CAD Environment Assists the Design of New High-Speed Transportation
Lexi Carver posted on December 12, 2016 |

It sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, and it flies at nearly the speed of sound. As a mode of transportation, it would get you from San Francisco to Los Angeles (its original proposed route) or between the Polish cities of Krakow and Gdańsk in about 30 minutes. And it requires lots of brainstorming, computer modeling, design iterations and testing before it will be ready for passenger travel.

The Hyperloop pod competition, sponsored by SpaceX, has drawn student teams and companies from all over the world to test their hands at designing pressurized pods to carry passengers and cargo through a nearly airless steel tube. It’s a sort of combination plane and train but most likely will rely on electromagnetic levitation to keep the vessel hovering in the tube while it moves forward at 760 mph (or around 1,200 km/h).

Hyperloop concept as envisioned by HyperPoland, a collaboration between the Warsaw University of Technology and tech startup Carbon Workshop. (Image courtesy of HyperPoland.)
Hyperloop concept as envisioned by HyperPoland, a collaboration between the Warsaw University of Technology and tech startup Carbon Workshop. (Image courtesy of HyperPoland.)

In the development of technology like the Hyperloop, CAD and simulation software, like those offered by SOLIDWORKS, typically play a major supporting role. It has become common practice in R&D departments for engineers to use CAE tools to draw, assemble, analyze and refine a design before they build a real prototype. This circumvents the repeated building and testing of physical models to discover, by trial and error, where a design needs to be changed. Troubleshooting becomes much easier in a virtual environment, where adjustments can be made quickly and tested without the physical costs and time requirements—which, for an undertaking like the Hyperloop, can add up enormously.

One collaboration, between a team hailing from the Warsaw University of Technology (WUT) and a tech startup called Carbon Workshop, is devoted to designing a Hyperloop vessel and station to operate in Poland. The vision, launched by SpaceX and expanded upon by the WUT and Carbon Workshop engineers, includes stations and tubes in which passengers would board and vacate pods every two minutes. The team made it to the semi-final rounds of the SpaceX competition and have raised the funding to continue its work independently, under the name HyperPoland.

Rendering of the HyperPoland concept for a Hyperloop station. (Image courtesy of HyperPoland.)
Rendering of the HyperPoland concept for a Hyperloop station. (Image courtesy of HyperPoland.)

They use SOLIDWORKS software to support the development of the Hyperloop system, relying on its integrated abilities for CAD and documentation as well as a separate physics simulation software to help them understand where design changes needed to be made.

Software Tools for Design Refinement

SOLIDWORKS software, a platform created by Dassault Systèmes, is known for 3D modeling capabilities that allow a user to draw designs with precise levels of detail and dimensioning. You can include tolerances, add material properties, specify dependencies between parts and quickly make design adjustments. “We use SOLIDWORKS primarily for 3D modeling to make assemblies and for the preparation of 2D documentation,” said Krzysztof Tabiszewski, CEO of Carbon Workshop. He noted that it really helped at an early stage in the Hyperloop project. They also used it to generate visuals which, among other things, they used at the SpaceX competition.

Łukasz Roguski, an engineer at Carbon Workshop, has worked extensively on designs for individual parts of the Hyperloop pod in SOLIDWORKS. Part designs ranged from simple to very complex shapes, including the front nozzle of the capsule, the compressors that draw air to the back of the vehicle, the interior seats and even an outer section of the Hyperloop tube itself.

Top: SOLIDWORKS assemblies of the pod inside a section of the Hyperloop tube (left) and an assembly of the pod components (right). Bottom: SOLIDWORKS renderings of the HyperPoland group’s pod design. Components of the passenger cabin (top) are drawn individually and fitted inside an assembly of the outer vessel (bottom). (Images courtesy of HyperPoland.)
Top: Assemblies of the pod inside a section of the Hyperloop tube (left) and an assembly of the pod components (right). Bottom: Renderings of the HyperPoland group’s pod design. Components of the passenger cabin (top) are drawn individually and fitted inside an assembly of the outer vessel (bottom). (Images courtesy of HyperPoland.)

The physical requirements of the Hyperloop system are many and varied. In addition to being resistant to earthquakes and internal sources of vibration, the pod must be designed for the right speeds and turn radius, must keep passengers and cargo safe at extremely high speeds and must contain its own propulsion and low-friction suspension system for travelling inside the tube.

For the engineers, this means minimizing air resistance during high-speed travel, making sure the electromagnetic propulsion and levitation system can maintain constant speed and height over long distances and choosing the right batteries, motors, pumps and other parts to generate the necessary power and control of the vessel.

Anything with so many parts will require a number of design changes, and in order to keep track of these, it’s important to have agile design tools. SOLIDWORKS allows you to create complex curves in 3D space, generate many kinds of symmetry and edit each drawing step of a model to make adjustments even once the part is built.

The software also includes features for mating individual parts to specify alignments and the orientation of different components with respect to one another—and, crucially, for automatically updating these relationships when changes are made to one part in a larger assembly. Once this is finished, you are able to visualize the completed system and examine an entire assembly (which may contains hundreds of parts) or closely study a single area.

SOLIDWORKS assembly of the Hyperloop station. (Image courtesy of HyperPoland.)
Assembly of the Hyperloop station. (Image courtesy of HyperPoland.)

Simulation Simplifies the Design Process Through Virtual Testing

The HyperPoland team also used ANSYS software to perform simulations on their geometry for studying the fluid flow distribution, pressure and velocity of the pod moving through the Hyperloop tube. This gave them a better understanding of the aerodynamics of the pod and how well it would perform under the necessary operating conditions, so that they could adjust their designs accordingly in SOLIDWORKS.

Computer simulation helps inform design decisions by predicting how a particular system will behave. As an example, any designers working on pods for the Hyperloop competition must take great care with factors such as the tube-to-air ratio. This ratio must be high enough that air ahead of the vessel is not compressed too much. (Known as the Kantrowitz limit, this occurs if the walls of the tube are too close to the outside of the capsule—for example, if the pod is too large for the tube—and the pod behaves like a syringe plunger. Pressure will build up until there is a column of air being pushed along by the pod, slowing it down.)

To mitigate this challenge, the HyperPoland group designed a diagonal compressor with swept fan blades on the pod’s nose to transfer high-pressure air to the back of the capsule. Here, in new part design and research, is where CAD and simulation are quite valuable. By running virtual tests on various designs, the HyperPoland team was able to reduce the rounds of changes that will be needed once they move to the physical testing stage. Once their simulations were completed in ANSYS and their designs updated in SOLIDWORKS to maximize the speed of the vessel in flight, the team compiled their SOLIDWORKS drawings and renderings as submission material for the SpaceX competition.

Right now, the team is continuing their design work in SOLIDWORKS as well as their follow-up simulations in preparation for building a physical prototype. As is clear from their design process, CAD and simulation are an important part of helping the technology along.

You can watch a video case study about the HyperPoland team here.

The software also makes it possible to perform fluid, thermal, structural and vibration analyses in order to gain a full understanding of, for example, the deformation of a outer structure or acoustics in a passenger cabin. Visit the SOLIDWORKS website to learn more about SOLIDWORKS simulation tools.

Visit the SpaceX website for more information on the SpaceX competition.

To learn more about SOLIDWORKS education programs, follow this link. If you are a researcher looking for access to SOLIDWORKS, click here.

SpaceX is not affiliated with any Hyperloop companies. SOLIDWORKS has sponsored this post. It has provided no editorial input. For more information, go to www.solidworks.com

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