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A COMPARISON BETWEEN SAFE LIFE, DAMAGE TOLERANCE AND


PROBABILISTIC APPROACHES TO AIRCRAFT STRUCTURE FATIGUE DESIGN

Article · January 2002

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Roberta Lazzeri
Università di Pisa
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A COMPARISON BETWEEN SAFE LIFE,


DAMAGE TOLERANCE
AND PROBABILISTIC APPROACHES
TO AIRCRAFT STRUCTURE FATIGUE DESIGN
Roberta Lazzeri

Department of Aerospace Engineering


Pisa University
Via Diotisalvi, 2, 56126 Pisa, Italy

Abstract. The different fatigue design approaches for of the inspecting actions and to a safety factor,
typical aeronautical structures are compared: a computer lower than that used in the Safe-Life case.
code has been used in order to investigate the different
approaches such as Safe Life, Damage Tolerance and
More and more often, the approach to the
probabilistic approaches to analyze two fundamental problem of safety is linked with the probability
aspects: risk of failure and costs. The acceptable that an event happens (risk analysis), so that the
maximum risk level has been established and thresholds use from the beginning of a statistical
and inspection intervals have been found to ensure formulation is advisable, to consider also the
operating life without catastrophic failures.
effective variability of some parameters
involved in the process.
The purpose of the present article is the
1. INTRODUCTION
analysis of the possible design methodologies in
order to compare the costs and/or the safety
The design methods presently used for
level which they produce.
aeronautical structures (Safe Life, Damage
Tolerance) must guarantee the absence of
2. DESIGN METHODS
catastrophic failures for their operating life.
A first method was the Safe-Life
Because of the great number of random
(replacement of the component after an
variables involved in fatigue phenomena, a
established life); this applies a safety factor to
statistical approach is advisable, as has just
the mean life of the structure, but doubts can
been proposed in [2]. In fact, a classic
remain about the number of tests performed to
deterministic approach could lead to the
establish the mean life and about the correctness
implementation of heavy solutions with
of the safety factor because it doesn’t consider
unknown failure probability. In the Safe-Life
the data scatter factor.
case, in fact, the safety factor used can be too
The Damage Tolerance approach (the
low or penalizing, being independent of the
structure must “tolerate” a crack until a planned
situation examined. In the Damage-Tolerance
maintenance action can find and repair it), [1],
case, it is necessary to secure against
is based on the identification of the worst
catastrophic failures, and to identify the worst
among the possible situations; the phenomena
condition for every aspect involved in the
involved have a statistical nature, and the
planning. As the fatigue phenomena have a
structure must be verified under the most
random behaviour, it is necessary to find a
critical condition.
conservative value, for each of the variables
A disadvantage concerned with this
involved in this problem, to transform a
approach is that, by joining the probabilities of
stochastic problem into a deterministic one. The
the more unfavourable events, an excessively
problem is split into two parts: how much the
low probability of failure (POF) results,
worst examined condition is really the most
appreciated from the safety point of view, but
critical and how much this analysis can lead to a
extremely penalising from the point of view of
structural solution with lower probabilities of
weights or costs. The guarantee against
failure, but a much heavier and more expensive
catastrophic events is entrusted to the planning
one.
Aerotecnica Missili e Spazio Vol. 81 – 2/2002
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R. Lazzeri

