Material ambitions

New research center at Purdue aims to solve composites’ sticky challenges

Tony Velocci
28 October 2020

5 min read

For years, Purdue University’s Composites Manufacturing Simulation Center has attracted researchers from companies facing difficult challenges in developing and manufacturing advanced composite materials. With today's launch of the center’s new sister research lab – the 3DEXPERIENCE Education Center of Excellence in Advanced Composites – the lure for researchers has become even stronger.  

With researchers everywhere striving to push the boundaries of technology – from anti-viral vaccines to carbon reduction – plenty of laboratories focus on solving complex problems. But at Purdue University, a new academic-industrial partnership is focused on a challenge that could provide the key to solving a host of other challenges: accelerating the production of high-performance composites and reducing their cost.

R. Byron Pipes, director of the Indiana Manufacturing Institute, executive director of the institute’s Composites Manufacturing Simulation Center, and director of the new 3DEXPERIENCE Education Center

With an unparalleled ratio of high strength to low weight, composites are central to enabling many of the green technologies that could help address the climate-change challenge. Zero-carbon electric airplanes and automobiles, for example, must be light enough to travel reasonable distances when powered by batteries, solar energy or hydrogen, yet strong enough to be safe and durable. These same requirements apply to renewable energy applications such as wind turbines, which must be light enough to move in the slightest breeze, yet strong enough to survive major wind gusts.

Technical challenges stand in the way, however, including the fact that some forms of composites – with their complex layers of fibers and resins – are expensive to manufacture and can take years to certify in highly regulated industries.

The 3DEXPERIENCE Education Center of Excellence in Advanced Composites, formally dedicated at Purdue University today (October 28, 2020), aims to help researchers solve those challenges, and many more.

“There’s no other research and education facility like it in the world,” said R. Byron Pipes, director of the Indiana Manufacturing Institute, executive director of the institute’s Composites Manufacturing Simulation Center, and director of the new 3DEXPERIENCE Education Center. “The team of experts and scholars we’ve assembled are the best in the world.”


The center is the latest evolution of a long-standing partnership between Purdue and Dassault Systèmes and is supported by industry sponsors that include Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Volkswagen. “We’ve had an eight-year relationship with Dassault Systèmes, and this new facility takes that relationship to a higher level,” Pipes said.

The center is housed in the Purdue Research Park in West Lafayette, Indiana — the largest university-affiliated technology incubation complex in the United States. Organizers celebrated the center’s dedication by demonstrating some of the digital and virtual technologies that will allow scientists and engineers to imagine sustainable innovations and cutting-edge manufacturing techniques for advanced composites.

“As simple as that sounds, it’s not,” Pipes said. “This will be a huge step. We’ll be simulating manufacturing processes and the performance of products made from advanced composites from experienced-based knowledge in the past.”

“Using new manufacturing techniques and the integrated digital technologies at our disposal, we believe we can cut the time to produce advanced composite products by 50%.”

R. Byron Pipes
Director, 3DEXPERIENCE Education Center of Excellence in Advanced Composites

Among the center’s goals: better understanding of composites and their behavior, and accelerated discovery enabled by applying 3D virtual modeling and simulation to the challenge. To facilitate that aspect of the research, modeling and simulation will be conducted on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, which manages all of the processes and data used in 3D modeling and simulation, facilitates collaboration among researchers, maintains a complete history of the work, and tracks all remaining tasks.

“We’ll be users and proponents of this platform on which the digital thread – a digital record of a product or process across its entire lifecycle – of composites manufacturing and product performance is contained,” Pipes said. “Most labs never used the manufacturing simulation; they only tested product performance.”


In effect, Pipes said, the center delivers on the 2003 vision of now-retired Boeing Chief Technology Officer John Tracy, expressed when the company decided to build the 787 Dreamliner, the world’s first all-composite passenger jet. Tracy and his colleagues recognized the technical challenges of an all-composite jet and knew that solving them would require not only digital design and development technology, but also a completely new set of engineering competencies. 

Another of the center’s goals is to educate current and future scientists and engineers to make the best use of modeling and simulation in their work.

“Talent development has always been one of our major contributions to society,” Pipes said. “We take information from the laboratory directly to the classroom. That’s the fastest way to transfer knowledge, so students can act on it.”

