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How Digitalization Truly Revolutionizes A&D Industry

By Mr. Dave Riemer - Siemens, Vice President of Aerospace and Defense Strategy ; Co – Author Mr. Alper Başer - Siemens, Country Channel Manager, Turkey

Product Lifecycle Data for a ‘Truly’ A&D Digital Program Management 

If you’re a program manager at an aerospace and defense company, you’re probably also a spreadsheet expert.

It’s common for aerospace and defense (A&D) program managers to use huge spreadsheets—some with as many as 40 columns and 10,000 rows—to manage independent product schedules and product programs. Unfortunately, this practice slows down workflow and weighs on quality. 

Manual data entry and management ensures errors, risking accuracy and lost time. Just verifying, for example, that activities are scheduled to meet what could be 40,000 FAA compliance requirements can monopolize hours of a program manager’s time. 

By contrast, when all product program data are in one widely accessible management platform, A&D programs become easier to manage and can yield higher profit margins and support longer-term revenue streams.

The reason why program managers use spreadsheets is that traditional program management software is a mix of point solutions that maintain separate sets of data, a model that some think “still works.” But it doesn’t work if you ask the most burning questions challenging A&D companies that want to stay competitive: 

Can your program management processes and technology tools meet changing market demands now and tomorrow? Can they deliver on technical, cost and schedule requirements so that you can protect and grow profitability?

A&D buyers expect cost savings, fast response and anticipation of their needs based on disruptive trends such as Industry 4.0, Big Data-powered predictive guidance and the ability to access vast amounts of intellectual property data. But for many A&D companies to respond, they will need to expand their definition of “digital program management.” 

What Truly Digital Program Management Means

Program managers have witnessed the advantages of digital automation in production, and they know that manufacturing in general is heading toward digitally-automated and data-driven process planning and management. 

Too often, however, they and their companies assume product programs are truly digital because they have adopted a digital twin design model in engineering and manufacturing; and they may have some limited integrated data among systems. But truthfully, that’s just the beginning of digital program management. 

Leaders in this area streamline program management processes by using a digital thread—an always-on, always up-to-date knowledge base tied to each program that’s available to all decision makers all the time. In this thread are all product records, from testing to potentially in-field services and redesigns. Increasingly, these A&D leaders are using product lifecycle management (PLM) as their digital program management platform because modern PLM solutions inherently create an end-to-end, integrated real-time digital thread that lives throughout a product’s life. The digital twin is just one component in that thread.

This comprehensive data—within a comprehensive program management platform—enables complete traceability of requirements from design to manufacture, and provides the knowledge base needed to manage an A&D product through its 30- to 40-year life. Throughout, program managers can easily tap the information to test the effect of any change or learn why previous engineering changes were made.

True, many manufacturers maintain much of this information now, but it’s not integrated, up-to-date and widely available to product-focused specialists. The applications and technology to power such a system have become available only in the past four to five years.

Reducing the Time and Expense of Change

For most manufacturers, the primary goal of program management is to control costs and stay on schedule, while meeting all technical requirements. That’s especially true of A&D manufacturers. 

Analysis by consulting firm Deloitte notes that one-time charges in the industry spiked in 2015, hitting $ 10.3 billion, up from $ 5.0 billion in 2014. While analysts expect the growth of one-time charges to continue to ease, they say program delays, cost overruns and funding issues will continue to plague the industry in the near-term.

High design change rates tend to occur when the product first enters production, and again when it enters service. Adopting technologies and implementing processes that enable more complete virtual testing at all stages of production can dramatically reduce these change rates. 

Similarly, because A&D manufacturers build products that remain in service for decades, they continuously look for ways to make them better, faster and cheaper throughout that span. So, for example, when a program manager wants to eliminate some inspections to speed production and reduce costs, engineers must be able to answer the question: What breaks if these inspections are taken out? 

With a traditional system, the only way an engineer can confidently respond to such a change request is to hunt for offline data. That’s hugely expensive and often not possible. With the digital thread, all data related to the product, including certification data and design tolerances, is easily available to make the best-informed decisions.

Further, A&D products may last 30 to 40 years, but they don’t stay the same. As products are maintained and upgraded, the digital thread enables feedback loops to capture information needed to develop new products and product enhancements, and rapidly remedy field issues.

For true digital program management, the digital thread addresses the challenges of delivering products that meet all technical and performance requirements at-cost and on-schedule. This will allow program managers to spend more time creating value-added capabilities—and new competitive advantage. 