Using from the beginning a statistical The third part regards inspection intervals; in
approach it is possible to set free planning from this context, it is important to note that one or
the analysis of the worst case, obtaining more cracks can be undetected during an
answers about the failure probability. inspection, and it is necessary to guarantee that
This way to approach the problem makes they will not grow to the critical length before
useful the creation of numerical models that the successive inspection, in which they will be
allows a great number of simulations of the clearly detected and repaired. In the literature,
behaviour of structures in reasonable several possible methods have been presented;
calculation times, for an interpretation in a these methods are discussed in the following.
probabilistic way of the results obtained.
2.2.1 - PRESENT DAMAGE TOLERANCE
2.1 - SAFE LIFE
A possible approach is that of the ‘present’
According to the Safe-Life methodology, a Damage Tolerance, which involves the plan of
structure is designed in such a way to remain the inspection intervals, so that the structure
free from defect for its whole life. Obviously a can tolerate the presence of a crack without
safety factor is applied to the predicted mean failure. The first inspection can be fixed in two
life, to be sure against unexpected events. This different ways, [3]. The first considers the
safety factor can assume different values, but it number of cycles to failure L1 of the structure
is usually equal to four or five. This method with a flaw produced by manufacturing
entrusts structural safety and reliability to an 'a (“rogue” flaw, equal to 1.27 mm length, [3])
priori' replacement of the components, without and applies to it a corrective coefficient equal to
any check on their further use. This involves 2; the second one considers the possibility of
very high costs and there is no evidence of having a surely detectable crack, calculates the
greater safety, since the structure was never fatigue life necessary to reach this dimension
really checked. and applies a safety factor equal to 5 to the
evaluated life.
2.2 - DAMAGE-TOLERANCE An inspection method must be established,
then the inspection interval is in both cases
The Damage-Tolerance approach tolerates calculated by applying a corrective factor equal
the presence of a defect, also produced by to 3 to the number of cycles L2 between the
manufacturing, and tries to contain the damage failure in components without rogue flaw L0
that this can involve on safety of the structure and the one corresponding to the detectable
until a planned maintenance operation can find crack.
and repair it. The basis of the Damage
Tolerance approach is in the scheduled 2.3 – RISK ANALYSIS THROUGH
maintenance operations, which are planned in PROBABILITY OF FAILURE
such a way as to avoid catastrophic failures, but
without an excessive frequency which could This method defines a level of risk, i.e. the
involve only higher costs and not higher safety. maximum acceptable cumulative POF of
The problem can be divided into three parts. structures. After establishing a minimum
The first one involves the choice of inspecting acceptable safety level (which is in fact
methods: given a defect dimension, each equivalent to a maximum risk level), it is then
method has a different Probability of Detection possible to find out, through a probabilistic
(POD) and obviously different costs. The approach, the number of cycles after which the
second problem regards the first inspection first inspection (threshold) has to take place.
(threshold) taking into account the fact that So, according to the selected inspecting method,
during the nucleation and short-crack phase, inspection intervals are determined considering
cracks are not visible, and so an inspection in the required safety level
this phase would only involve useless costs, [3].

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2.3.1 – RISK ANALYSIS THROUGH number of simulations of panels, to obtain the


