It's a bold concept: a small company in the huge aerospace industry comes up with the daring idea of designing air taxis to enable air transportation for the masses. And the main ingredient pushing the concept to reality is the PLM software they use.
In actuality, the concept isn't novel at all. Just 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 Dr. Oliver Masefield, Senior Vice President of Engineering at Eclipse Aviation.
Eclipse Aviation is the small company behind the yellow-cab concept in the sky. 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.
The economical operation of the jet stems from the process behind it. 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 Masefield finds value in. "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."
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. 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.
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 on the aircraft, which is scheduled to be commercially available in early 2006. "More than any startup company," Masefield points out.
Among the novel concepts Eclipse Aviation is using and introducing with its Eclipse 500 jet is the use of friction stir welding. The company is the first to use the process to produce thin-gauge aluminum in high volume for building aircraft. To read more about the Eclipse 500 jet, go to http://eclipseaviation.com/500jet/. To find out more about Teamcenter's Repeatable Digital Validation, go to http://www.eds.com/products/plm/teamcenter/engineering/rdv.shtml.
The Eclipse 500 jet, available commercially in 2006, uses Teamcenter PLM software's Repeatable Digital Validation solution from UGS PLM Solutions to enable efficient operations and minimal errors.