OSU: Trial and Error Goes Digital – Testing Without Breaking Stuff

LeBris’ flying machine, 1868

Here’s the scenario: You have a great idea for a new flying contraption. Everything looks good on paper. The machine is lightweight and boasts the necessary surface area to achieve lift. Now all you need is some intrepid individual willing to ride your invention over the edge of Mary’s Peak and take to the sky. Supposing things don’t go quite as planned, you can diagnose the malfunction, alter the prototype, and head back to the cliff (hopefully the same test pilot is still around for the next trial). Sound sketchy?

Thanks to the work of a group of OSU engineering researchers and their collaborators the days of mechanical trial and error may soon be over. In place of the old method, which can be costly in terms of time, money, and safety (especially if you’re a test pilot), scientists are working on a way to replicate the process digitally. The new approach, known as model-based design and verification, seeks to convert detailed information about the materials and mechanical processes of a given design into data. The information is then run through a series of sophisticated computer systems. The end result is a design that has been fully tested and is capable of achieving its intended goal right out of the box.

Although this approach has proven successful in the technology industry, researchers are hoping to adapt the technique to mechanical engineering. Irem Turner, an associate professor in OSU’s School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, told OSU, “We’ve done a lot of work like this in the past with individual parts and small groups of components. Now we’re taking that complexity to the level of a finished machine.”

Researchers are optimistic that their efforts will help to increase the speed and efficiency of the manufacturing process (consequently sending would-be test pilots to the unemployment office). “If this works, and we believe it will,” added Tumer, “then it will revolutionize the way machines get built.”

by Mike Vernon