PROBABILITY OF FAILURE (POF) WITH distribution of the POF.
'ROGUE' FLAW The present study took into consideration lap
joints (Fig. 1) in 2024-T42 alloy, on which
In recent years, the Airworthiness agencies there were experimental data available in the
have begun to address the problem of 'rogue' DIAP Laboratory, [5]. Tests were carried out
flaw, i.e. the presence, in the new structure, of a under constant amplitude loading, Smax=100
flaw due, for example, to manufacturing. This MPa, R=0.1. The aim was to simulate the
rogue flaw is, of course, a very unlikely event, fatigue behaviour of fuselage panels, subjected
but has still to be taken into account when to one fatigue cycle a flight.
evaluating different safety approaches, [3].
Usually, the Initial Flaw Quality is described 3.1 - SAFETY RESULTS
through the Equivalent Initial Flaw Size (EIFS)
model, [2], i.e. a fictitious flaw distribution 3.1.1 – SAFE LIFE (STRATEGY A)
based on the backward extrapolation to time t=0
of the tests about time to crack nucleation. Due A simulation by the PISA code with 100,000
to its low probability, the rogue flaw cannot be panels, makes it possible to find out the average
described through an EIFS approach, because, value of flights to failure without inspections
during the Time To Crack Initiation (TTCI) under ultimate stress: the result is 142,000
tests, it is unlikely to appear. flights (Fig. 2). It is interesting to compare this
This method is analogous to the previous result from the PISA code with the
one: once the risk level and the inspecting experimental one (Fig. 3) about nucleation and
method are fixed, it is possible to find out the final failure in similar panels, [8]. The
number of cycles after which the first inspection experimental failure data refer to the presence
has to be carried out (threshold) and the number of a 60 mm length crack, but it is well-founded
of cycles between inspections. to believe that they are representative also of
final failure. It is possible to note good
3 – AN EXAMPLE agreement between the PISA failure average
result (142,000 flights) and the experimental
The Department of Aerospace Engineering failure distribution.
of the University of Pisa (DIAP) has developed By applying to flights to failure a safety
a computer code named PISA (Probabilistic factor equal to 5, it can be discovered that, from
Investigation for Safe Aircraft), [4], [5]. The the Safe-Life point of view, it is necessary to
code is able to simulate the fatigue behaviour of replace the part every 28,400 flights. The
joints, from the nucleation of cracks and their cumulative POF corresponding to this number
growth; simulated inspections can be scheduled of flights, is estimated to be smaller then 10-23,
by taking into account different inspection which means an excessively low probability
methods characterized by different POD of compared to the safety needs of the structure,
cracks. The method works on a statistical basis: that could not justify the costs that it involves.
the nucleation of cracks is simulated through This methodology will be referred to as
the TTCI model, [2], the propagation with the ‘Strategy A‘.
Paris law, with the Stress Intensity Factor (SIF),
K, calculated by the compounding method, [6], 3.1.2 – PRESENT DAMAGE TOLERANCE
i.e. by composing a set of appropriate simple (STRATEGIES B1, B2)
solutions to take into account the effects of
different structural boundaries; inspection is According to the present Damage Tolerance
simulated through the corresponding POD, [7]. point of view, the number of cycles after which
In order to implement the statistical the first inspection (threshold) must be
approach, the Monte Carlo method was chosen. executed, can be estimated in two different
The PISA code makes it possible to do a high ways. The first one considers the average

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R. Lazzeri

number of cycles to failure (obtained with or maintenance) has changed from 28,400
PISA) in panels with a rogue through crack, L1, cycles to 88,000 cycles, which means it has
without inspections (84,000 cycles), and applies tripled, and still remains within the required
to it a safety factor of 2, thus obtaining a safety limit (10-9).
threshold for the first inspection equal to 42,000 The inspection interval is chosen using the
cycles. The second considers the average of the PISA code again in various maintenance
distribution of the times to which it is possible strategies, having established the inspecting
to have in the panel an at least noticeable crack method and the threshold. For example,
of dimension with 90% of probability and 95% choosing a penetrant liquid inspecting method,
of confidence to be seen through inspection fixing the threshold to 88,000 cycles, and
with penetrant liquids (6.25 mm) and it applies executing the simulations at various intervals of
to this a safety factor of 5, thus obtaining a inspection (6,000, 10,000, 14,000, 20,000,
threshold of 25,000 cycles (Fig. 2). 30,000, 50,000 cycles), it is possible to find out
The inspection interval is in both cases the cumulative POF at numbers of flights, as a
calculated by applying a corrective factor equal function of the length of the inspection interval,
to 3 to the number of cycles L2 between the (Fig. 4).
average of the failure in panels without rogue Representing the design life goal in number
flaw L0 and the average of detectable cracks of flights, for example 120,000 flights, the
with the chosen inspecting method (i.e. inspection interval will be the widest between
penetrant liquid), obtaining 6,000 cycles. those that guarantee the expected safety level,
The first methodology will be referred to as in this case it was taken at equal to 10,000
'Strategy B1' and the second as 'Strategy B2'. flights because it surely allows for having the
Strategy B2 turns out to be very 'safe', much required POF also for longer lives.
more than the Safe-Life one, and consequently This methodology will be referred to as
excessively expensive. ‘Strategy C’

3.1.3 – PROBABILITY OF FAILURE – 3.1.4 – PROBABILITY OF FAILURE WITH


(STRATEGY C) 'ROGUE' FLAW –(STRATEGY D)

