Last month, aeronautics giant EADS touched down on a maiden voyage it claims is essential for the company's future. It wasn't a test flight of a new commercial jet out of its Airbus or Eurocopter divisions. Nor was it a war game experiment of any of the missile systems, military launchers or communications systems produced as part of its defense and security lines of business. Rather, the 43.3 billion Euro aerospace and defense leader finished up a key leg in its journey to “harmonize” PLM tools and processes used across all global EADS divisions.
Three years in the making, the PHENIX project formally went into practice in two EADS divisions on Jan. 21, with two additional divisions coming on board in short order and ongoing deployment of the PLM program to additional groups and EADS partners moving forward. PHENIX (which stands for PLM Harmonization Enhanced Integration and Excellence) standardizes enterprise PLM methods, processes, tools and data models between the EADS business units, which include Airbus, Eurocopter and EADS Astrium. The PHENIX vision is to streamline increasingly complex product development and manufacturing processes and to make product information more readily accessible to EADS suppliers and partners around the world. Equally as important, the PHENIX project is intended to foster and enforce deeper integration, common workflows and greater transparency across previously siloed mechanical, electrical and software engineering functions. The end game: To aid in the development of next-generation aircraft and military offerings that increasingly require a highly integrated systems approach to design, development and manufacturing.
“It is absolutely necessary to associate the different disciplines together otherwise we would not be able to develop a composite aircraft with a high ratio of materials,” says Jean-Yves Mondon, vice president and head of the PHENIX program. “If we don't develop such a program, if we don't have such an aircraft, there is no longer this company. We must be able to face the competition better and for this, the silo effect must absolutely disappear.”
Complexity: A Game Changer
What EADS is setting out to accomplish with the PHENIX project reflects a new set of engineering requirements dictated by how aerospace and defense systems are designed and manufactured today. It goes without saying that the products themselves are far more complex, whether you're talking about the functionality found in a missile system or submarine, or the composite materials now a key element for state-of-the-art aircraft. Beyond the actual product, the way aerospace and defense systems are built and designed transcends work done at a single plant let alone within the far flung walls of a single global organization. Aerospace and defense conglomerates like EADS typically have a large and intricate global ecosystem of partnerships and supply chain relationships, all of which play a critical role in designing and manufacturing the end product. “Complexity is the key word at the moment,” says John Farrant, manager of IBM's aerospace and defense PLM solutions and a partner of EADS on the PHENIX project.
What's driving a lot of that complexity is the changing makeup of the systems that constitute today's aircraft. While the aerospace and defense sector has always been a pioneer in the area of mechatronics design, software is increasingly the lifeblood of these systems, up from controlling around 50 percent of the aircraft's functions to around 85 percent to 95 percent today, Farrant says. “Aircraft has always pioneered a certain level of combining mechanical, electrical and software components in different systems and we're now looking more to a systems engineering approach to help solve some of those program difficulties,” he explains. “Twenty years ago, we were fairly siloed in terms of our engineering domains. Today, because the programs are so integrated and have such interdependencies, we have to tie together the requirements and capabilities of all the domains because they all impact each other more than they've ever done before.”
The PHENIX project is designed to help promote that kind of systems engineering approach. One of the primary things PHENIX does is establish a “3-D Master Reference” digital mock-up approach, which facilitates collaboration by allowing multiple divisions and engineering functions, as well as international teams to share collective knowledge. Through the use of 3-D design and simulation technologies specified under the PHENIX umbrella, the EADS divisions can turn complex 3-D design and manufacturing processes into tested and repeatable models to achieve optimal results, as well as predict product behaviors using virtual group validation and resolution techniques. Finally, PHENIX establishes a flow of design data across EADS divisions and engineering functions, as well as with design partners. This will promote the correct interpretation of product definitions, a key tactic that should help boost product design cycles and, more importantly, catch costly design mistakes in the earliest stages of product development.
Mondon says to think about PHENIX as a way for the multicultural and multidisciplinary EADS company to speak the same technical language and work on product development processes in the same manner. “Even if we have the impression we're working on the same product definition, it's not always the same configuration … and the same word doesn't always have the same meaning to people,” Mondon says. “It's incredible the mistakes that can (occur as a) result,” he adds, citing misunderstandings and miscommunication of design information as the key dangers to not having a common development language and data model.
EADS has plenty of experience dealing with the repercussions of design miscommunications. In a well-publicized series of product development snags, EADS' division Airbus was forced to delay its long-awaited A380 jet liner in 2006 due to design snafus related to the wiring harness system. Small modifications made to the wiring harness system were later found to cause problems with other subsystems, but the glitches were discovered late in the design process when it's more difficult and expensive to make changes. It was also widely reported that incompatibilities among the various CAD tools used by the different engineering disciplines and suppliers involved in the project were in part to blame for the miscues.
Under the PHENIX scenario, mistakes like the wiring harness incident are likely to be avoided. Given the efforts around PLM harmonization, the myriad engineering groups and design partners are working with the same toolset, eliminating the possibilities of incompatibilities. PTC's Windchill, in concert with PHENIXCHANGE, has been designated the Enterprise PLM backbone for the PHENIX project, supporting configuration management, data management and lifecycle management. Dassault Systèmes' CATIA CAD tool, ENOVIA PDM platform and DELMIA digital manufacturing software serve as the CAD/CAM-related building blocks and are the key backbone for creating the 3-D Master Reference model for digital mock-up. As part of the PHENIX architecture, there is also a Requirements Management backbone (the DOORS software from IBM's Rational Software division), an Electrical backbone, a Simulation backbone and an Integration backbone, the latter functioning as a way to create real-time connections between the various tools and reducing the possibility of siloed systems.
“One of the key ways of approaching these new (aircraft) structures is multidisciplinary optimization,” Mondon explains. “If it's just mechanical or electrical and it comes together at the end, it's too late. We need to put all the functions together in the same structure … hence the need for a non-siloed approach.”
PHENIX's Main Areas for Harmonization and Innovation
|Customer Requirements & Support
||Platform for managing system and product requirements
||DOORS requirements management software; IBM's Rational div.: www.ibm.com/software/rational
|Data Management/Master Product Definition
||Establish enterprise-wide, single product reference, along with common processes and tools
||Windchill; PTC: www.ptc.com
|Collaboration and Visualization
||3-D digital mock-up
||CATIA, VPM V4 and DELMIA; Dassault Systèmes: www.3ds.com
||Electrical database management and 3-D representation of electrical systems
||CATIA; Dassault Systèmes: www.3ds.com
||MSC NASTRAN; MSC Software Corp.: www.mscsoftware.com
||Connecting the various backbones and design platforms
||To be determined