SAE International’s director of new product development & portfolio management, Audra Ziegenfuss looks at how best to integrate digital standards into modern aircraft development.
A digital thread is a communication framework that connects separate elements, such as those from design and manufacturing processes, of a product through the course of its lifecycle to enable communication and collaboration among the participants.
In the development of the T-7 Red Hawk trainer aircraft, for example, Boeing, in partnership with Saab, employed a digital thread process to design, test and build both the hardware and software systems. This process, according to the companies, produced a 75% increase in first-time engineering quality, allowed an 80% reduction in assembly hours, and led to a 50% reduction in time spent on software development and verification.
Outcomes like this are being noticed by companies and procurement agencies eager to implement similar strategies to optimise operational efficiencies, support novel technology and product development, and improve cost synergies in future development programmes.
Development and production of modern aircraft, like the T-7, would be impossible without easily accessible and up-to-date engineering standards. The distribution of these standards has evolved over time from print to PDF or EPUB formats. These formats, however, are proving to be inadequate for easy consumption by electronic endpoints that aim to integrate standards more easily within the complete product lifecycle - from design to maintenance.
SAE International is a standards development organisation (SDO) that works closely with the aerospace industry to develop robust standards tools with highly integrated usage. Given a standard’s richness of content, the number in circulation and development, plus the diverse document structures, formats and purposes, SAE International maintains that a single format approach will not be adequate to support how industry needs to use and apply standards in the digital era. This will require a digital standards system with a multi-faceted approach.
A quick history
The format of standards has evolved from one for print-based distribution, to one using Extensible Markup Language (XML) in document production, with many SDOs now converting their legacy documents. XML uses a set of ‘tags’ to structure a document so it can be read by a machine and this is one of the ways an organisation can keep track of the changes in a document, like a standard. A structured, machine-readable format coupled with a content management system can mean greater functionality when published on a digital distribution platform, such as a SAE Mobilus digital platform.
A strong digital standards system, however, will be able to support many inputs, of which XML is only one. Once a digital standards system is in place, standards should be developed within that system of which XML inputs is a part.
The implementation of a dynamic digital standards system, one that is highly integrated with multiple engineering applications, needs to be driven by several key considerations, including the following:
With progress comes challenges. The success of digital thread strategies to optimise efficiencies within the aerospace product lifecycle system has focused companies on their ability to realise productivity gains in product concept, design, testing, manufacturing and maintenance.
Industry standards are pools of knowledge that are critical to all facets of the aerospace industry and part of any digital thread strategy. The development of a digital standards system within an enterprise allows standards to be efficiently communicated, updated, revised and tracked.
The formatting of standards needs to evolve to support digital thread initiatives. Independent SDOs, along with companies developing their own internal standards, are working on optimal ways to format standards and the data they contain to allow their intelligent use throughout the entire value chain of an organisation. SAE International, a pioneer in standards technology, recommends a multi-faceted approach to a digital standards system that supports highly-integrated standards usage.
Audra Ziegenfuss is the director of new product development & portfolio management at SAE International. She recently published a whitepaper titled ‘Digital Standards Systems - An Integrated Approach to Engineering Standards Usage.’