Creating a digital record of carbon fiber prepreg manufacturing (shown here) and processing is a key focus for Hexcel. In addition, Hexcel is working with the 3DEXPERIENCE Education Center of Excellence in Advanced Composites at Purdue University on developing pre-qualified data for the company’s new thermoplastic composite, which will allow engineers to simulate how to incorporate the material into new products and how to manufacture them. (Image © Hexcel)

Pipes restates Tracy’s vision as a question: Can a digital twin – a scientifically accurate, virtual replica of a product, system or process that exists or will be created in the physical world – also replicate the complex engineering process for creating a composite product? And, if so, can engineers employ the digital twin – also known as a virtual twin because data is displayed as a dynamic 3D model – to not only accelerate a product’s development, but also reduce its development costs?

“That’s where we come in,” Pipes said. “We at the university are training the people who will do that, and also developing the knowledge to do those things. The knowledge will come from the application of the digital technology to solve the unanswered questions in the manufacture of advanced composite systems. It’s a huge challenge to validate a digital twin. But using new manufacturing techniques and the integrated digital technologies at our disposal, we believe we can meet that challenge and cut the time to produce advanced composite products by 50%.”

The center, Pipes said, gives manufacturers a place to bring their technical challenges with advanced composites and receive the support they need to solve them. With the platform’s ability to maintain a complete digital thread of every project, Pipes said, “we can help people find the basic understanding of the ‘why’ and the ‘how.’”


Hexcel, a leading producer of carbon-fiber reinforcements and resin systems, brought the center one of its first research challenges: developing a new thermoplastic composite that could help Hexcel expand into the market for Urban Air Mobility and Unmanned Aerial Systems, along with servicing existing commercial and defense aerospace platforms. The company aims to create a digital data set for its new composite, developing and documenting all of the information needed to design a structure using Hexcel materials, and then analyze the structure virtually.

“Being able to pre-qualify data for our new material system is critical to helping us move into new markets and expand in existing ones,” said Bob Yancey, Hexcel’s business development director. “By giving designers the ability to virtually try out new materials, material forms and manufacturing processes, we believe we can accelerate the innovation of new systems.”

“By giving designers the ability to virtually try out new materials, material forms and manufacturing processes, we believe we can accelerate the innovation of new systems.”

Bob Yancey,
Business Development Director, Hexcel

Thermoplastics comprise only a small percentage of the current composites market, so it offers tremendous market potential. “We want to be able to provide any customer who wants to use our new thermoplastic composites with digital data sets that allow them to virtually design the structure and develop the manufacturing process with confidence,” Yancey said

Projects like Hexcel’s already have Pipes focused on what needs to come next.

“My vision of success is getting all supply chain members actively engaged in this enterprise, and educating them in how to use digital technologies and the importance of the digital thread,” Pipes said. “The platform will be key to that opportunity.” 

Driven to distraction

As cognitive overload at work threatens productivity, employers seek solutions

21 October 2020

Businesses take many steps to protect their employees’ physical health, but how are they protecting their employees’ cognitive wellbeing?

Boston Consulting Group (BCG) describes the communication vehicles competing for our attention as “cognitive overload,” a form of brain drain that reduces attention spans, creativity and problem-solving abilities. To defeat it, BCG advises organizations to “address cognition comprehensively.”

One option? A digital business platform that gives employees one central source for reliable, up-to-the-minute information, with workspaces that track every aspect of a project. By empowering employees with ready access to consolidated, rationalized information when they need it, a platform helps protect, restore and build everyone’s cognitive powers.

Cognitive overload manifests in different ways at different organizational levels.

Learn more about business experience platforms here

Virus mechanics

How visualizing COVID-19’s molecular structure helps to understand its vulnerabilities

Anne Goupil-Lamy
14 October 2020

3 min read

Say the word “scientist,” and many people will imagine researchers with wild hair and white lab coats, stirring beakers of bubbling chemicals. Trying and failing, trying and failing, trying and failing. Then, one day, eureka! The scientist makes an accidental discovery and changes the world.

Even as a child, I disliked this cinematic image of science as discovery-by-mistake. I wanted a dependable, methodical process for moving from a clear goal to an anticipated outcome. As a math-based, rational science, physics attracted me, but so did medicine. No surprise, then, that my PhD is in molecular biophysics, which involves understanding how diseases and their treatments work not solely through observation, but also at a molecular level.

Today, thanks to predictive, physics-based software, modeling of molecular biophysics has made great advances. These advances are accelerating the race to find a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, more commonly known as COVID-19.


