Basham Johnson of Alteg Systems is redesigning the way jet engines consume fuel. Check out how he’s used Fusion 360 and Simulation CFD to figure this out:
After several thousand hours operating nearly a dozen different aircraft around the world, a pilot gets very accustomed to solving problems that invariably arise with the myriad of complex systems on modern aircraft. They range from the minor nuisances that can be resolved to resetting a circuit breaker to major mechanical issues that can seriously affect aircraft performance and the safety of a flight. On one occasion, the founders of Alteg Systems had an occurrence in the former category that got their attention. On that night, Jeff and I were flying a business jet on a trip that would take them out over the Indian Ocean en route from Singapore to Melbourne Australia. Shortly after reaching cruising altitude, a caution message indicating that the #2 generator had failed, appeared on the Engine Instrument and Crew Alerting System or EICAS. In the process of trouble shooting to identify the source of the failure, an additional message was displayed indicating generator #1 had failed, accompanied by alarm bells and non-critical system shutdown. The situation grabbed our attention, but good training and following the emergency checklist lead us to recovering both generators again. After continuing on to Melbourne and making it to the local pub to “debrief”, a conversation began centered around the question, “If both aircraft engines are running normally should not there be another way to generate electrical power?”
While working on my Master’s I began developing an idea to convert wasted heat from the engines of an aircraft to electricity using thermoelectrics. Thermoelectric devices are composed of solid-state materials that can generate electrical current when exposed to a heat source. The amount of electricity produced is dependent upon the temperature difference between the side of the material exposed to the heat and the non-heated side the greater the differential the more power produced. Aircraft produce a tremendous amount of waste heat and operate in very low temperature environments a seemingly ideal situation to use this technology.
Collaborating with a firm specializing in constructing thermoelectric devices we developed a unique system that will replace an existing component with in the aircraft’s bleed air system and generate multiple kilowatts of electricity with no moving parts and no effect on aircraft performance. To do this we needed to change the geometry of thermoelectric devices to improve the power output and adaptability to aircraft platforms. A successful result would reduce fuel consumption, improve performance and decrease emissions.
As a semifinalist in the 2014 Cleantech Open we became an Autodesk Partner and began using the software. We had an immediate need to design and test several ideas. Autodesk Fusion 360 and Simulation CFD have proven to be of tremendous value. We frequently model and make design changes across multiple platforms and Fusion 360 makes this uber simple. The easy to use CAM and 3D printing functions have allowed us to create models quickly and then turn those models in to aluminum-extruded parts with a small-scale CNC mill. This has saved us thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of productivity by bringing that process in house. Fusion 360 also makes creating 3D animations for presentations so elementary that even with Zero experience we have been able to impress customers with our work.
Simulation CFD allowed us to find the best geometry for heat transfer and airflow, both key metrics for a successful design. The Cloud solving feature is an inexpensive resource multiplier and we use the particle tracing imagery to improve the quality of our investor and customer presentations. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but a video is like a ball peen hammer to the head when trying to communicate abstract ideas.
Nothing good happens until there are sales. That is when one moves from writing checks to cashing them. We are getting closer every day. Starting a hardware business take a tremendous amount of time and money, but if you get it right, you can hold the results in your hand and see your work in action.