CATIA V5 helps Airbus super-jumbo take flight

Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology

ISSN: 0002-2667

Article publication date: 1 June 2004




(2004), "CATIA V5 helps Airbus super-jumbo take flight", Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology, Vol. 76 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

CATIA V5 helps Airbus super-jumbo take flight

CATIA V5 helps Airbus super-jumbo take flight

Keywords: Aircraft, Components, Software

At 23 m-33 m long and up to 2.5 m wide, the top wing skins on the Airbus A380 “super-jumbo” due to make its maiden flight in 2005 will be the largest components ever produced by the creep-forming process. The first set of wings was recently completed at the company's site at Broughton, North Wales, UK.

The tooling to produce these components was designed by South Yorkshire engineering consultancy Bennett Associates using one of the first releases of CATIA version 5 developed by Dassault Systemes. While Airbus itself had standardised on CATIA version 4, Bennetts opted for version 5 because of its greater flexibility when handling large quantities of data and its ability to run customised programmes.

The eight forming tools designed by Bennetts – one for each skin panel – involve eight heavy-duty steel bases onto which some 280 ribs are mounted, which produce the finished shape required. This concept allowed a large proportion of each tool to be manufactured while the final wing designs were being completed and will also allow any future changes in design and materials to be accommodated relatively quickly and economically. Each item is about 40 m long and weighs 50 tonnes.

The wing data supplied by Airbus from which Bennetts had to design the tooling involved some 500,000 reference points for each surface shape, one cloud defining the global surface and a second the edges. In order to enable the CATIA software to handle this quantity of data, Bennetts used the product's Application Programming Interface facility to run customised programmes developed in-house to convert the data into workable files.

Visual Basic software was used to read all the points, sort them and do some smoothing and interpolation, and a second analysis output file was then produced to compare the created surface with the original data. Having checked that the profile and the surface were consistent, the surface was trimmed back to its finished shape, using the outline point cloud provided again by Airbus.

Using CATIA in this way, Bennetts were able to generate wing profiles and tool designs very quickly. Once final designs were complete, comprising file sizes of some 2.5 Gb in memory, the programme was used to output manufacturing information to the laser profiler producing the ribs – around 280 for each tool and each one unique – that would determine the finished wing skin shape.

Eight weeks after the final designs had been received from Airbus, tooling was in place at Broughton: ready for production testing to start.

Details available from: M G Bennett and Associates Ltd. Tel: +44 (0) 1709 373782; Fax: +44 (0) 1709 363730.

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