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Project DECODE

Although universities across the world conduct a huge amount of design-related research, it is relatively rare for academics to actually undertake the design and manufacture of complete, real, complex working systems. A considerable amount of the experience relayed in this book, and most of the examples used, are taken from one such project and its successors, which have given birth to a series of new aircraft and the attendant design systems and methodologies used to create them: the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council project DECODE (Decision Environment for COmplex DEsigns). A fundamental aim of DECODE has been to research our ideas about how aerospace design should be tackled and to see what kind of small, light-weight, low-cost, high-performance aircraft can be built using the latest software and manufacturing tools. In particular, our focus has been on the so-called value-driven design - where as many aspects as possible of the final system are explicitly analyzed and balanced against each other. To do this, we require that, wherever we can, design decisions be supported by documented rational processes that can be clearly justified rather than simply accepting perceived wisdom, van Schaik et al. [2], Gorissen et al. [3].

Most commercial design activity is a race against time and takes place against a backdrop of limited resources. DECODE faced similar issues: the initial team consisted of just five full-time engineers plus support from various academic staff; it also worked against an ambitious set of fixed milestones and design review points. When under time pressure, fast or even arbitrary design decisions often have to be made with little knowledge as to the effect of this uncertainty. One of the purposes of DECODE was to provide designers with an understanding of such risks. This necessitates a clear customer mission and the assembly of a significant quantity of design and analysis software. The mission adopted at the outset of DECODE was an air-sea surveillance task associated with the UK Coastguard. During the process, best-of-breed software tools were assembled to tackle concept and geometry definition (CAD), aerodynamics (CFD), structural analysis (FEA), weight, manufacture, and cost analysis and fleet/mission matching, Gorissen et al. [4]. A major deliverable of DECODE has been developing an integrated tool suite that allows the rapid redesign of UAVs against new or changing missions.[1]

  • [1] See
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