Powering Aerospace and Defense Business Agility with Digital Integration

Sometimes cars are faster than planes. 

They roll off the production line in less time, of course, but the auto industry also is known as an innovation leader among discrete manufacturers. 

And while cars and commercial planes certainly are different products, aerospace and defense (A&D) buyers don’t care. They see innovation being applied in other industries and expect the same results: lower prices, better quality and more responsive service. 

The question is, how will A&D manufacturers respond?

Already among the most highly regulated and competitive manufacturers, A&D producers are experiencing a lag in process evolution that is holding them back from advantages of modern technology that could help.  

What’s needed is an urgent response: They must quickly become adaptable and flexible at every stage of the product lifecycle.

A high number of suppliers makes this challenging. A&D manufacturers have extended networks of hundreds of suppliers, using hundreds of different business platforms, across the globe. Making changes to a new design or an in-service plan with such far-flung operations requires constant collaboration and coordination throughout an aircraft’s life.

If industry projections are any indication, the coming years promise more of the same; that is, more new challenges that A&D manufacturers must address, including increased production demands, the need to keep planes in service longer, and the entrance of new competitors. 

Increased Growth, Competition Demand a Digital Solution

Annual production levels of commercial aircraft are expected to increase an estimated 29.3 percent in 2017. Over the next 20 years, total global demand for new aircraft production is forecast to be 35,155 aircraft—not including regional jets.

Meanwhile, the defense industry saw the U.S. Department of Defense budget increases of $20 billion in FY2016, and $ 9 billion in FY2017, following a 5-year decline from FY2010 to FY2015. Additionally, demand for military products is expected to increase in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, North Korea, and the East and South China Seas. 

However, perhaps not surprisingly, such healthy growth is expected to result in only marginal changes—an increase of 1.7 percent—in commercial aerospace revenue, thanks to continued pricing pressures and product mix changes by customer airlines. In defense, revenue growth is a stronger 3.2 percent.

Also, the expected growth is attracting new competitors, as countries like China, Russia, Japan and India seek a piece of the lucrative advanced manufacturing sector. China took a big step forward in May with the maiden flight of its C919, for which reports say more than 500 orders from 23 customers already have been placed. 

Combined with customer expectations that require even the most efficient manufacturers to make more each year—and more dramatic improvements to reduce costs, increase quality and improve delivery—such market challenges have A&D manufacturers searching for a solution that will cost effectively boost productivity and enable ever faster decision making.

Many are finding the solution in a familiar technology platform—product lifecycle management (PLM)—which can elevate efficiency and agility by providing a digital thread of product data across the entire product lifecycle, through sourcing, compliance and production, and to service and support. 

The Digital Thread and Agility

Until a few years ago, total data integration of an entire product lifecycle process wasn’t practical, let alone an opportunity to achieve competitive advantage. Technically, you could do it, but the technology—both software and hardware—simply wasn’t fast enough. Today’s PLM, by contrast, has a digital thread at its core.

Advances in technology—such as the cloud, mobility, Big Data and high-performance computing—drive creation of a process-based digital thread. The digital thread in turn provides users with new capabilities than can increase quality, speed and delivery, while cutting costs in every phase of bringing a product and service to market. As well, the digital thread offers the opportunity to build new workflows and business models that weren’t possible before. Even better, it offers the ability to do all this faster and more effectively.

Now, leading edge manufacturers are using PLM to weave the digital thread into other areas of their business, with a vision to link and integrate all aspects in an always-available, up-to-date single electronic representation that every decision maker along the product lifecycle can access. 

Game-Changing—and Faster—Innovation

As A&D manufacturers extend the digital thread, they’ll gain speed and flexibility. With all the information about a product, process or service easily accessible in one location for all users, manufacturers will be able to rapidly test and deploy new product and service features, as well as new time- and money-saving processes. 

For A&D manufacturers, those benefits will compound throughout their products’ three- to four-decade lifespan, a significant part of their value stream. 

With the digital thread, manufacturers gain the ability to more quickly see, test and implement the changes in a fast, cost-efficient process. In the increasingly competitive A&D industry, it’s not hard to imagine that the digital thread will rapidly become essential to manufacturers’ continued survival.

How the Digital Thread Transforms Verification Management

More Americans are living to 100 years or older than ever before. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the number of centenarians in the U.S. rose 44 percent between 2000 and 2014. 

