Stress Engineering in Aerospace


Stress analysis is a highly specialized area of aerospace engineering. Stress analysis deals with the structural analysis of aircraft components. The aircraft is a very complex systems with so many parts (for example, the Airbus A380 has as much as 4 million parts!). A lot of these parts play crucial roles in keeping an aircraft safe in the air and on the ground. If any of these parts fail, it could prove fatal. So, aerospace stress engineers prove to be indispensable. This is why aerospace stress engineers are so important, usually earn quite high when compared to other engineers in aerospace and they have a pretty good job security.

Stress Engineers analyse stresses. These stresses are caused by five major forces. These forces are: Tension, Torsion, Shearing, Compression and Bending. Tension is the force that tends to pull something apart. Compression is the crushing force. Torsion is the force that produces twisting. Shearing is the force that tends to make a layer of material slide over another layer. Bending is caused by a combination of tension and compression. One side of the component compresses while the other part experiences tension.

Aerospace stress engineers work on virtually every part of an aircraft. From the fuselage to the engines to the wings, stress engineers make sure the parts are not just aesthetically pleasing, but will not fail in service. They predict different loading scenarios and make sure the design is such that can withstand those loading conditions. In the fuselage, they make sure the fuselage can withstand fatigue loading from pressurization and depressurization of the cabin without resulting in failure. They also try to reduce the effects of stress concentrations from cut-outs in the fuselage. They work in components of the engine like the turbine blades do not fail while in service even if they experience unexpected loadings. For the wings, they ensure the wings withstand loading like gust loads without failing. Stress Engineers make sure there is no ‘over-design’. They make sure designs are optimal. They make the design as economical as possible, without losing structural integrity.

Stress Engineers could do analysis by hand calculations but usually use some computer softwares to simulate loading conditions on the structure they are working on. These softwares are generally called Finite Element Analysis softwares. They work with principles of Finite element Analysis and come up with a very good approximation of what the structure will look like during and after loading. The loading could be Static or Dynamic. Analysis using FEA could be linear or non-linear. Obviously, non-linear analysis proves to be more difficult and it’s a better simulation to real life situation when compared to linear analysis. Examples of FEA softwares used in the Aerospace Industry are ANSYS, Nastran/Patran and Abaqus.

To become an Aerospace Stress Engineer, a college degree in Mechanical or Aerospace Engineering is necessary. Also, an interest in the Stress Analysis is very necessary. Then, an in-depth knowledge of engineering principles and design techniques relating to failure analysis, material science, structural design and reliability is required to be a successful Stress Engineer. Knowledge of FEA and CAD softwares are considered a huge asset.

Some skills are needed to be successful in the field of Stress Engineering. These skills include:

  • Problem solving
  • Attention to details
  • Mathematical skills
  • Judgement and decision making
  • Analytical thinking
  • Stress tolerance (no pun intended!)

An aerospace stress engineer is not constrained only to aircrafts. He/She can also work in a number of industries notably  the automotive and nuclear industries.

Stress Analysis in Aerospace Engineering is a very tasking field but also very rewarding.

Click here to learn more about : Structural Failure in Aerospace Engineering.  In order to find out our key article, please click here: Aerospace Materials Toughening

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I am an aerospace engineering graduate student at Concordia University, Montreal.
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