Designing Premium Aircraft Interiors with Siemens Femap

Why AIM Altitude chose Femap for its FEA simulations.

A finite element analysis with Siemens Femap. (Image courtesy of Siemens.)

A finite element analysis with Siemens Femap. (Image courtesy of Siemens.)

Designing for the aviation industry is tough, but it can be made a little easier with the right software tools. AIM Altitude, a UK-based designer of aircraft cabin interiors, can attest to that. In 2017, AIM consolidated its Finite Element Analysis (FEA) simulation software with Siemens Femap, a standalone Nastran solver. The company hasn’t looked back since.

“It’s taking us 50 percent less time to create FEA models since we implemented Femap,” said Jeremy Pollard, AIM Altitude chief engineer of structures for Premium Cabin Interiors.

AIM Altitude’s Airborne Amenities

AIM Altitude developed this onboard lounge from the original concept designs by PierreJean Vision for Emirates Airline’s Airbus A380 aircraft. (Image courtesy of AIM Altitude.)

AIM Altitude developed this onboard lounge from the original concept designs by PierreJean Vision for Emirates Airline’s Airbus A380 aircraft. (Image courtesy of AIM Altitude.)

AIM Altitude’s most eye-catching creations are those of its Premium Cabin Interiors business, which develops luxurious comfort zones for airlines including Emirates Airline, Qatar Airway, Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, and more, based on concepts from external and internal design houses. In addition, AIM develops galleys, stowages, and cabin dividers for a range of plane types. But no matter what the product, AIM must ensure it integrates safely with the aircraft. That’s where FEA comes in.

In 2017, AIM Altitude had a simulation schism. Though the company is headquartered in the UK, it has design offices 11,000 miles away on the Oceanic island of New Zealand. Each design team—UK and New Zealand—was using a different FEA application. For practical reasons, it was clear the company should consolidate on one. But which one?

“One of the things we wanted to try and do was to get commonality on the FE packages that we used,” Pollard said. “So we did a head-to-head comparison of the two software packages.”

The winner of that comparison was Siemens Femap, the software used by the New Zealand team.

“When we used Femap, we found that we could create our models quicker than we could on the system that we were using in the UK,” Pollard said. “So that was definitely a benefit for it. As we started looking into the other costs, the benefit of the global licenses presented itself.”

Global licenses turned out to be a huge deciding factor for Femap. It meant that AIM Altitude was able to acquire flexible licenses for Femap to share between the UK and New Zealand teams. When the sun shone on the British Isles, the UK team could use Femap, and when it set on the UK and rose on Oceania, it was the New Zealanders turn with the license. This option, which was unavailable with the competing FEA software, nearly halved the number of licenses AIM needed to acquire.

“Had we gone with the FE system that we were using in the UK, we would’ve had to buy 17, 18 licenses,” Pollard said. “Using Femap and being able to use the global license system, we only had to buy 11. We don’t see any overlap between us and New Zealand, so the global licensing system has worked very, very well for us.”

“That was part of the discussion we had with Siemens when we were doing the head to head competition,” added Colin Thornton, Group Design and Engineering Director for AIM Altitude. “Siemens was much more flexible with us, very much more creative in terms of how they could support us. They knew that we wanted to try to operate on a global license basis and, to their credit, they were pretty flexible in the way they dealt with us to try to get us those global licenses very competitively. Not everybody does that.”

Switching to Femap

An aircraft galley designed by AIM Altitude. (Image courtesy of AIM Altitude.)

An aircraft galley designed by AIM Altitude. (Image courtesy of AIM Altitude.)

The decision to switch the UK office to Femap could have been disruptive. According to Pollard and Thornton, the transition was quite smooth. Since the team was already familiar with their previous Nastran-based FEA software, the learning curve for Femap was primarily figuring out how to navigate it. Siemens provided a quick two-day training course—a software meet-and-greet, according to Pollard—and the engineers were up and running.

“The first two or three weeks it was getting used to what buttons we had to press,” Pollard said. “Certainly by the end of the month, you would never have known that we’d never used it before. Everything did what you expected it to do, and it was very easy to pick up and do what we wanted.”

It wasn’t long before Pollard and his team realized that Femap was more than just a replacement for their previous software; it was actively improving their design workflow. The amount of flexibility and control they had with their models quickly made Femap indispensable to the team.

“We found when it came to the model creation, interrogating the model and manipulating the model, there were some features within Femap that were very beneficial,” Pollard said. “We’re so used to them and use them so much that now we can’t imagine not actually having them as part of our daily working life.”

For example, Pollard explained that Femap is great for building monuments, which are features in the aircraft such as bars, stowages and partitions.

“When we build a monument, each of the different panels may have different materials or different properties. Femap enables us to create that model in such a way that we have the flexibility to change the material of individual panels very easily, and it also enables us to easily see where particular models are used within a monument. It makes interrogating models and the investigation work that we do with the FE models very easy,” Pollard said.

Visualization: Worth Its Weight in Gold

Screenshot of structural analysis results in Femap. (Image courtesy of Siemens.)

Screenshot of structural analysis results in Femap. (Image courtesy of Siemens.)

One of Femap’s greatest qualities has nothing to do with setting up an analysis, but rather with seeing its results, according to Pollard. He and the rest of his team all point to Femap’s visualization capabilities as a differentiating feature of the software.

“It’s very easy to customize how the results are presented on the screen,” Pollard said. “With some FE packages, you have no control. With Femap it’s easy to go in there and set your top level color to the specific value you’re looking for. It’s also easy to only show specific panels, or you can set it up to only look at a specific joint. That flexibility within the presenting of the results makes it easy to get the information you want very quickly.”

Thornton added that Femap’s ability to produce intuitive visuals has also helped outside the analysis department. The visuals allow a wider audience of purchasing, operations and manufacturing employees to quickly understand a design.

“Just throwing numbers at people doesn’t do it,” Thornton said. “Being able to put a visual up that shows something, everybody gets it. I think that’s been really useful in steering the FEA process in the business.”

Pollard, when asked for his final thoughts on using Femap, couldn’t help but reiterate his appreciation for its visualization capabilities.

“What we really love about Femap is the flexibility within the display of the model,” he said. “We can color things based on their material. We can color things based on if they’re part of a particular feature. We can highlight things that use a particular material. Visually it’s just very easy to use, and it’s very customizable to give you information you need without having to go in and check everything every time. When you’re working with a very big wireframe model, it is absolutely worth its weight in gold.”

To learn more about Siemens Femap, visit the Siemens website.

Siemens has sponsored this post.  All opinions are mine.  –Michael Alba

Written by

Michael Alba

Michael is a senior editor at He covers computer hardware, design software, electronics, and more. Michael holds a degree in Engineering Physics from the University of Alberta.