The Virtual Avatar of Irkut’s MC-21 Airliner
The MC-21 Airliner, manufactured by Irkut Corporation as Russia’s answer to Airbus and Boeing, has been keeping a digital description or virtual avatar of the product, which helps to manage the electronic layout and configuration of the airliner. The comprehensive level of introduction of information technologies allows Irkut to solve complex problems of system engineering, strength, technology and support of airline operators. The introduction of digital technologies has also helped in getting positive results like the fast development of production, the precise docking of the airframe assemblies, the rapid introduction of changes in the design of the aircraft based on the results of the first test flights. Irkut once again displays its mastery of the digital aspects of Industry 4.0 through the virtual avatar of MC-21 Airliner.
A major specialty of Industry 4.0. concept is that each product has its corresponding digital description or virtual avatar. This virtual avatar turns into a strategic tool to ensure enduring success of the product throughout its entire lifecycle. Most of the leading companies in the world follow this trend while creating the new generations of their airlines. The MC-21 Airliner, manufactured by Irkut Corporation as Russia’s answer to Airbus and Boeing, is no exception. The leading Russian aerospace enterprise has already shown its mastery of the digital aspects of Industry 4.0 through the integrated use of digital technologies in the development of the Yak-130 supersonic trainer, and the organization of serial production of components for the Airbus A320 family. Now, Irkut is using the same in the production of its MC-21 Airliner.
The new MC-21 medium-liner, which has started flight tests since May 2017, has been keeping a digital description of the product. Andrey Belov, Deputy Chief Designer of Irkut Corporation has said that it helps to manage the electronic layout and configuration of the airliner. "In the interests of all stages of the life cycle of the MC-21 a/c, a digital description of the product is generated in the form of an electronic model and a calculation model. This approach is an important element of the Industry 4.0 concept, which is now followed by the world's leading aircraft manufacturers,” he said.
Andrei Belov has said that initially, the electronic layout was intended to replace the wooden layout with the primary linkage of the structure. “However, the mathematical description gives incomparably more opportunities. Now, we have digital technologies used in all the design, production and operation of the aviation equipment. This approach allows you to quickly sort through various options, and choose from them the most optimal, corresponding to the specified characteristics,” he said.
The search area is narrowed significantly to analyse the gas dynamic and strength characteristics of the aircraft in the early stages. Providing the required number of iterations in the traditional way is not feasible, as all the data is continuously refined. “We provide a dynamic exchange of data between all the participants of the program. This allows you to quickly respond to changing economic conditions, new customer requirements and regulatory documents,” added Andrei Belov.
Within the framework of the MC-21 program, digital models have been created, which include hundreds of thousands of components, and describe more than 30 different aircraft configurations. The corporation has made sure that all levels and process use digital technologies. Among the components of the digital description and the electronic layout, there are numerous models describing aerodynamics and gas dynamics, loads, production technology, as well as maintenance operations.
Irkut Corporation applies various information systems of world vendors (Siemens, IBM, Ansys, etc.), leading Russian IT enterprises, as well as own systems. The comprehensive level of introduction of information technologies allows solving complex problems of system engineering, strength, technology and support of airline operators. The introduction of digital technologies has also helped in getting positive results like the fast development of production, the precise docking of the airframe assemblies, the rapid introduction of changes in the design of the aircraft based on the results of the first test flights.
Now, the developers focus on the development of the electronic layout to support the operation of aircraft MC-21. The digital description of the MC-21 has become the basis for the development of the method of its maintenance in the process of designing the aircraft. The 3D geometry of the structure is being formed for all units, and the ergonomics of personnel access for maintenance and repair operations are being studied. These procedures are being finalized in the course of testing the first MC-21 aircraft. The designers at Irkut Corporation also work on expanding the functionality of the electronic layout. "We will use the digital twin of the aircraft to obtain the characteristics of products in service," Andrey Belov said.
The next stage of development will be the removal of the dynamic characteristics of a real aircraft in the process of its operation, their modelling on a digital model, and thereby forecasting the behaviour of a real aircraft. Andrey Belov has said that the task is to conduct constant monitoring of the state of all systems of the aircraft, analyse their development and possible future problems. "The real exploitation of digital counterparts has not started yet. We are working on implementing it in the framework of the MC-21 program," said Andrey Belov.