Thursday , February 27, 2003 EIGHT YEARS OF R&D IN AIRCRAFT technologies finally paid off when a slim, fighter jet took to the skies. But even better, spin-off technologies from the development of the world's lightest combat aircraft are poised to fund further research in defense.
The Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), India's first fully indigenous and the world's smallest combat aircraft. The machine graduated from a mere concept to a flying machine on January 4, 2002. When Wing Commander Rajiv Kothiyal, a test pilot of the Indian Air Force taxied and took off, pundits lauded the flight as “sheer poetry in motion.”
But, overshadowed by the euphoria over the first flight of the LCA, a revolution is quietly brewing. Some time in 2000, the Defense Research Development Organization, an umbrella organization that consists of 51 laboratories, decided to license spin off technologies—corollaries to the actual task of building the world's smallest combat aircraft. As a first step, the CAD software—Autolay—developed by scientists at the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), the nodal agency for the LCA, was earmarked for licensing.
ADA announced that its flagship software product, Autolay, would be licensed to commercial aircraft maker Airbus Industrie for $3.2 million for use in its new commercial super jumbo project: A 380.
The contract was the culmination of a long-drawn and extensive benchmarking by Airbus Industrie to select composites software for the A380 project.
The contract marked a first of sorts. At a time when governments around the world were being forced to cut down on defense expenditure, India was having its own defense R&D expenditure being subsidized by the sale of spin-off technologies. The Airbus contract was sourced through the marketing expertise of U.S.-based CAD/CAM major Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC). Says Air Marshall (retd.) Philip Rajkumar (PVSM), director of the ADA, “While our R&D expertise is second to none, we had no marketing muscle. It made sense to approach a company with proven competencies in this field.” Interestingly, ADA subsequently handed over Autolay along with the associated Intellectual Property rights to Infosys Technologies for an unspecified royalty. Infosys is mandated with further developing the software, enhancing its features to interface with other related tools and programs, and increasing applicability in related areas. Autolay was no flash in the pan either. After the success with Autolay, ADA now plans to put another software tool christened “Prana” on the block. ADA hopes proceeds from Prana will drive another wave of development, thus ensuring the sustainability of a huge enterprise.
The Product That Started It All
Autolay is an integrated automated software system for the design and development of 3-D laminated composite components.
To make the aircraft lighter, LCA uses (as high as 45 percent) composite materials extensively in its airframe. In addition to their light weight, composite materials are also amenable to tailoring their mechanical properties, thereby providing better performance capabilities. However, the processes of the design and development of laminated composite components is radically different from those used in conventional metal structures. It required a new range of multidisciplinary knowledge and computational techniques.
Autolay was designed to address these composite design and development requirements. The software automates the creation of engineering data required to drive the end-to-end design and manufacturing simulation of laminated composite components.
Depending on component design complexity and the extent of automation in the fabrication process, reduction of cycle times of up to 70% can be realized routinely by the use of this software. In realistic terms, this would result in a reduction of a minimum of 6 to 8 months in the design and development cycle time of typical aircraft projects. Apart from aerospace, the software can also be effectively used in the shipbuilding, automotive, recreational, and sports goods industries.