Advances in data-driven diagnostics and disease management are a major contributor to increasing longevity. The same can be said for B-52s, the Boeing defense bombers built between 1952 and 1962. Seventy-six of them remain in active service; and with modern maintenance practices, those planes could still be active at 100 years old. 

But there is one big challenge for aerospace and defense (A&D) manufacturers: With tens of thousands of regulatory requirements—each of which must be re-certified every time a change is made—streamlining the verification process is critical.

The good news is that advances in product-data management—just as in healthcare—can streamline the verification process and return other important benefits. 

Imagine having all product lifecycle data (test requests, test procedures, test results, simulation results, artifacts, test articles and simulation models) in one place and linked to the design models. This would enable a product manager or engineer to determine the impact of a proposed change before executing it.

An added bonus for A&D manufacturers: The 20- to 40-year lifetime of their products means the benefits of an integrated product data system will accrue for decades. Downstream operators won’t need to waste time, effort and opportunity because of missing data for design, production, certification, commissioning, maintenance, and other prior processes and decisions.

To build this integrated product-data model, A&D manufacturers need to have an always-on, always up-to-date and widely accessible digital thread of product data. 

The digital Thread and Promise of Industry 4.0

The value of the digital thread is essentially the foundation of Industry 4.0, which, by definition, is tailor-made to address the biggest challenges in today’s processes. That is, the need for and obvious benefits of: 

Horizontal integration of the value-added network

Seamless integration of the engineering of that network

Vertical integration and networked production systems

Industry 4.0 is all about integration and hence the digital thread. Further, Industry 4.0 promises to integrate the “cyber-physical” systems. Design takes place solely in the digital realm and generates only digital records while testing and other downstream processes take place in the physical world—with data that might or might not be digitalized, but traditionally always resides separately from design data.

While these once-modern point solutions still might yield some benefits, they are outdated. They can’t provide an always-updated and integrated digital thread of data across a product’s lifecycle.

By contrast, leading-edge A&D manufacturers are using product lifecycle management (PLM) as a process- and product-management platform that uses the value of the digital thread to enable data integration beyond product development and production, and into maintenance and service requirements. 

Only in the last four to five years have software and hardware become powerful enough to enable such integration. Earlier PLM systems were limited in terms of the types of objects for which they could create relationships. For example, they could create a trace link between certain types of data, say a requirement and a document. But they couldn’t create a trace link between a requirement and a product structure or a part, nor could they create a trace link between test data and a product and the best procedure. 

In new applications, trace linking between and among any object is possible. This feature alone removes mountains of complexity, time drain and error potential from commonly practiced verification processes.

The power of this new digital thread capability, especially to A&D manufacturers, is self-evident. They can pursue verification management’s holy grail—a complete end-to-end, closed-loop integration of the entire product-service cycle that is easily accessible to all stakeholders throughout the product’s life.

The integrated data flows across all enterprise value streams—development, design, sourcing, compliance, production and support—and enables end-to-end collaboration, continuous improvement, improved decision-making, quality and traceability. 

The Compounding Value of Integrated Verification Management

To make effective decisions, stakeholders must have on-demand access to all the linked program data.  Most important, such a system maintains the digital thread and enables answering the “why” question. Knowing the answer to the “why” question is critical throughout the thousands of decisions made during the product’s design, manufacture and service. 

Having all the artifacts and information that informed the initial certification process ensures that when a question arises, the answer is easily found and traced through each part of the process. Anyone can review how the original requirement was met and certification completed. What was the analysis? What thinking drove that analysis? What tests were run? Why this set of requirements?

Without such traceability, locating the analysis behind a decision, or the tests that were run and their results, costs time and money. In many cases, the knowledge is either lost or so difficult to find that tests must be rerun and reanalyzed. 

With total integration of the product lifecycle, knowledge is retained and easily available ensuring that full system program verification is cost-effectively completed on schedule, and that any problems at any time can be solved quickly. 

About Siemens

With its presence for longer than 160 years in Turkey, Siemens is one of the strongest candidates to meet the long term needs of complex aerospace programs which are expected to last several decades. 

Besides the fully integrated PLM solution offered by Siemens, we are also capable of offering a full portfolio in complete integration of manufacturing and shop floor automation to the PLM backbone for the next Industrial revolution, Industry 4.0, which will be a must for all A&D companies in the near future to stay competitive in the market.

Siemens Turkey celebrates 161 years in Turkey