The Boeing Co. has a company-wide Internet-based communications network called Automated Information Management (AIM) that runs on a classified wide area network. Worldwide employees, suppliers, and customers can communicate on the network, and the central website makes it possible to invite others to teleconferenced or net-based meetings for secure communications.
At the same time, Boeing has a number of CAD programs, including CATIA, Pro/ENGINEER, Unigraphics, and I-DEAS, deployed on individual workstations. Employees may come and go, but software licenses generally stay attached to workstations, used or not.
Ray Raines, a retired Boeing Technical Fellow with aerospace design experience that goes back to the Apollo missions, now acts as a consultant to the company at its Seal Beach, CA facility. He describes his current job as finding ways to solve several problems at the same time. When he recently became acquainted with 3G.web.decisions software from 3Ga Corp. (Los Angeles) he saw it as something that can help AIM become host to a product development exchange for Boeing and its team members. At the same time, it would allow CAD licenses to be reassigned to the network, instead of wasting them on unused equipment.
3G.web.decisions, released in June 2001, is a three-part system made up of 3G.author, 3G.access, and 3G.central. The suite makes it unnecessary either to translate CAD models or to use a single CAD system, unlike software and services from vendors such as CoCreate, and Alibre. Because it performs design optimization, it works with full CAD models, rather than lightweight math model visualizations.
The software enables web-based transfer of geometrical, tolerance, feature and design intent data, together with engineering simulation files (boundary conditions, loads, and constraints). "The software works at the CAD kernel level, through the programs' application programming interfaces (APIs) to get a full venue into the objectives, constraints and additional design intent. It then maps the APIs into the 3Ga front end with all object history, features, and constraints in the same consistent interface," says Marc Halpern, research director, c-commerce/manufacturing, Gartner Group.
Containing the Parasolid, ACIS, and Granite One kernels, 3G.web.decisions works with CAD programs based on those kernels (SolidWorks, Solid Edge, Unigraphics, Pro/ENGINEER, etc.), and will work with CATIA by the end of the first quarter of 2002. Before the end of 2001, it will enable users to mock up any size assembly with parts and sub-assemblies from a variety of different CAD programs. "These are live CAD models, not tessellated files," says 3Ga President and CEO Yuri Kizimovich.
To optimize the design, the user of 3G.author enters additional design criteria and safety factors, moves a sliding bar, and watches the geometry change in real time as the design parameters change. Users can run through a host of "what if" scenarios, and save changed designs. The company is currently working to make it possible for design iterations to be saved in SmarTeam's PDM software, and will work with other software providers in the future.
3G.access is a Web-native Java application that allows users without authoring permission to view information and post notes back to the project space from any web browser. 3G.central is a web application server that manages peer-to-peer data flow and user access. 3G.web.decisions is fully compatible with SSL, although 3Ga Corp. leaves it up to users to install the secure systems.
The software performs optimization using built-in linear static finite element analysis capabilities. In the Boeing application it will be integrated with Thermica, a ray tracing and thermal analysis program from Astrium (formerly Matra Marconi Space of France). 3Ga plans to work with MSCNastran and other specialized FEA solvers in the future.
Ray Raines wants Boeing to convert its CAD licenses from individual to network licenses, install 3G.web.decisions for a non-classified project, and get engineers busy collaborating. "We're about to add Windchill (from PTC) to AIM to track documentation, and 3G.web.decisions will help subcontractors who don't use the same CAD programs. We can bring in the model with design intent, merge heterogeneous models together, and have all the engineering already done. This saves hours and hours of doing it by hand," he says.
He wants Boeing to try it on the non-classified Orbital Express program, on which Boeing is working with DARPA, the U.S. Air Force, and several subcontractors. The program's goal is to save millions of dollars by creating satellites that can be serviced and maintained while in orbit. Raines sees 3G.web.decisions as a good way to save money in-house as well. "What Boeing can save on more efficient use of existing CAD licenses will more than pay for the 3Ga software," he says.
EASi Corp. (Detroit, MI) does contract engineering and service, mostly for the automotive industry. Currently implementing 3G.web.decisions for use with its own subsidiaries in Germany and India, EASi Corp. plans to become a value-added reseller of the software. "At the moment, each of the Big Three has a favored CAD program, and wants all suppliers to use it," says Maxim Castelino, vice president of engineering. "It makes economic sense for Tier One suppliers to have all the systems, but that's not necessarily the case for smaller subcontractors. If these people want to collaborate, it becomes critical to have a neutral format. If everyone needs to have the OEM's CAD, it's difficult and expensive to share information across multiple databases with difficult revision controls. 3G.web.decisions can cut down on the back-and-forth of parts of designs and the re-engineering often needed. It provides collaboration in a dynamic format that saves time and money."
John Alpay, a design engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, at Cal Tech (Pasadena, CA), just started to use 3Ga software. Because his department is busy with the current NASA Mars project, he has only used it for optimization. When asked if he was interested in using it for collaboration, he thought for a moment and then replied, "It would be useful for working with people in other buildings here at JPL, so we can work on the same model and talk to each other simultaneously. That's very possible. It holds a lot of promise for the future."