It is also possible to follow a POF approach In this simulation, each panel had an initial
to the preservation of the structural safety level through crack (arogue) introduced corresponding
using the PISA code. In fact, making a high to a central hole of installation of the fasteners.
number of simulations of panels (100,000 or The Airworthiness Authority assigns to arogue
more), it is possible to find out the POF under the value arogue=1.27 mm, [3]. Executing
ultimate stress, without any inspection, as a various simulations, with the length of
function of the number of cycles (Fig. 2). arogue=1.27 mm, arogue=0.635 mm and
Fixing the acceptable maximum risk level, say arogue=0.127 mm, it is possible to find out the
10-6, it is possible to find that the corresponding POF distribution when inspections are not
cycles to failure is equal to 104,000 flights. carried out. Obviously, the presence of this
If the required POF is very low (this would initial flaw anticipates the failure of the panels
need a high number of panels for the (Fig. 2).
simulation), a linear extrapolation from For each of the three distributions, the
available data to the required one can be used. number of flights with POF equal to 10-9 can be
For example, by assuming POF=10-9, using a found. With a linear extrapolation of the
linear extrapolation of the available data, the available data, the number of cycles can be
threshold is 88,000 cycles. It is interesting to calculated, as shown in Table 1.
compare these results with those obtained with It is also possible to find the POF at 88,000
the Safe-Life method. The number of cycles flights, i.e. the threshold chosen for Strategy C
before any action is taken (either a substitution (see Table 2).

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arogue Flights with POF=10-9 The introduction of the inspections,


1.27 mm 68,000 fortunately, improves the situation. In fact,
0.635 mm 72,000 taking a panel with an arogue of 1.27 mm, in a
0.127 mm 75,000
situation of 'rogue' flaw, at 68,000 cycles the
Table 1 arogue has reached such a dimension as to be
identified during the inspection and then
arogue POF at 88,000 cycles repaired, whilst the remaining part of the panel
1.27 mm 1
is found in an analogous situation to the one
0.635 mm 0.21561
0.127 mm 1.47x10-3 without a rogue flaw. In order to determine the
inspection interval, therefore, it is possible to
Table 2 proceed as in the case without a rogue flaw, and
then gain the cumulative POF as a function of
As can be noticed, if inspections were not the inspection interval amplitude (Fig. 5).
made, the presence of a ‘rogue' flaw in the Representing the design life goal in number of
panel would have an important influence; in flights, say 120,000, the inspection interval will
fact a flaw arogue=1.27 mm could cause the be the widest between those that guarantee the
failure of a “Strategy C-maintained” structure expected safety level, in this case an inspection
before the first inspection. interval of 10,000 flights was taken, because it
These data can also be compared with the surely allows for having the required POF also
Safe-Life results. It is possible to see that the for longer lives.
first action happens after a more than doubled
number of cycles compared to those of the This methodology will be referred to as
Safe-Life approach, still remaining within the ‘Strategy D’
safety limit (POF≤10-9).
The strategies A, B1, B2, C, D are
summarised in Table 3.