Since the virus became a pandemic early in 2020, I have closely watched the publications and social media posts of scientists who are proving every day that the answers to this scourge lie not in trial and error, but in a deep understanding of the virus’s molecular structure.

3D molecular modeling has helped many of these scientists accelerate the journey from hypothesis to drug design by allowing them to visualize the virus’s structure, helping to move promising treatments to the clinical trials stage in record time.

Image © JHDT Productions /

The most important features of the virus structure are too small to be visible, even with an electron microscope, so the software models the virus’s key constituent proteins and displays those results as scientifically accurate 3D models. The models help scientists visualize the mechanics of how the virus attaches to its host and replicates, causing infection. Armed with this insight, scientists can then use data on known molecules to identify the compounds or biologics most likely to prevent infection.

Because scientific evidence is compelling, I often seek to re-prove to myself that the algorithms that drive these models are as good as they can be. COVID-19 has provided a powerful opportunity to test their prowess.


By January 2020, the virus had been sequenced, and several research institutes quickly provided experimental structures of some the COVID-19 proteins.  I read every scientific paper I could find on what scientists know about SARS, the class of viruses that includes COVID-19, looking for clues to attacking the protein at the heart of how the virus works.

3D molecular modeling has helped many scientists accelerate the journey from hypothesis to drug design by allowing them to visualize the COVID virus’s structure.

My goal was to write a blog that would demonstrate how 3D modeling could help scientists who do not have access to structure-based drug design better understand key protein targets involved in the infection process, and how these insights could be used to identify existing drugs with potential to be rationally repurposed against SARS-Cov-2. Like many scientists in pharmaceutical, biotechnology and university research labs worldwide, I focused on the main 3C-like protease, a protein that is key in virus replication. Introducing a small molecule-inhibitor that could bind to the protease, at what is known as its “active site,” would prevent the virus from replicating. Protease inhibitors have played a similar role in HIV and HCV therapeutics, so this is a well-established strategy.

From a library of all 2,684 FDA-approved drugs, the software quickly identified a small number of potentially effective compounds; several of the top scoring compounds are currently undergoing clinical trial as COVID-19 treatments.


The pandemic has created a unique scientific collaborative environment, where scientists are quickly sharing their results. Before this, I might have waited years to see my hypothesis proven or disproven. A few weeks after publishing my blog, however, several pre-prints and papers were published, documenting promising experimental results on some of the same compounds identified by my virtual experiments.

In science, a few weeks is a remarkably short time, demonstrating the amazing speed at which progress against the virus is advancing.

Beyond treatments for those who have contracted COVID-19, developing a vaccine to prevent infection is critical to controlling this pandemic. Here again, structural biology has proven that it can play a central role in developing a vaccine that can induce broadly neutralizing immune responses.

The sequence of the spike protein that enables the virus to enter human cells was published in January by Chinese scientists, which enabled scientists from around the world to build 3D atomic-level models in impressively short amounts of time. These structures were then used to rationally design stable mutants that could be used as a vaccine. These atomistic models also are crucial in understanding which antibodies could prevent the virus from entering human cells.

As I dreamed all those years ago, these treatments are being developed by collaborating scientists who started not with a theory and a blind hope, but with a solid understanding of the virus protein’s molecular makeup.

Anne Goupil-Lamy is a Science Council Fellow with BIOVIA, the molecular modeling and simulation brand of Dassault Systèmes. She received her doctorate in molecular biophysics from the University of Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris. At BIOVIA, she was in charge of contract research for many years, and today, she helps scientists apply BIOVIA’s software to their work. She also is involved in her own research projects, collaborating with academic teams and regularly publishing in peer review journals.

Transforming to a sustainable maritime future

How industry collaboration and data-sharing improves economic growth and discovery

Nick Lerner
7 October 2020

3 min read

Comprising 440 organizations, the French Maritime Cluster (CMF) promotes industry-wide change to achieve environmental and business sustainability. Compass spoke with CMF President Frédéric Moncany de Saint-Aignan about the importance of working collaboratively among the industry’s many different stakeholders, with other industries and with government officials, and about how digitalization is contributing to the industry’s transition.

COMPASS: CMF represents a surprisingly large part of the French economy. Can you please describe its scope, work and goals?

FREDERIC MONCANY de SAINT-AIGNAN: CMF gathers together the whole of the French marine industry including ship owners and operators, yards, fishing, energy – including oil and gas – leisure, finance and training. France has the second largest sea area after the United States, as it includes vast oceans around our Polynesian territories. The industry accounts for more than 95 billion euros [US$108 billion] annual turnover and – excluding tourism – directly employs 350,000 people. That makes it bigger than the French aerospace and telecoms industries.

