Managing aircraft programs is a complex process that should not be underestimated. This is one of the clearest messages to have emerged in recent years and is evidenced when one considers the 787 supplier issues, A380 wiring problems and A400M delays. It costs the industry vast sums of time and money.
However, a mini-revolution aimed at eliminating or alleviating these types of problems has been under way quietly. It started with the concept of product life-cycle management (PLM), where prime companies can have total visibility of their programs, but is moving toward a “virtual universe” where the system–from conceptual design to end-of-life–is validated by the real world, and can run in isolation to simulate the real world.
PLM has become de rigueur because it has the potential to revolutionize the efficiency of the aerospace industry at a time when cost-cutting and streamlining operations are top priorities. The way to achieve this step-change improvement is to better connect design, manufacture and product support so there is visibility throughout the product life-cycle.
Dassault in the Lead
In aerospace and defense the leading player is Dassault Systèmes, which developed the CATIA computer-aided design environment. Eric Giroir, offer define manager for aerospace, told AIN, “Pretty much all the aircraft programs that are launched are using our systems.” He added that “there is a lot of pressure for on-time delivery and the lowest possible cost of ownership.”
“Now the key idea is that the whole life cycle can be managed,” said aerospace project manager Alexis Balloy. Dassault Systèmes recently launched CATIA V6 as a PLM environment and Airbus is considering using it for the A350XWB. “We learned from the [Dassault] 7X and the [Boeing] 787. They helped us build V6. With the A350, they would be at a new level of visibility,” said Balloy.
“You can explore production status in a visual context, where KPIs [key performance indicators] are shown by colors,” he said. It includes factors such as cost and schedule status, and this feature, called “3D Live,” can be accessed through the Internet.
“The 7X collaborative environment was the first step, but we’re now pushing the envelope beyond to get real-time capability and [therefore] mitigate risk [in a program].” But still, added Balloy, “3D provides a very good tool to manage your program.”
V6 employs connectors allowing seamless integration with the systems that suppliers and partners are using. “Any data from CAD and PLM systems” can be incorporated, he said, adding that “this service-oriented architecture removes many compatibility problems.”
Giroir said the capability is moving toward a point where the entire production schedule could be validated against the real world, taking into account everything from design constraints to manufacturing capacity right down the supply chain, and including suppliers and partners. “Once you have the specification that the supplier must deliver, you can monitor time and quality,” he said.
Giroir concluded that the next 10 to 15 years would see moves toward a “virtual universe, a closed system where you can design, simulate and test everything from concept to end of life.”
Dassault does not have this increasingly lucrative market all to itself, however. For example, Siemens PLM Software (Hall 2B Stand F73) developed Teamcenter for life-cycle management, realizing that “major aerospace industry contractors increasingly share design, engineering and production work with partners and suppliers.”
It now counts Boeing among its users, having cut its teeth with Lockheed Martin on the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. Teamcenter is also used in the Sukhoi Superjet program, and has recently been adopted by Snecma, while the company’s list of other customers is starting to read like a Who’s Who of the aerospace industry–including BAE Systems, B/E Aerospace, MBDA Missile, Pilatus Aircraft and Pratt & Whitney.
The Siemens subsidiary has also developed “NX” as a next-generation digital product development system and Tecnomatix, a digital manufacturing product. Together these products “enhance supply-chain performance, speed product time-to-market and drive seamless, secure collaboration with partners and suppliers while reducing costs,” said Dave Shirk, executive v-p of global marketing.
This year the Plano, Texas-based company plans to “unveil [further] advanced capabilities for Teamcenter and Tecnomatix designed to address key business needs for aerospace and defense organizations, including “advanced total enterprise productivity.”
Tim Nichols, Siemens PLM director for global aerospace and defense marketing, told AIN at the show, “We pioneered our approach with Lockheed Martin on the JSF, which has just entered the production phase. Boeing is our largest user and last year they decided to standardize on our software–on everything but the 787. It’s the principal system to manage the bill of materials for all their other commercial aircraft.” He noted that extending the concepts into aftermarket support was “ideal for aerospace… it is unique in that major OEMs are also in maintenance and support.”
Nichols said the “next big opportunity is the commercial airline world, where digital discipline could readily be adapted. It’s very near–within the next two years–and could potentially revolutionize that side of the industry.”