A SAFE LIFE Replacement at L0/5 = 28,400 cycles

B1 DAMAGE TOLERANCE Threshold L1/2 = 42,000 cycles


Inspection Interval L2/3 = 6,000 cycles

B2 DAMAGE TOLERANCE Threshold (L0-L2)/5 = 25,000 cycles


Inspection Interval L2/3 = 6,000 cycles

Threshold = 88,000 cycles


C RISK LEVEL POF ≤10-9
Insp. Int. = 10,000 cycles

Threshold = 68,000 cycles


D RISK LEVEL + POF ≤10-9
"ROGUE" FLAW Insp. Int. = 10,000 cycles

Table 3

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R. Lazzeri

3.2 – COSTS RESULTS maximum acceptable cumulative POF of the


structures (risk level), can be established. So, it
After have been satisfied the unavoidable is possible to schedule the maintenance
requirement of safety, it remains interesting to strategy, i.e. the choice of the inspection
understand how the choice of one approach to method and the number of flights for planned
planning rather than another, can involve inspections, to ensure a safe operating life.
changes in terms of costs. In this context, it is also possible to introduce
At the current state of this job, real costs of the effect of a very unlikely event, like a flaw
inspections, repairs and substitution of produced by manufacturing, as suggested in [3].
structures are not being introduced, because The DIAP has developed a computer code to
they were not available. Relative data were simulate the fatigue behaviour of joints from the
considered taken from [9], that shows that the nucleation of cracks and their growth and also
cost of inspection of one hole is 1, the cost of the effect of maintenance actions, if planned.
repairing a cracked hole turns out to be about Through this code, it has been possible to
100 and panel replacement about 100,000. simulate a high number of panels in order to
At this point, it is possible to simulate, by obtain answers about POF.
using the PISA code, the five strategies In this article five possible maintenance
previously introduced (A, B1, B2, C, D). The strategies (Table 3) with the same inspection
results obtained show that the costs involved in method (penetrant liquid) have been considered.
strategy A, as shown in Fig. 6, are extremely The first (A) is based on the Safe Life
high because of the high costs of panel methodology and entrusts the safety on the ‘a
replacement, but also because panels are priori’ replacement of the structure when it
replaced when they are still fit for use (see reaches its design end of life. A high safety
paragraph 3.1.1). factor forces the replacement at 28,400 flights,
The other strategies B1, C and D do not corresponding to a very low POF (POF≤10-23).
involve panel replacement, and their costs are The second and third are founded on the
relative to the operations of inspection and Damage Tolerance point of view, i.e. the
maintenance, as shown in Figs. 7, 8, 9. Strategy possible presence of a crack that the structure
B2 is rejected, because it presents a too low must tolerate until a planned maintenance
POF at the threshold. operation can find and repair it. Two different
Considering the strategy costs, it can be maintenance strategies can be planned (B1, B2)
noticed that what really influences total costs is in terms of threshold and inspection interval,
the number of the inspections, because the based on different aspects of crack growth.
single maintenance costs are similar in the cases The fourth and the fifth (C, D) are based on
considered, being connected to the number of risk analysis; the D strategy deals with rogue
cracks, which is a function of cycles, and then is flaw, i.e. a possible initial crack, due, for
similar in all cases. example, to manufacturing. In these strategies, a
risk level (POF≤10-9) has been established and,
4 – CONCLUSIONS consequently, a threshold and the inspection
intervals have been found.
The fatigue design of aeronautical structures Once the safety requirements were satisfied,
is usually approached through two deterministic a parametric cost analysis was performed by
methodologies: Safe-Life and Damage using relative data about inspection at one hole,
Tolerance, but fatigue phenomena have a repair of a cracked hole and panel replacement.
stochastic behaviour and so, in both cases, it is It can be seen that Safe-Life strategy causes
necessary to protect against random events very high costs, while the other strategy costs
using high safety factors. are mainly influenced by the number of
Nowadays, some authors are discussing inspections because the repair costs are quite
about the introduction of a “new” methodology similar, being linked with the number of cracks
based on risk analysis. By using it, the as a function of the number of flights.

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References 5. Cavallini G., Lanciotti A., Lazzeri L. “A probabilistic


