September 22, 2023, ©. Leeham News: Last week, we discussed program management methods for the Detailed design phase of an airliner development program. While the modern Agile work methods suit smaller projects, the sheer size and complexity of an airliner project that involves hundreds of companies require more structured management methods with Agile used for areas where it’s suitable.
We now go a step deeper than program and configuration management and look at development techniques and tools for Detailed design.
In classical airliner development, Preliminary design had its tools for the overall design of the aircraft; Detailed design had its CAD (Computer Aided Design) tools and PDM (Product Data Management) database to store and workflow the results approval process.
The production engineer then took the CAD data from the PDM and prepared the manufacturing with his CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) toolset, and entered the Bill Of Material (BOM) and work instructions into the company’s ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system. Finally, the training, documentation, spares, and maintenance departments used their documentation tools to create manuals for training and documentation for repair and maintenance.
In the complete chain, a part like an access hatch or landing gear door was remodeled in 3D at least five times (CAD, CAM, Documentation, Spares, Maintenance, possibly also subsupplier CAD and CAM), and its design data passed through five to 11 systems (CAD, PDM, CAM, Production ERP, QA, for subsupplier add Purchase, Subsupplier CAD/PDM/CAM/Production ERP and QA), each time with a slightly different focus and data set.
The above is an obvious inefficiency that the OEMs have been fighting for decades; you should create a 3D dataset only once and use it in all the steps. But in a world of hundreds of legacy and new IT systems to run the company, each replacement of something old and standalone “but that works” with something new, more integrated is a significant effort.
Design automation companies like Dassault have, over the years, built an integrated development and manufacturing toolset (called 3DEXPERIENCE by Dassault) that shall cover most steps in the chain.
But while it’s reasonably straightforward to replace legacy CAD and PDM systems with an integrated suite, it gets harder as we come to production. The production preparation tools in the CAM suite can be replaced, but the outright production is governed by the company’s ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system, often from SAP or ORACLE for this size of company. Add that the after-market departments (documentation, training, spare parts, maintenance, repair) have their specialized tools.
The aim is to streamline it all in as few systems as possible that can share geometries and data seamlessly. It’s one major work direction for how to cut time for development, production preparation and control, and after-market work. But it’s no easy work; the companies have some 20,000 aircraft in operational service that need daily support, and these can’t accept disruptions in the support from the OEM (“Sorry, we have a problem supporting your cabin upgrade you have planned for next month, as we are changing the CAD/CAM system”).
Model Based System Engineering, MBSE
So, one primary work direction is the integration of the toolsets in the workflow described above. Another is the design of parts and systems in complete mathematical model chains before any hardware or software is designed.
We have described it in the Preliminary design articles. But now, the models are much more detailed and interconnected for every parameter. So, for the cabin and ECS models, we talk about the cabin model that now has all seats, monuments, lavatories, walls, and overhead bins, with the airflow modeled for every duct, outlet, and recovery path.
The model now outputs the reaction time for a simulated temperature change from the ECS to the rear cabin area and how that influences the Premium economy section in the mid cabin. The engine model is, in turn, connected to the ECS model as different bleed demands will affect the takeoff and climb thrust.
The aim is to do the design of the aircraft’s systems in the digital space down to a very detailed level. Then, to interconnect and fly the relevant systems jointly before issuing the data sets for hardware and software design.
Important gains can be made if systems can be designed to a detailed level and then run interfacing other systems so that the actual hardware and software builds are to verify the simulated results instead of finishing the detailed design of that part of the aircraft.
This complete digital design before actual hardware and software is called Model Based System Engineering, MBSE.
OEMs and suppliers are transferring more and more of the development into MBSE. But like for program and configuration management, it has to be done one step at a time, or you have an unstable range of newly designed digital systems that don’t work together.
The advantage of MBSE is that it can reverse the design flow for the aircraft. It used to be the aerodynamic and structural departments that designed the aircraft with its compartments for systems, ducts, pipes, cables, etc.
The systems departments were then asked to make sure their “stuff” fitted in the allocated space. Any non-fits created hard fights and delays in the project when parts of the aircraft had to be re-designed “because the ECS guys had given us too small duct dimensions, and now they need larger ducts.”
With MBSE, the structural guys are told to hold off with structural design until mature data generated through MBSE is available from the system side. The aircraft is designed from the inside-out, instead of the previous outside-in practice.
We will look at further supporting development processes and frameworks (like APQP), but before that, we will dedicate next week’s Corner to design for production.