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Joint Strike Fighter gains through global collaboration

Joint Strike Fighter gains through global collaboration

The Boeing Company (Seattle, WA) is in tight competition for what may be the last Western piloted fighter aircraft - the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), and has built two demonstrator aircraft, the X-32A and X-32B. The X-32A has completed flight testing and has demonstrated conventional take-off and landing for the U.S. Air Force, and aircraft carrier approach requirements for the U.S. Navy. The X-32B will soon demonstrate short takeoff and vertical landing for the U.S. Marine Corps. The production JSF will be used by all three services and their counterparts in the United Kingdom.

For the competition, and also for an on-going affordability initiative demonstration, Boeing created a design, simulation and collaboration environment using integrated product teams (IPTs). The airframe IPT, led by Mark Rosenberger, JSF Air Vehicle Structures & System manager, heads up the work. Individual IPTs are responsible for design to manufacture of major aircraft sections. Each team has the resources and skills to design and deliver its entire portion. In addition, analysis and integration teams work with all the IPTs to make sure interfaces and requirements are consistent within and between teams.

The X-32A has completed flight testing and has demonstrated conventional take-off and landing for the U.S. Air Force, and aircraft carrier approach requirements for the U.S. Navy. The X-32B will soon demonstrate short takeoff and vertical landing for the U.S. Marine Corps.

Most of the X-32 design work took place in Seattle and at the former McDonell Douglas facility in St. Louis. But while the Seattle-based engineers used CATIA for design, those in St. Louis used Unigraphics. So the designers could work together, Boeing's IT organization set up collaboration techniques using the STEP protocol to translate CAD data on a continuous basis to ensure a single source of data for the joint teams. In addition, a web-based program visibility system allowed collaboration with non-CAD data.

As the project progressed, Boeing brought suppliers, both domestic and international (in this case, mainly located in the UK and The Netherlands) into the collaborative framework. Under the name of One Team, all participants are peers sharing and contributing to the JSF. Representatives of the U.S. government also take part.

Rosenberger says, "One Team strengthens the project by bringing everyone's input together. The system enables simultaneous collaboration." Collaboration takes place through frequent video-teleconferences in which up to 26 different locations can share data in real time. "Strong encryption between the sites makes sure our sessions are secure," Rosenberger says.

Collaboration also takes place over the Internet. Currently, One Team members at all the different sites can access product data over the Internet. Because everyone uses common web tools, very few technology changes were needed by the participating companies. "If we modify a design, the change can be posted on the common site, and everyone involved can pull up the data, see the changes, and act accordingly," Rosenberger says.

The JSF will be used by all three services and their counterparts in the United Kingdom.

Real-time collaboration also smoothes design, manufacture and affordability issues. Though designed in Seattle and St. Louis, the X-32 was built in Palmdale, CA. And specifications, set by the U.S. and UK military, define a common set of requirements for all branches of the military. "It's a critical advantage to have common specifications and design criteria for the design teams," Rosenberger says.

The engineers conduct remote liaison with manufacturing via hand-held cameras hooked up to wearable computers with video feed-back. The designers can see problems, and mark up changes on a smart-board so that the factory has instant engineering information.

The teams use simulation at every step. Starting with 3D solid definitions of every component, the teams use a number of analysis tools and simulate everything from design to manufacturing and maintenance. "When we assembled the actual aircraft, it was as if were building it for the third or fourth time," Rosenberger says.

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