approach to aircraft structure risk assessment”,
1. Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 25, Proceedings of the 19th Symposium of the
Paragraph 25.571 – “Damage Tolerance and Fatigue International Committee on Aeronautical Fatigue
Evaluation of Structures”, U.S.A. (ICAF), Edinburgh, Scotland, 1997.
2. Yang J.N., Manning S.D., “Demonstration of 6. Kuo A., Yasgur D., Levy M., “Assessment of
Probabilistic-Based Durability Analysis Method for Damage Tolerance Requirements and Analysis”, Task
Metallic Airframes”, Journal of Aircraft, Vol. 27, No. I; Report Air Force WAL-TR-86-300, Vol. II, March
2, 1990, pp 169-175 1986, ICAF Doc. n. 1583.
3. Swift T., “Verification of Methods for Damage 7. Ratwani M. M. “Visual and non-destructive
Tolerance Evaluation of Aircraft Structures to FAA inspection technologies”, in “Ageing Combat Aircraft
Requirements”, Proceedings of the 12th Symposium of Fleet - Long Term Applications”, AGARD-LS-206,
the International Committee on Aeronautical Fatigue October 1996.
(ICAF), Toulouse, France, 1983. 8. Cavallini G., Galatolo R., Lanciotti A., Lazzeri L.,
4. Lazzeri R., “Sviluppo di un codice di calcolo per la “Nucleazione e propagazione di difetti in giunti
valutazione del livello di rischio in componenti chiodati”, AIDAA Congress, Naples, October 1997.
strutturali aeronautici”, Degree Thesis, Faculty of 9. Burns J.G., Johnson W.P., Berens A.P., “Aging
Aerospace Engineering, University of Pisa. Aircraft Structural Damage Analysis”, Agard
Conference Proceedings 506 “Fatigue Management”,
AGARD CP-506, December 1991.

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R. Lazzeri

Figure 1 – Panel geometry

L0=142,000 cycles

L1= 84,000 cycles


0 50000 100000 150000 200000
1.E+00
50%
1.E-01
arogue=1.27 mm TH=68,000 cycles
-9
1.E-02 POF<10 arogue=0.635 mm TH=72,000 cycles

1.E-03 arogue=0.127 mm TH=75,000 cycles L2=18,000 cycles


1.E-04
First Detectable Crack (adet=6.35 mm)
P

1.E-05 Failure without rogue flaw


Failure with arogue = 1.27 mm
1.E-06 Failure with arogue = 0.635 mm
Failure with arogue = 0.127 mm
1.E-07

1.E-08 TH = 88,000 cycles

1.E-09
0 50000 100000 150000 200000

Cycles

Figure 2 – Cumulative probability for different events obtained by the PISA code

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OOOOO First crack


XXXXX Final failure (2atot=60 mm)

Flights

Figure 3 – Experimental data, [8]

1.00E+00

1.00E-01

1.00E-02
120000
1.00E-03 130000
140000
1.00E-04 150000
POF

160000
1.00E-05 170000
180000

1.00E-06 190000
200000

1.00E-07

1.00E-08

1.00E-09
0 5000 10000 15000 20000 25000 30000 35000 40000 45000 50000

Inspection Interval

Figure 4 – Probability of Failure as a function of the Inspection Interval


(Threshold = 88.000 flights)

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1.00E+00

1.00E-01

120000
1.00E-02 130000
140000
150000
1.00E-03 160000
POF

170000
1.00E-04 180000
190000
200000
1.00E-05

1.00E-06

1.00E-07
0 5000 10000 15000 20000 25000 30000

Inspection Interval

Figure 5 – Probability of Failure as a function of the Inspection Interval


(Threshold = 68.000 flights)

Strategy A - Safe life

450,000

400,000

350,000

300,000

250,000
Cost

200,000

150,000

100,000

50,000

0
0 28400 56800 85200 113600

Cycles

Figure 6 – Strategy A costs

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Inspection Costs
450

400
Strategy B1
350 Strategy C
300 Strategy D

250
Cost

200

150

100

50

106,000

114,000
42,000

50,000

58,000

66,000

74,000

82,000

90,000

98,000
Cycles

Figure 7 – Comparison between inspection costs of different maintenance strategies

Repairs Costs

450
400
350
Strategy B1
300
Strategy C
Costs

250 Strategy D
200
150
100
50
0
106,000

114,000
42,000

50,000

58,000

66,000

74,000

82,000

90,000

98,000

Cycles

Figure 8 – Comparison between repair costs of different maintenance strategies

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Total Costs (Inspection + Repairs)

450

400
Strategy B1
350 Strategy C
300 Strategy D
Costs

250

200

150

100

50

0
42,000

50,000

58,000

66,000

74,000

82,000

90,000

98,000

106,000

114,000
Cycles

Figure 9 – Comparison between total costs of different maintenance strategies

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