Niall McMahon

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A Flagship for Simulation

2006-05-11

Niall McMahon

BOEING'S 787 DREAMLINER is a flagship for our infant simulation age. During the research and design of the older 767, launched in the late 1970s, Boeing conducted costly wind-tunnel tests on more than 50 possible wing designs. The Dreamliner, designed and flown in silico, needed only a dozen. Simulation has dramatically reduced the need for wind tunnel and full flight testing and enabled engineers to explore the most complex flows.

Like Sandia, economic considerations and physical insight have motivated Boeing's swift development of its simulation capability over the past 30 years. With simulation, new aircraft are designed and tested at rates impossible using only physical experiments.

Fletcher lists 5 main advantages of computational over experimental fluid dynamics: (1) lead time in design and development is significantly reduced; (2) simulation can simulate flow conditions not reproducible in experimental model tests; (3) simulation provides more detailed and comprehensive information; (4) simulation is increasingly more cost effective than wind-tunnel testing; (5) simulation produces a lower energy consumption. Adapting these to pharmaceutics: (1) computer simulation reduces research and development lead-times; (2) simulation can investigate mechanisms not easily reproducible in experimental models; (3) simulation provides more detailed and comprehensive information; (4) simulation reduces all experimental costs.

In 1975, Chapman, Mark and Pirtle laid down three practical aspirations for simulation in aerospace, namely to provide flow simulations that are impossible to produce using wind tunnel tests or other experiments, to cut the time and cost of building flow simulations and to provide more accurate flight simulations than wind tunnels can. We're not quite there yet, but the Dreamliner is evidence that these aspirations are becoming reality. In 2006 we can look forward, without romance, to a time when in silico simulations of biological processes will supersede in vivo experiments.

As usual, the future is arriving with quiet revolutions. And quickly. About which more next time.

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