tural design. CATIA is the most important tool for structural

engineers and it is the most familiar environment for them.

Therefore, the template is developed and encapsulated by

Visual Basic language based on the CATIA environment,

while the process of meshing is performed by PATRAN Fig. 11 Process of aircraft wing structural design.

through secondary development language PCL.

the geometric mesh model shown in Fig. 7 and dened by cer-

5.3. Automatic FE property loading tain rules. The form is letters added with digits that PATRAN

can distinguish. These data can be dened by an object-ori-

ented way and managed by a linked list.

The substance of FE property loading is to integrate the com-

Fig. 12 gives the information management of FE model of

ponents of geometric mesh model and the properties of a

wing structure and the logical relationship between relevant

cross-section which has been created. Geometric mesh model

information through a linked list.

is a geometric object surrounded by spars, ribs, and stringers,

Each geometric mesh element or nite element, in the light

only with geometric information. It becomes a structural ele-

of MSC.Nastran format requirement, has a property card,

ment with specic mechanical properties after integrating com-

through which the property of the element is specied. Differ-

ponents and particular cross-sections. It possesses materials,

ent elements correspond with different generation logics:

cross-sectional types, sizes, and other information in addition

to geometric information.

(1) For shell elements, the properties of thickness and mate-

The process of FE modeling, analysis, and optimization of

rial can be dened directly in the program.

an aircraft wing structure is iterative18, as shown in Fig. 11.

(2) For rod elements, material property can be obtained

According to different needs of updating geometric model

from the interface as shown in Fig. 13. Only aluminum

and FE model in the process of optimization iterations, size

optimization and shape optimization are very different. Size

optimization is conducted on the initial FE model of the struc-

ture. In the process of optimization iterations, the modication

of design variables will not inuence the model and only need

to update physical properties of the structure without adjust-

ing station parameters, as shown in Fig. 11. Shape optimiza-

tion, however, is entirely different. The optimization problem

is built on geometric model of the structure. Geometric model

and FE model update at the same time in the process of

optimization iterations, causing a new round of meshing and

repeated property loading.

The common feature of size optimization and shape optimi-

zation is that FE properties need to be updated after optimiza-

tion. Property loading always wastes time and energy, and thus

automatic loading becomes an important way in FE modeling.

FE model consists of a number of rod and shell elements,

while each element also includes element number, node, and

other information. The nodes and elements are output from Fig. 12 FE information of wing structure.

A nite element parametric modeling technique of aircraft wing structures 1209

6. Conclusions

wing structures is proposed in this paper. It settles many

problems of interactive operations and improves the speed of

modeling. A knowledge-based template parametric technique

is studied, achieving accumulation and reuse of knowledge in

design. Because a template encapsulates engineers experience,

designers, even beginners, only need to input parameters in the

interface. A complex modeling process can be executed

automatically by the program, which reduces the difculty of

design and ensures the quality of design at the same time.

The contributions of the methods and the template technique

of this paper are concluded as follows:

plate encapsulated methods and rules in design improves

the speed of modeling. Design parameters can also be

changed according to optimization results in the tem-

plate interface to achieve fast modications of the

model.

(2) Considering operation characteristics in the process of

geometric mesh segmentation, template is employed.

Fig. 13 Property acquisition of rod elements. The components are divided automatically and geomet-

ric mesh model is generated rapidly.

(3) Automatic meshing of aircraft wing structure is accom-

plished based on CATIA, without any operations in

alloy, titanium alloy, and a certain composite material PATRAN, reducing the task difculty of structural

are provided to be chosen. Physical property mainly engineers.

refers to area property which could be obtained by the (4) FE properties are loaded on the components of wing

technology of UDF. The process of area acquisition of structure automatically. The problem of numerous

rod elements can be described as follows: manual interactive operations is solved efciently in

(a) Build a sketch of wing components section and the process of FE pre-processing.

conduct constraints on the parameters of distance

and angle. Publish relevant parameters of the sec-

tional sketch to generate UDFs of the components. Acknowledgement

(b) Create a UDF library of different geometric cross-

sectional shapes of the components. This work was supported by the National Natural Science

(c) Instantiate UDFs of the components. Sectional Foundation (No. 51075021).

types of all components are set previously in the

program and sectional parameters are identical to

the size values in UDFs. If modication is needed, References

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