Frédéric Moncany de Saint-Aignan worked as a master mariner and river pilot at the port of Rouen, France, for 25 years. In 2009, he became chair of the French Maritime Pilots’ Association and then VP of the International Maritime Pilots’ Association. In 2014, he became President of the French Maritime Cluster. Then in 2019, he also was named President of the National Maritime School. 

CMF also has developed the Coalition for Maritime Environmental and Energy Transition, which includes more than 20 major industry stakeholders. This coalition aims to define a 2050 vision for maritime environmental and energy transition and to identify the actions that will be key to meeting the greenhouse gas reduction objectives of the International Maritime Organization [IMO].

Besides bringing the industry together, we promote CMF to businesses and politicians and push development of the Blue Economy, also called the Ocean Economy, which the World Bank defines as “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem.”

COMPASS: Please explain how the Blue Economy combines development, sustainability, environment and economy.

FMdS-A: The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD] predicts that the global Blue Economy will double in size to, 2.50 trillion euros [US$3 trillion] over the next decade. As well as growth of traditional marine industries, massive development will come from new and expanding sectors that include energy, aquaculture, tourism, undersea mining and minerals, and biodiversity, which will see new food and medical advances coming from cellular animals and algae. This represents a huge field for discovery. President Emmanuel Macron of France said that the 21st century will be the “maritime century,” with the industry being the main driver for economic growth.

COMPASS: How is technology helping to nurture innovation, foster collaboration and operational synergies?

FMdS-A: With the ability to quickly and precisely access, deliver and collaboratively share the right information digitally on a universally accessible platform, we are quickly and efficiently exploring new types of fuels and propulsion for ships, cranes and vehicles in partnership with auto and aero companies. We are developing blood substitutes and wound dressings from ocean microorganisms, and we are devising, testing and tasting exciting new foods. Also, safe undersea mining is expanding. These and many more activities sustainably drive growth and help reduce negative environmental impacts.

COMPASS: What issues require urgent attention in the maritime sector?

FMdS-A: We need to tackle plastic, emissions, species extinction, climate change and much more. Through working collaboratively, the industry is on a good track towards better environmental and business sustainability, with many big initiatives underway. These include Getting to Zero Coalition, which is committed to getting commercially viable deep sea zero emission vessels into operation by 2030 – maritime shipping’s moon-shot ambition. Another initiative, Poseidon Principles, provides a framework for integrating climate considerations into bank’s lending decisions that promote international shipping’s decarbonization. So far 18 leading banks, jointly representing 128 billion euros [US$150 billion] in shipping finance, have committed to this scheme.

We can achieve more and are more intelligent together, so CMF connects and works closely with NGOs [non-governmental organizations], enterprises, financiers and governments, defining and quickly transitioning to global sustainability solutions.

COMPASS: What are the biggest obstacles?

FMdS-A: Solutions at sea are always expensive and often require long-term investments in terms of time and money. A digital enterprise platform that hosts knowledge from multiple sources and projects helps stakeholders see the big picture and make wiser and better-informed decisions.

COMPASS: How important is innovation?

FMdS-A: Our credo is that innovation is the future. Blue [ocean-based] technology is transforming economies, spurred by innovation that derives from people and organizations working in unison. Enabling digital cross-fertilization among multiple industries is a vital component because it efficiently accelerates innovations while introducing transformative operational interactions, paradigm shifts and new business models.

COMPASS: Do you have any examples of these interactions delivering positive results?

FMdS-A: Virtual twin vessels are exact representations of ships through its lifecycle – accurate in every detail.  They digitally interact with ports, land-based operations and the broader environment. Working toward ultra-efficient, autonomous and environmentally optimized extended industry operations is made possible through precise modeling and simulation using virtual twins. Sharing ideas and data this way moves us toward the best and most optimized solutions.

COMPASS: What does the future of the maritime industry look like?

FMdS-A: It looks brilliant. This is the most exciting time for the industry since the switch from wind to steam power in the mid-19th century. Technology is now so advanced that it has become easy to innovate and much simpler to implement new ideas. The industry is moving forward at an unprecedented pace, and it is bound to continue. By bringing their cleverness to CMF, people and businesses empower the transformations that industry, society and our oceans require for a truly sustainable future.

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