It's a bold concept: a small company in the huge aerospace industry comes up with the idea of shunning the big-plane concept and instead designing small ones to operate as air taxis and enable air transportation for the masses. And the main ingredient pushing the concept to reality is the product lifecycle management (PLM) software they use.
In actuality, the concept isn't novel at all. Look at the beginning of the automotive industry, which provided affordable cars for the masses. "We're looking to reinvent the equation from Henry Ford," says Oliver Masefield, senior vice president of engineering at Eclipse Aviation.
Eclipse Aviation is the small company behind the yellow-cab concept in the sky (see DN 09.17.2001, p47; http://rbi.ims.ca/3850-522). With about 250 employees (about half in engineering), the company has already developed the Eclipse 500 jet, currently in testing phase. And according to the company, the six-seat, twin-turbofan jet costs less than most used turboprops. "Our goal for the Eclipse 500 is to be so economical in its operation that it allows an air taxi type of operation to exist with a cost of transportation similar to full-fare aircraft," Masefield says. While consumers will decide if there's a need or want for these air taxis, Eclipse Aviation is doing their part of fulfilling the goal—they're making the inexpensive aircraft, and they're doing it efficiently (and optimistically), should the demand be greater than most small companies can handle. "It's a very economical proposition for jet owners," Masefield adds. "It's also part of the main reason we use the PLM tools we use in development."
These PLM tools are sets of technologies that incorporate design, simulation and testing information, procurement and logistics documentation, manufacturing data, and customer relationship management/ sales data, all within the umbrella of an information architecture system. Eclipse Aviation uses Teamcenter PLM software from UGS PLM Solutions, which they chose based on the company's leadership in CAD systems as well. "There's a lot of power in having the same provider of both the CAD and PLM program," Masefield explains. Eclipse Aviation did use a different company's PLM program originally, but found that it did not provide the necessary interaction with the CAD system.
The integration of PLM has also meant the elimination of the company's former daily "fly-through" meetings in which coworkers would discuss changes they had made to designs. Teamcenter's Repeatable Digital Validation (RDV) solution is the key behind the seamless operation powering the Eclipse 500. "RDV is made up of consolidated changes, configurations management, and spatial searches," says Paul Sicking, one of the key developers of RDV at UGS PLM Solutions. Through RDV, iterations made to the jet's individual components automatically update the entire design, not just the component, in real-time—a feature that Mase-field finds valuable. "In design, you don't know what other people are doing," he says. "You could lose massive amounts of productive time if two people change the design at the same time." Users may validate and make design changes in a multi-CAD digital mockup environment, which will automatically update.
The behind-the-scenes parts collaboration also enables Eclipse Aviation's designers to take advantage of Teamcenter's spatial searches, which finds the exact information or component a user is looking for, and cuts down on wasted search time. Generally, the greater the assembly size or number of components, the more time it takes to do a spatial search with traditional digital mockups; RDV, according to UGS PLM Solutions, requires the same minimal amount of time regardless of the number of components. With RDV, each designer does not have to create his own background data, which could lead to more errors. The real-time process goes beyond the physical and digital mockups that are generally more expensive and not up-to-date. RDV also enables users to access the PDM, CAD, and enterprise systems.
PLM often gets generalized as being useful to large companies only. Masefield scoffs at the notion. "The advantage of PLM for all companies is to allow for faster time-to-market," he says. "The investment in systems like this is pretty substantial, but the investment recovers itself admirably if you can accelerate the program and make the designs more robust through simulations."
Of course, it should come as no surprise that this engineer for a small company would support the use of stereotypically large-company software. Eclipse Aviation is also convinced they can provide a viable air transportation alternative for people unwilling to commit to a traditional airline's schedule and location. Already, more than 2,000 orders have been placed for the aircraft, which is scheduled to be commercially available in early 2006. "More than any startup company," Masefield proudly points out.
Other aerospace companies are also finding the value of working in a PLM program's virtual environment. While Boeing's name is often associated with large airplanes, the company is using Dassault Systemes' V5 PLM platform to develop its new mid-size plane, the 7E7, due in production in 2006. Both Boeing and Dassault Systemes' solutions (CATIA, DELMIA, ENOVIA, and SMARTEAM) have jointly formed the 7E7 Global Collaboration Environment (GCE) to design, build, and test the plane and its manufacturing process in a digital environment before production begins.
Fast Track: Teamcenter's Repeatable
Digital Validation enables users in production to go from weeks to
minutes, from physical and static to digital and dynamic, and from
concurrent to collaborative