Improving efficiency, lowering emissions, and decreasing fuel consumption are global trends that are currently transforming the transportation industry. Lightweighting by replacing metal components with lighter composite materials is one approach to achieving these goals. However, as structural designs have become more complex and demanding, new composite material development has struggled to keep up, thus slowing the adoption of lightweighting.
The time and cost to a material supplier to develop a new structural aerospace material can take five years and up to $50M, while the cost to the OEM to certify the material can be even higher. These time and cost restraints, which can be attributed to the material testing process, have resulted in stagnation in new material development to the entire industry. Supplementing this testing with computational analysis is a goal for many, but it is complicated by the unique behavior and challenges presented by composites.
Scientists at Solvay knew that simulation would be a critical tool to get new materials developed faster and at a lower cost. They needed a platform that could process inputs such as fiber volume fraction, fiber orientation, interface effects, resin ductility, and material variability. No existing commercial simulation tools were capable of handling the amount of explicit inputs the team required in order to properly define and test their new materials.
Additionally, Solvay scientists needed a tool that could quickly provide insight into how changes at the constituent material level affect the overall mechanical performance at the composite level. Physical testing of new composite materials is often cumbersome, and most material designs do not behave as expected during physical testing due to competing mechanisms and complex failure modes. Solvay was looking for a solution to shorten the feedback loop from new constituent synthesis to composite property determination and did not want to waste time and resources on developing new composites that would ultimately fail the difficult and cumbersome certification process.
Matthew Jackson, Senior Research Scientist and Solvay, and his team spent years looking for a simulation tool that would meet their requirements. MultiMech was the one tool that would give the team a deeper understanding of their materials and the ability to go from constituent material properties to predicting part-scale composite properties. The software enabled the team to test the effect of inputs that they changed during the material development process. It accurately predicted composite failure by accounting for multiple competing damage mechanisms, including fiber rupture, resin cracking, and fiber-resin debonding.
In addition to damage mechanisms, MultiMech also captured rate dependency of materials, so the team could fine-tune a given material to perform as expected under very different loading scenarios.
Most importantly, MultiMech gave the Solvay team insight not only into when the material would fail, but also why. While most tools simply approximated the results, MultiMech gave unique, accurate insight into exactly why damage would occur. This gave engineers the ability to not only successfully create new materials, but also to improve them over time.
"When it comes to multiscale analysis and bottom-up prediction of complex materials, MultiMechanics has no peers," said Jackson.
By implementing MultiMech, Solvay estimates that the time and cost of developing and certifying new materials could be reduced by 40%. The team can now send new material ideas to be physically tested with greater confidence that their new design will pass testing. They also have insight into exactly how, when, and where damage will occur, and what they can do to mitigate it.
"Our Composite Materials Global Business Unit carefully reviewed all modeling solutions and, by far, MultiMechanics provided the best results," said Nicolas Cudre-Mauroux, Chief Technology Officer at Solvay. "The accuracy and speed afforded by MultiMechanics, and its efficient integration with commonly used commercial finite element software packages, is changing the way we develop new materials and interact with our customers."