Digitalising the A&D industry

AMJune21Features - siemens1
AMJune21Features - siemens1

Dale Tutt, vice-president of aerospace and defence at Siemens Digital Industries Software explains how complexity can be turned into your competitive advantage through digitalisation.

In this 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 defence (A&D) companies that took the early steps to become more digitalised 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 drive towards a ‘zero emission’ aircraft, the continued use of autonomous drones and the new developments in space.

The global pandemic has introduced its own set of challenges as aerospace and defence companies are forced to rethink, reimage 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 digitalisation.

The crucial advantage

Digitalisation has emerged as the crucial advantage modern aerospace programmes need to transform today’s challenges and rising complexity into a unique opportunity. Digitalisation 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 something the tier 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 digitalisation is making significant impact is in intelligent manufacturing. Digitalisation is fuelling the growth in new materials and advances in additive and composite manufacturing, as well as in augmented and virtual realties (AR/VR) on the shopfloor. Companies are able to onboard new capabilities and processes for greater productivity, less risk and achieve an entirely new level of programme excellence. In my experience, successful companies are the ones who have the ability to quickly evolve their business models and out-innovate the competition.

The digital thread

Digitalisation, more specifically, digital threads enable customers to take complexity head on, allowing greater productivity and innovation. 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:

Engineering: 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 programme data. The MBSE digital thread orchestrates the technical programme 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 modelling to building the digital thread for the full programme 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. Companies must re-think their product design approaches to innovate and collaborate faster to reach specialised markets faster. As new materials and technologies become available, companies need solutions to quickly implement these technologies to be more competitive. 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. This digital thread has the capability to transform classical engineering approaches to include new materials and advanced user experiences.

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% 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 programme 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.

Programme management: The integrated programme 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 programme management solution.

Supply chain: 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.

Production: The intelligent manufacturing digital thread orchestrates production processes and brings relevant production data to every aspect of programme 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 rework.

Product Support: The product support, planning and management digital thread gives manufacturers, owners and service organisations 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.

Sharpen your advantage

Using Siemen’s Xcelerator portfolio, Aerion tapped into digitalisation technologies to speed aircraft development

The A&D industry, already struggling with accelerating product development, manufacturing and certification programmes – and at the same time trying to manage programmes 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 digitalisation into an organisation or strengthen current digitalisation 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 programmes. Digitalisation can help you do that along with ensuring the success of your operation as you move into the future.

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