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Digital Twin

There are plenty of situations when digital twins are most beneficial: When it comes to cost-intensive tests in harsh environments, for example. When there’s high time pressure to bring your product onto the market. Just as it’s the case in the competitive aerospace market.

To find out more about the usage of digital twins of aerospace technology, I recently spoke with Mark and Eric Becnel, founders and owners of RadioBro Corporation and – as it happens – twins themselves. They’re working with digital twins created in Solid Edge software to develop, design, and produce revolutionary avionics for aircraft operators.

Mark and Eric Becnel, (from left), founders and owners of RadioBro Corporation, realize first production model of their first Mini SatCom, for small spacecraft developers to communicate with their spacecraft, just 8 months after graduating from The University of Alabama in Huntsville. (Photo: Mike Mercier, UAH)

Soon I’m in the midst of a test myself, at least acoustics-wise. I’m hearing a loud blowing noise and a lot of cheering and laughter in the background.

Hi Mark, hi Eric, what’s all that noise?

Mark: I’m volunteering as an engineering mentor at Huntsville’s high school. We’re testing a balloon here. I’m sending you a photo right now.

Great, oh, that looks cool. Why do you invest time and effort into training kids?
Mark: A tool is just as good as its operator. Future engineers should be as knowledgeable as possible in order to be able to invent our next set of tools. And the earlier you start the better.
Eric: We ourselves had many touchpoints to the aircraft business from very early on. In my third grade journal, I wrote that I wanted to be an aerospace engineer. Our parents are both computer science majors and met at university; our father is a private pilot and we all used to go to air shows.

Being identical twins, you are experts on the concept of twins yourself. Why are digital twins so important for your business?
Mark: We at RadioBro use digital twins to develop, design, and produce revolutionary avionics for aircraft operators. They help us to reduce the costs, shorten the amount of time it takes to install and operate our systems, and to break down the language barriers within the installation crew.

Guess, costs are also key for your customers. Do they also benefit from digital twins?
Eric: Whether it’s needed for an aircraft or a factory, the actual time needed to install the RadioBro solutions is very valuable, because the machines need to be switched off during installation. For our customers, that’s time and money. We learned that lesson very well with our first-generation system, because we did all the electrical connections and wiring in the field. It worked fine, but it took too long. So, yes, our second generation product Cyclone is much faster and easy to install. The kitted solution collects data, connects machines, and distributes the data in real-time, delivering true plug and play data acquisition technology – or as you say it delivers a digital twin!

Which specifics are typical for aerospace customers?
Eric: The aerospace market is very competitive and there’s an intense time pressure on bringing new products onto the market.
Mark: Our customers are very aware of the state-of-the art. And they’re extremely passionate about telling you what they want and what they don’t like.

How does the digital twin help you to meet their demands?
Eric: Just one example: Companies that want to upgrade their equipment to the Internet of Things get all their equipment’s parameters quickly and therefore information on its performance. With the data our products supply you can verify the engineering of anything.
Mark: Furthermore, the digital twin in 3D is very helpful for corresponding with the customer about the product, what they need and which improvements have to be made before the system goes into production.

You spoke of the language barrier that can be broken down when using digital twins.
Eric: As we have ten employees, 150 contractors and quite a few customers, the digital twin helps to decrease the number of errors and reduce the time it takes to assemble and install the systems at the customer’s site. We can discuss all details of the digital twin using the digital 3D model and do all modifications necessary in the digital world.

Mark Becnel, supporting the UAH Space Hardware Club Outreach Team, mentors a group of high school students at Jemison High School, learn about high altitude ballooning. (Photo: Mike Mercier, UAH)

You create the digital twins with the software Solid Edge. Looking ahead, is there anything that should be improved?
Mark: Yes, we always want to see continuous improvement – that’s not a complaint, just an opportunity. We just started using the new built-in data management, but it promises that our customers might be able to give us their approvals directly within the software.
Eric: We’re also eagerly awaiting the integration of Mentor Graphics with Solid Edge. One of our new requirements is thermal analysis, so we’re very excited to start using the new FloEFD tool within Solid Edge.
And as our engineers are working with multiple circuit cards for integrated circuit design, we’re also expecting huge improvements with the integration of Mentor Graphics.

You’re participant of the Solid Edge for Startup program. Will you continue to work with Solid Edge when the year is over?
Mark: In my opinion Solid Edge has just the right balance between control and detail. It’s simplified and user-friendly. We can just focus on what we really want and get it done very easily. With Solid Edge ST10 on the horizon, the software might even further change the way products are designed – exciting times for us and our customers.


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