In the past, if you were looking to build a new weapon system or military platform, there were only so many different options for the materials that were available to you. A hundred years ago, that was restricted to things such as wood, rubber and metal. As time passed, the options increased to include lighter weight, but strong metals, plastics and other materials. Then composite materials that were extremely thin, strong and light became available.
As technology has evolved, so have the materials that are available to the military and its industry partners. Massive amounts of investment and research have gone into ensuring that the materials that make up a warfighter’s gear, machine parts and weapons systems – from naval ships to airplanes – meet their specific needs – whether that’s being increasingly durable, incredibly resilient, highly ruggedized or lighter weight.
But that evolution hasn’t stopped – in fact – it’s only really getting started.
Don’t just stand there…DO SOMETHING…
Although the boundaries of how thin, strong and light a material can be will forever be pushed by the military (thinner, lighter and stronger materials are moved easier, break less frequently and are lighter for the warfighter, after all), they want more than that for their next generation of materials. Today, materials are expected to do more than simply make up the body of the machine. They’re being relied upon to add function and capability to the parts, systems and platforms that they’re used to make.
Much like how the cells that make up every part of the human body have and perform a function, the military and its industry partners are looking to construct platforms and systems from materials that also have a function and deliver advanced benefits that they wouldn’t get from a more traditional material.
For example, Composite Magazine recently published an article looking at how the U.S. Army and University of Maryland are working in tandem to develop adaptive materials. The adaptive materials that they’re looking to create are advanced enough to, “become stiffer and stronger on-demand when exposed to ultraviolet light.”
This may not seem like something truly revolutionary to the layman, but there are some significant benefits that the military can gain from the use of this material in fixed and rotorcraft air platforms.
As Dr. Bryan Glaz, chief scientist of Army Research Laboratory’s Vehicle Technology Directorate told Composite Magazine, “An important motivation for this work is the desire to engineer new structures, starting from the nanoscale, to enable advanced rotorcraft concepts that have been proposed in the past, but were infeasible due to limitations in current composites. The enhanced mechanical properties with potentially low weight penalties, enabled by the new technique, could lead to nanocomposite based structures that would enable rotorcraft concepts that we cannot build today.”
You read that correctly – the Army Research Laboratory thinks that this new material can open the door to new helicopter platforms that have only been dreamed of, but were impossible to bring to life. And much of this is thanks to digital design software solutions.
Digitally designing new materials
The creation of new materials is more complex than many would imagine. In many cases, it involves the layering of disparate resins or composite materials with certain capabilities or properties with others that provide other necessary properties – such as strength or flexibility. Much of this is done at extremely small, nano scale.
Digital design solutions are essential for this work, enabling the disparate layers of materials and resins to be visualized and then be tested virtually for how they will perform and behave. These solutions can also help to take new materials and architect them into unique and intricate microstructures through additive manufacturing to create products, parts and other items with incredible properties – such as energy or force absorption, increased durability and decreased weight.
In fact, just a few years ago Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory talked all about using Autodesk digital design solutions for creating new, innovative and never-before-seen materials for helmets. For this project, in particular, the ability to create new materials in digital design software and then architect that material into complex and intricate designs through additive manufacturing was expected to potentially revolutionize protect helmets. And that’s just one of many different ways these new materials could be used across the public and private sector.
The old days of carved wood, cast iron and molded metal for making military platforms and systems is over. Today’s materials are adding new and previously unheard-of capabilities and functionalities to military platforms. They’re opening the door to systems that existed in our imaginations only. And they’re helping to usher in a new generation of tools, systems and platforms that will help increase the survivability, lethality and effectiveness of our warfighters. And digital design solutions are making it all possible.