Testing times: transforming product certification to cut costs

12 June 2023

Can ‘digital’ transform the traditional ‘make and test’ approach to product certification? A new project is stress-testing the idea.

Engineers are increasingly using data and digital techniques to shape and refine every stage of the product development process.  A ‘Smart Design’ approach lets them better understand how finished products will perform without the need for physical prototypes, ultimately reducing cost and cutting the time to market for new products.

Embracing data and digital is not just critical to keeping UK manufacturing industry competitive, it is the only practical way to design the next generation of net zero products, which will be more efficient – but also more complex.

From hydrogen powered aircraft to small modular nuclear reactors, a key consideration is how to create new products in new ways, while ensuring safety and performance. Regulatory confidence will be critical to their commercial success.

This is why the HVM Catapult is leading a new project to tackle barriers and help accelerate ‘certification by analysis’ capabilities in the UK – convening an expert team from across manufacturing. Alongside our own expert engineers, representatives from industry, regulators and universities are working together to lay the foundations for the future of ‘certification by analysis’.

The problem with physical testing

As engineers, we take a forensic approach – we test, alter and re-test – until we are confident we have the right product solution.  But for entirely new products, the traditional approach  – physical  ‘make and test’ –   may not be the best route. In some cases, it’s not even possible.  That means new regulatory and certification frameworks and techniques are required. We know that digital technologies (enabling the use of computer simulation and modelling underpinned by advances in mathematics) could unlock new approaches, but the transition to digital – or ‘certification by analysis’ is challenging.

A physical ‘make and test’ approach relies on experience, knowledge and large-scale experiments and demonstrators generating certification data – but in most cases these are prohibitively costly and time-consuming, slowing-down product development and wasting materials. So how do we certify for new, more complex products that don’t have a ready-made pool of historical data? We need to demonstrate that new ‘digitally-enabled’ analysis methodologies are trustworthy, and ensure regulatory confidence in the approaches we take.

In parallel, we need to address the skills challenge of building a new ‘certification by analysis’ capability and ensure the workforce using this approach are trained and skilled in the application of these technologies.

Enabling certification by analysis

Our Towards Product by Certification by Analysis project team are working to develop a certification by analysis assessment framework – that will inform a multisector roadmap for industry.  It is important to stress that we can’t simply digitise today’s processes; we need to transform the way that complex products are validated and regulated. We will test this framework on use cases and publish our findings.

A core part of this work, especially for the certification of entirely new products, is exploring how we can learn from other sectors and share data to accelerate digital techniques. Throughout the project, we are collating current best practice from across a range of industry sectors to share knowledge more widely.

We are also identifying the digital ecosystem, the software infrastructure needed to deliver this transformation and producing an initial skills gap assessment in tandem with the framework.

The UK has the opportunity to lead in this area and by accelerating pathways to certification by developing new UK standards, we can potentially influence global standards that encourage the use of ‘certification by analysis’ techniques.

Marc Funnell is Chief Engineer for Smart Design at the HVM Catapult and Head of Digital Engineering at the National Composites Centre (NCC). He joined the HVM Catapult in 2022, following three years leading the NCC’s digital portfolio. With previous experience in senior technical roles for Airbus UK and GKN Aerospace,  Marc specialises in composite design and analysis with a passion, demonstrating success in the digital transformation of engineering practices throughout his career.

Keep up to date

Sign up to receive the latest updates, news and events from
the National Composites Centre