Rolls-Royce in Pole Position at Brooklands

The highlight of this 2008 Granta seminar was a case study on the enterprise deployment of materials information technology at Rolls-Royce—for an update, see this report of our 2011 seminar

The Brooklands club house—venue for the materials information seminarBrooklands Museum—January 29, 2008 It was the world's first purpose-built motor racing track. In 1908 it was the location of the first flight in a British-built aeroplane. It was here that Tommy Sopwith developed and flew his Sopwith Pup and Camel. The Brooklands site, 20 miles west of London, has witnessed some historic feats of motorsports and aviation.

We have to admit that the latest engineering pioneers to visit the site were a little less glamorous. But it was "standing room only" when Granta hosted a seminar on materials information at the Brooklands Museum in January 2008. And Rolls-Royce were in pole position for this particular event, presenting a well-received case study on the enterprise deployment of materials information technology.

Common materials information issues

Thirty attendees from industries including aerospace, energy, marine, and automotive joined Granta for a one-day event exploring materials information problems in the engineering process, and information technology to aid their solution. The day began with a session during which attendees debated a list of a dozen "materials information issues" and identified those that most severely affect their organizations. The session showed that many issues were common across industries, with every attendee finding several relevant items.

Seminar attendees listening to Granta's Dr Patrick Coulter—click for a larger image

Rolls-Royce case study

For an update on materials data management at Rolls-Royce, see this report of our 2011 seminar 

Dr Malcolm Thomas, Materials Fellow at Rolls-Royce and a former Director of Materials and Mechanical Behaviour, described a major project to introduce a single materials property data management system at Rolls-Royce. The project uses Granta's GRANTA MI software and Rolls-Royce are members of the Material Data Management Consortium (MDMC), which guides development of GRANTA MI. Dr Thomas prefaced his remarks by commenting that Rolls-Royce does not endorse particular vendors, but that his presentation would provide an overview of the materials information issues faced by an organization such as Rolls-Royce and would explain how they might be approached.

Rolls-Royce is a global company of 38,000 people, including 11,000 engineers, operating in fifty countries worldwide—fifteen of which have engineering functions. Dr Thomas described materials data as "the lifeblood of the company". Rolls-Royce makes and supports complex turbo machinery (e.g., aero engines) that uses a wide range of materials. The applications for these products demand stringent attention to safety—designs must be data-driven, traceable, and verifiable. The global nature of Rolls-Royce means that it must be possible to share information and work around the world seamlessly.

The requirements for managing materials data are thus very demanding. Not only is accurate, consistent, reliable data a pre-requisite for design, but any data management system must guarantee security and control over the data. Failure to comply with regulations governing data dissemination (such as ITAR) can have severe consequences for aerospace organizations. Dr Thomas quoted examples of materials data released by US government agencies for use on specific projects which, if inadvertently communicated to operations in other countries, could result in fines of millions of dollars. On top of these demands, global operations also require real-time availability of data enterprise-wide and a simple-to-use system that can give clear, unambiguous answers to a wide range of inputs from different cultural backgrounds.

Historically, Rolls-Royce—which has grown over the years both organically and through acquisition—had used multiple bespoke systems to capture, store, and analyze materials data. In 2002, the company made the strategic decision to move to a single system, and to find a COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf) solution. The COTS approach was preferred as less expensive and more manageable than maintaining bespoke systems. The project principle was to provide clear, coherent materials data from a single source, reducing complexity, confusion, and risk of poor quality data—accessible to all authorized users. High-level system requirements included:

  • Total data integrity and traceability
  • Working interfaces with other IT tools
  • Data security
  • User friendly
  • Sufficient depth for specialist materials data engineers
  • Sufficient transparency for non materials specialist users (design, heat transfer, etc)
  • Affordability
  • A System Design Team and User Community that will keep the system updated

In 2005, the decision was made to select GRANTA MI. A three-phase implementation program was defined. The system is now fully functional at Rolls-Royce Aerospace, Indianapolis (phase 1). All process gates have been passed at Rolls-Royce in Derby, UK, and the system will be operational for all UK sites in 2009 (phase 2). The third phase is planned to extend deployment to the Marine, Energy, Nuclear, and Fuel Cells divisions.

Dr Thomas then provided more technical detail on a number of the key issues that this enterprise roll-out aims to address. These include:

  • Supporting the move away from the old, increasingly uncompetitive, paradigm of looking up minimum properties and designing around them. The alternative is to optimize performance based on continuous statistical analysis of the whole population of data about a material.
  • Ensuring sufficient flexibility in the database system to cope with properties that are related to processing and microstructure, i.e., where multiple sets of data must be managed for each material.
  • Promoting the free exchange of 'open' data while preventing illegal sharing of 'controlled' data.
  • Increasing use of materials data for materials and process modeling to avoid failure late in the design process and to reduce the number of expensive tests required. This increases demands on the complexity, quality, and traceability of the data that must be stored.
  • Helping to understand the detailed materials mechanisms limiting life in engine components, as the boundaries of that life are extended. These may include 'novel' features—for example, alpha case formation or surface damage—not captured in previous databases. So flexibility and extensibility of the database is critical.

Dr Thomas concluded by discussing a new challenge where effective materials data management will be vital—emerging environmental, health, and safety regulations such as the European Union's REACH. These will place additional requirements on the definition of environmental properties, obliging companies to know the approval status of all materials used in their products. Rolls-Royce is working to ensure that its materials data management system can help all future materials selections to comply with changing regulations.

Granta demonstrations and presentations

Following Dr Thomas's talk, Granta's experts demonstrated the latest materials information technology and led discussions on how it is applied to address the issues raised during the earlier sessions. The demonstration broke down into three sections.

Dr Will Marsden of Granta demonstrates GRANTA MI

Getting and managing materials information—Granta's Dr Will Marsden covered tools for importing data from a variety of sources (for example, test equipment), searching for and viewing data, and then analyzing it. The MMPDS aerospace materials database—a typical source of external reference data for high performance engineering—was used to demonstrate the interaction with materials information. Examples of analyzing fatigue data were shown.

Deploying materials information—Dr Marsden also showed the link between the GRANTA MI system and the engineer's desktop. This could be via a web browser interface or through integration into a Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) system. For example, the presentation showed how a new 'plug-in' tool allows materials information within a GRANTA MI database to be accessed from directly within the Abaqus CAE software.

Using materials information—Granta's Dr Patrick Coulter provided four examples of decision support tools that allow materials information to be used more effectively in design and other business functions. These were:

  • Expert materials selection software that helps materials engineers and designers to explore available options and make more informed selection and substitution decisions
  • The Enterprise Materials Optimizer software, which helps to implement a consistent, repeatable approach to materials decisions across an enterprise, with a primary goal being more effective management of materials cost
  • A new Eco Audit Tool that will allow companies to assess the environmental impact of products throughout their lifecycle, and focus efforts to reduce that impact
  • A system, currently in development, to help organizations address the challenge of restricted substances regulations—as identified in Dr Thomas's talk.

The day concluded with an opportunity for attendees to visit the Brooklands Museum exhibits. Feedback from meeting attendees was very positive. Granta would like to thank them for their attendance and contributions and, particularly, to thank Dr Malcolm Thomas for sharing his experiences.

Look out for future Granta workshops at a venue near you!

Further information

GRANTA MI product information

The Material Data Management Consortium website

Brooklands Museum website