Engineering in the digital age

Thermwood Large Scale Additive Manufacturing laboratory, at Purdue’s Composites Manufacturing and Simulation Center (CMSC), produced the Las Vegas Raiders’ Al Davis Memorial Torch — the world’s tallest 3D-printed structure.

The practice of engineering is undergoing a rapid revolution through the replacement of report-based practices with the data immediacy of the digital enterprise. The digital systems model and the digital twin provide a framework to integrate decision making into a shared process to accelerate product development and ensure decision traceability over a product’s life.

Physical identical twins are fairly rare — averaging around 3 or 4 births per 1,000 — but that rate skyrockets in the digital realm, where digital twins are becoming the norm. These computational models mirror a product, system or process to help engineers better understand and optimize the model’s real-world counterpart.

Boeing defines the digital systems model as a calibrated surrogate of a product, at the level of fidelity currently available, intended to be the enduring, authoritative source of truth for data-driven decisions. Further, the digital twin is a virtual representation of the properties and behaviors of a specific instance of a physical system or process. This enables prediction of performance and maintains synchronization with the system or process over its operational life.

Purdue’s Composites Manufacturing and Simulation Center (CMSC), in collaboration with Boeing, applied the principles of the digital systems model to develop a workflow for the thermoforming of high-performance thermoplastic polymer composites for aircraft structural parts. Composite materials — combinations of materials with different properties that, when conjoined, provide enhanced suitability for specific jobs — play a major role in the production of aircraft and other products, due to their advanced strength and weight-reduction properties.

Digital twin display at CMSC

The digital systems model was developed within the Dassault Systèmes 3DEXPERIENCE collaborative product development platform, using its broad functionality while integrating software tools not currently available on the platform, such as ANIFORM. This add-on software is an isothermal, sheet-forming simulation developed by the ThermoPlastic Composites Research Center (TPRC) of the Netherlands — a consortium of industrial and academic members — and sponsored by Boeing. It is viewed as the premier software tool of its type.

The digital twin is a bridge between the physical and digital worlds. In the composites manufacturing process, a digital twin can provide the material microstructure and physical state of the composite after manufacture. The engineering properties of the composite are thereby determined, and the product performance can be predicted, using a concept called “manufacturing informed performance.” For thermoplastic hybrid forming, the first benefit of the digital twin is the prediction of the manufactured geometry for fit and function. The more important benefit is the ability to consider both manufacturing and performance simultaneously.

We are nurturing a growing relationship between Dassault Systèmes, Boeing and Purdue in the development of model-based systems engineering and the 3DEXPERIENCE platform to transform the way engineering is practiced at Boeing, and around the world. The power of the computer software to connect all stakeholders in design, manufacturing, and product lifetime support will accelerate product innovation and reduce time to market.

Founded in 2015, CMSC has served as the Design Modeling and Simulation Technology Area of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI), one of the national manufacturing institutes sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. Since its inception, CMSC has received more than $52 million in support from four primary sponsors: the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, and industry.

CMSC celebrated several major accomplishments in 2021. It was designated as the 3DEXPERIENCE EDU Center of Excellence of Dassault Systèmes. We established the Thermwood Large Scale Additive Manufacturing laboratory, which produced the Al Davis Memorial Torch in Allegiant Stadium for the Las Vegas Raiders — the world’s tallest 3D-printed structure, at more than nine stories tall. We also created the Composites Additive Manufacturing Industrial Consortium, providing the engineering community with simulations of composites additive manufacturing to guide printing and predict performance of these large, complex structures.

The digital twin concept and fourth industrial revolution will require that all nodes of the supply chain in a manufactured product adopt a model-based systems engineering approach. Many aerospace product and process suppliers do not yet have this competency. For the model-based systems approach to succeed, each supplier must have the human talent, software platform, and products and processes in digital form. This is an enormous transformation in the engineering of large-scale, complex products, and can only be achieved by addressing and meeting these challenges.

Purdue’s CMSC is at the center of this work in providing advanced digital engineering technology in developing and training human talent, both in the University and at supply chain sites. CMSC can be the vehicle to connect the supply chain to the digital twin technology needed to succeed in the fourth industrial revolution.

R. Byron Pipes, PhD

John L. Bray Distinguished Professor of Engineering, Schools of Materials Engineering, Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Chemical Engineering

Executive Director, Composites Manufacturing Simulation Center (CMSC)

Executive Director, Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI)

College of Engineering

Purdue University



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Purdue College of Engineering

Purdue College of Engineering

Purdue Engineering is ranked top 10 nationwide by USNWR.