In this new year of 2021, there is much to look forward to, and yet we do so with guarded optimism.
The industry will no doubt rebound from the many setbacks brought forth by the global pandemic. There has already been evidence of this as the aerospace and defense (A&D) companies that took the early steps to become more digitalized before the pandemic, whether to improve product development, become more agile, reduce their risk profiles – or for any number of reasons – have reaped the benefits of a more nimble and responsive workforce today.
And while the pandemic continues, aerospace companies are still rising to embrace new and emerging challenges at a time when there’s so much innovation. This innovation can be seen in the emergence of urban air mobility (UAM), the rebirth of supersonic flight, the drive towards a “zero emission” aircraft and the continued use of autonomous drones for delivery, freight, search & rescue, and, of course, military. There are exciting new developments in space as companies are developing products for commercial exploration and space tourism, and new ways to launch satellites.
A new generation of engineering is also emerging in the defense sector and its development of not only aircraft, but also ships, tankers, and even flight trainers. In fact, the U.S. Air Force recently announced a major development in how it plans to standardize many of its processes through digitalization. You can read all about the U.S. Air Force announcement in my recent blog .
Yes, the global pandemic has introduced its own set of challenges as aerospace and defense companies are forced to rethink, reimagine, and reinvent how they develop and build products, while ensuring the health and safety of all those involved, but it has demonstrated the value of digitalization.
Digitalization: the crucial advantage
Digitalization has emerged as the crucial advantage modern aerospace programs need to transform today’s challenges and rising complexity into a unique opportunity. Quite simply, digitalization increases productivity by providing visibility into how specific requirements impact downstream engineering and manufacturing. This can be achieved by using a comprehensive digital twin and digital thread, which provide a robust understanding of A&D products and processes.
Complexity is not something to shy away from, but rather it’s something aerospace teams and their tier one suppliers should embrace. Companies need to move faster. They must lower development costs in order to decrease production and operating costs. Just one example of where digitalization is making significant impact is in intelligent manufacturing. Digitalization is fueling the growth in new materials and advances in additive and composite manufacturing, as well as in augmented and virtual realties (AR/VR) on the factory floor. Companies are able to onboard new capabilities and processes for greater productivity, less risk and achieve an entirely new level of program excellence.
In my experience, successful companies are the ones that have the ability to quickly evolve business models and out-innovate the competition.
The digital thread weaves processes and relevant data together
Digitalization, more specifically, digital threads enable customers to take complexity head on, allowing greater productivity and innovation. A digital thread is a collection of solutions, software, and best practices digitalized to provide visibility, collaboration, automation and traceability within a key domain – connecting to other digitalized domains.
Digital thread-based solutions can enable multi-disciplinary processes and weave relevant data together to present a full view of product, production, and process in an actionable manner. Based on industry trends and needs, there are seven digital threads that encompass the entire product lifecycle, supporting the five key functional areas (Figure 1) found in most A&D operations today.
The five functional areas and corresponding digital threads:
As complexity increases there is significantly more information that needs to be managed. The document-based and disconnected systems and processes of the past are no longer able to manage this complexity causing schedule delays, cost increases, and lost opportunities - to name a few. Companies are seeking model-based processes to automate tasks and simplify the management of the product and program data. The MBSE digital thread orchestrates the technical program and scope, providing the platform for faster and more efficient product development, even in the face of increasing complexity.
By facilitating early analyses and simulations tied to requirements and functions, companies can reduce the consequence and impact of “issues” that have historically popped-up at system integration and evaluation. MBSE helps companies move from early system modeling to building the digital thread for the full program lifecycle, and delivers a better development experience and sets A&D teams up for faster success in the future.
The need to design and develop new products faster at less cost is driving A&D companies to seek new processes for designing and building aircraft. In many cases, companies are looking to adopt agile product development processes. Further, companies must re-think their product design approaches to innovate and collaborate faster to reach specialized markets faster. As new materials and technologies become available, companies need solutions to quickly implement these technologies to be more competitive – in weeks, not years.
