Dassault is taking a fresh approach to Falcon 7X design

 - May 16, 2008, 9:33 AM

The Falcon 7X will be the first Dassault business jet to be designed in a “plateau” organization, with all risk-sharing partners working in the same office for one year. Dassault executives expect this process to provide a smoother entry into production. Bruno Revellin-Falcoz, Dassault senior vice president, said maintenance requirements were also being integrated into the design from the start.

The plateau started last September 3 and will continue until this summer. “It was created to perform the preliminary design phase,” Revellin-Falcoz explained. A delocalized, virtual plateau with permanent computer links will follow for the detailed design phase.

The first flight of the Falcon 7X is pegged for early 2005, with certification one year later. “In mid-2004 we will be assembling the aircraft in our Bordeaux-Mérignac plant,” said Jean-Pierre Dargentolle, technical director of the Falcon 7X program.

On the plateau, about 190 of the 350 engineers are Dassault employees, while the remainder work for the 18 risk-sharing partners. Belgian company Sonaca has sent a team to Saint-Cloud to prepare for manufacturing of the wing’s leading edge, and Pratt & Whitney Canada engineers work on integration of the engines. All the engineers on the plateau “live together and face the difficulties on a daily basis; everybody must be involved in each other’s problems,” Revellin-Falcoz noted.

To anticipate the highest possible number of customer-specified interior layouts, a “Mr. Customer” position has been created on the team. The person in charge has to ask other engineers how a special layout can be accommodated.

Catia is the common tool of the plateau team, and adoption of this Dassault Systemes CAD/CAM software was mandatory for a company to be considered for a partnership in the 7X program.

“The five-year development cycle, from last year to 2006, is not exceptional,” Revellin-Falcoz acknowledged. But he insisted “engineers are designing the production aircraft right from the start, which should allow us to have a swift entry into production.”

Another benefit of the plateau is cost control, according to Revellin-Falcoz. “We can simultaneously control development costs and unit cost,” he said. He added that the sale of 300 Falcon 7Xs should allow the risk-sharing partners to break even.

According to Dassault officials, development of the 7X will cost all the risk-sharing partners (not including the engine manufacturer) $265 million.

A feature of Dassault’s design plateau is the virtual-reality center. A dedicated room accommodates about 50 seats in front of a large screen. Special glasses are required since the Catia images are in 3-D, allowing moving pictures of the Falcon 7X structure, wiring, hydraulic system and other systems.

This virtual-reality center allows engineers to check, for example, that a length of wiring is at the minimum required distance from a hydraulic pipe. “We can even measure the length of a wire,” Dargentolle pointed out. It also allows the designers to check whether particular equipment is accessible for maintenance. “Yesterday we confirmed that a maintenance technician can remove the oxygen bottle without any difficulty from the underfloor,” a design engineer said.

Pilot seats are also being studied for compatibility with virtual pilots of different sizes. In the future, special gloves should even increase the level of reality, allowing simulation of a specific maintenance task.

According to Dassault officials, the only problem with the virtual-reality center is that salesmen are now using it with customers, requiring a strict schedule to avoid conflicts. Interestingly, customers can choose their interior layout in the 3-D facility.

“Maintenance issues are taken into account from the outset, and this is the right time to define access panels,” Revellin-Falcoz emphasized. This early definition of maintenance implications sometimes raises issues between production needs and support requirements. “Jean-Pierre Dargentolle is the arbiter, but difficult questions often come to my desk; I spend half of my working time on the 7X,” Revellin-Falcoz told AIN.

According to the senior vice president, Dassault had already worked with this kind of organization method before the Falcon 7X plateau, but not so extensively. Revellin-
Falcoz added that he visited a plateau at Embraer (Dassault and three other French companies hold a 20-percent stake in the Brazilian manufacturer). “A lesson I learned there was that it is better to limit the number of people working together; on the 600-engineer Embraer plateau, some chiefs became severely hampered by too many meetings,” he said.