'Green people' aid 7X progress

 - July 24, 2007, 8:46 AM

Dassault Aviation’s Falcon 7X business jet, with a fly-by-wire, side-stick control system, promises to redefine the word “new.” At the Dassault Falcon Jet 25th Worldwide Maintenance & Operators Seminar, held in June in in Boca Raton, Fla., the company also described the virtual-reality program that promises to dramatically reduce maintenance time and costs for operators of the big, $37 million trijet.

Dassault has been using CAD/CAM and CAE (computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing and computer-aided engineering) processes for nearly two decades, processes that evolved naturally to Catia (computer-aided three-dimensional interactive application). Taking it to yet another level two years ago, with PLM (product lifecycle management) and Enovia software as a major component, Dassault produced a life-cycle mockup computer model of the airplane for the purpose of reducing maintenance time and cost.

According to Gerry Goguen, senior v-p of customer service at Dassault Falcon Jet headquarters in Little Ferry, N.J., the project began in the earliest design stages of the 7X. “We thought it would be necessary to bring in people who had actually worked on airplanes to look at the 7X in the early design stage and offer their suggestions.” He said that the groups selected came up with nearly 475 recommendations, which were reduced to “about 300 that made sense from a practical point of view and were do-able.”

The design team then set about finding ways to reduce the number of fasteners and tools required, the optimum size and shape of access panels and where to place them, how to package and ship replacement parts and, finally, how to pass along the lessons learned to maintenance departments.

One of the most important emerging technologies in finding ways to reduce the maintenance tasks came from development of software-generated, virtual-reality animated computer figures.

The “little green people,” as they came to be known, were first used in the 7X program to validate the aircraft assembly process, and with apparent success. In the opening session of the M&O seminar, attendees saw a projection of the computer-generated manikins as they attached a section of the fuselage. At the same time, a video image showed the actual work being done by humans in exactly the same manner.

“We’ve done this with almost every major task, and the reports I’ve seen say it’s working just the way the little green men said it would,” said Goguen with a satisfied chuckle. “And now they’re being used to write all the maintenance tasks.”

Each airplane will be delivered with its own maintenance data file, which will allow maintenance technicians to go to a computer, input the aircraft serial number and then see how that particular airplane was built. The technician, said Dassault engineer and design manager Jerome Camps, will have “detailed and accurate documentation for all the procedures necessary for repair, replacement of parts and return to service.”

Camps was one of a number of bright, young engineers Dassault brought to the seminar, part of the next generation honing its design skills on the next generation of Dassault business jets. He said the feeling at the company is that there are still more ways to exploit the virtual-reality animation. It is already being considered for integration into the maintenance training program.

Camps also noted that the virtual-reality programs used by Dassault are now being used by Boeing to design its new 7E7 airliner. “It’s the future of aircraft design, construction, management and repair,” he asserted.

Goguen said Dassault believes the use of virtual-reality animation in developing the 7X might ultimately reduce the number of maintenance hours versus the number of flight hours by as much as 20 percent. “That’s our target,” he said. “We have some expectations that the results will be even better. The idea was to build an airplane that costs less to operate, and this is one way we’re doing it.”