CAD Helps Design and Build Floating Aircraft

Feb. 17, 2010
CAD software proved indispensible in designing helium-filled airships.

Dassault Systèmes, www.3ds.com

21st Century Airships, www.21stcenturyairships.com

CAD software proved indispensable in designing helium-filled airships for geo-survey, military surveillance, and weather monitoring, according to aircraft manufacturer 21st Century Airships in Newmarket, Canada. Surprisingly, despite the innovative nature of the firm’s business, it had spent 18 years creating designs on paper, scaling them up, and building physical prototypes to uncover small errors that became exaggerated when scaled. Needless to say, this slow and cumbersome process involved significant time and material.

To increase efficiency, the company left paper-based methods behind in favor of Catia CAD software from Dassault Systèmes, Lowell, Mass. “Besides design, the software helps us comply with regulations,” says Tim Buss, 21st Century Airships director of engineering.

Switching to Catia provides other benefits as well. “After designing and sectioning an airship’s outer shell, we can repeat the section all the way around without error,” says Buss. “In addition, the software helps perfect ship designs before they are built. For instance, the CAD tracks all component properties so designers can predict optimal load positioning and ensure the craft is balanced.”

According to Buss, the software also helps in dealing with component suppliers. Many of them also use Catia, so the aircraft manufacturer can import part models directly into its designs.”Perhaps most importantly, though, the software has boosted our efficiency by 60%. We can thus take on more work with the same staff and improve our bottom line,” he says.

About the Author

Leslie Gordon

Leslie serves as Senior Editor - 5 years of service. M.S. Information Architecture and Knowledge Management, Kent State University. BA English, Cleveland State University.

Work Experience: Automation Operator, TRW Inc.; Associate Editor, American Machinist. Primary editor for CAD/CAM technology.

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