A product design and engineering digital thread can introduce agile engineering into a company. This digital thread encapsulates an integrated and open design ecosystem to accelerate product development by tackling the most complex problems in design and engineering with the best solutions for electrical systems, mechanical systems, and performance engineering. Further, this digital thread has the capability to transform classical engineering approaches to include new materials (composites, additive, electronics), and advanced user experiences (virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality).
Product complexity is driving new regulatory requirements, which increases the burden on companies to certify products increasing cost and schedule overruns. To complicate matters, verification and certification costs have continued to increase, and now represent up to 75 percent of the product development costs.
A digital thread for verification management can help make certification an integral part of the overall product development process. It gives A&D companies a robust certification execution plan and incorporates all the needed certification activities within the overall program plan. This digital thread allows companies to create a cooperative relationship with the regulatory authority. Companies can more easily include the authorities within the planning, execution and auditing activities through a dedicated access within the product lifecycle management system.
Program planning and execution issues cause significant schedule delays and cost overruns, impacting profits and a company’s ability to invest and win future programs. Consistent program planning and execution excellence is essential to long-term company success, as companies are able to avoid cost overruns and schedule delays. The integrated program planning and execution digital thread provides teams with a systems-based approach to project planning. It integrates cost, schedule, risk and technical requirements into a fully planned, resourced and budgeted program management solution.
Forces of globalization continue to affect the supply chain, partners and workforce. Supply chains are distributed across the globe making collaboration and effective management of the supply chain more difficult. Internal collaboration within product teams is also more difficult as the workforce becomes more dispersed, and more employees work remotely. Collaboration and innovation are stymied by file-based or siloed processes, and product certifications become unaffordable based on inefficient and out-of-date processes. A digital thread for supplier collaboration and management provides an interface between functional domains and suppliers can automated for improved collaboration. As a model-based process, it builds the comprehensive digital twin to link requirements to source selection and all contract deliverables throughout the product lifecycle.
As companies seek to optimize their production processes to improve quality and reduce cost, production environments require the ability to share data insights from current processes and turn this into actionable information with a digital twin. Companies are looking for a better way to manage capital-intensive manufacturing resources and processes, to accelerate their production ramp-up, and seek to incorporate new manufacturing technologies or concepts faster.
The intelligent manufacturing digital thread orchestrates production processes and brings relevant production data to every aspect of program development. It proves concept viability of products by including manufacturing feasibility analyses through simulation early in the design process using the production digital twin. It validates production readiness with detailed manufacturing planning and virtual commissioning and incorporates design changes quickly to the factory floor to reduce re-work.
A major driver of operational cost is unscheduled maintenance. Scheduled maintenance also increases operational costs. The end customer is seeking predictive health monitoring and on-condition maintenance procedures that can reduce the cost and schedule impacts of scheduled and unscheduled maintenance. To provide predictability of operational costs, many companies are turning to "pay by usage" of products. This is driving the need for higher reliability and better methods to estimate operational costs so that providers can make profit. The product support, planning, and management digital thread gives manufacturers, owners and service organizations a means to support complex products within a service management environment. This digital twin can plan the entire support system, including spares provisioning and service plans tied to the model-based configuration.
Now’s the time to sharpen your competitive advantage
The A&D industry, already struggling with accelerating product development, manufacturing and certification programs – and at the same time trying to manage programs and a global supply base – is faced with the need to change the fundamentals on how business is conducted today. Now is the time when the industry is finding new footing, a new way forward, to introduce digitalization into an organization or strengthen current digitalization processes. It’s about developing and certifying products faster with less risk. It’s accelerating production ramp-up so you can start getting revenues faster, improving your product support and reducing your operational costs for customers. It’s getting to market faster with higher performing products.
All of this can be achieved with the digital threads from Siemens.
Innovation begins with you in how you plan to build and maintain your product development programs. Digitalization can help you do that along with ensuring the success of your operation as you move into the future.