What can go wrong when you give IT the large

4 mins read

There are increasingly interesting solutions to the problems involved with managing very large assemblies and projects. Dr Tom Shelley reports on problems and solutions

The news that the Airbus A380 is two years behind schedule because its German and Spanish offices were using Catia V4 CAD/CAM software, while its French and UK offices used V5, and the German engineers in Hamburg could not add their electrical wiring design changes to the common 3D digital mock-up in France, should serve as a warning to us all. Big projects are hard enough to manage ordinarily, even more so when they are pushing the envelope of what has previously been considered possible. Software that acts in any way as a barrier, instead of an enabler, into company-wide engineering development, data sharing and the rest, may well result in very serious risk. Fortunately, most companies involved in large projects do make stringent efforts to ensure that engineering design changes are communicated to everyone who needs to know about them - and that digital mock-ups or centralised data vault models exist only in the latest version, and are kept up to date. Returning to Airbus though, software revisions aside, did nobody think to inform the harness makers that the structural design had changed? Did nobody at the harness makers question anything? Working to out-of-date drawings is such a well known problem that a company with the prestige of Airbus must surely have been aware. PDM (product data management) and PLM (product lifecycle management) are supposed to prevent such things occurring, and Airbus has such systems in spades. Yet clearly they were not enough. Smug Boeing? And the result? Engineers at Boeing must be feeling both relieved and smug about the fact that the team working on its 787 Dreamliner all work within the company's Global Collaborative Environment, which was implemented more than two years ago based on a full scale Dassault Systmes Enovia PLM package. Its total team, including sub tier contractors, involves companies from two dozen countries at 135 partner sites. Its system includes Catia V5 and Delmia for production simulation, and Boeing absolutely understands its importance. Mike Blair, vice president and general manager for the 787 programme at Boeing Commercial Aircraft, says: "The Boeing Collaboration Environment is a key element in the impressive progress our team has made in the last 24 months." Airbus, on the other hand, must be smarting from the discovery that wiring harnesses did not fit the A380 when it came to be assembled - some of the pieces of the 300 miles of wire were too short, and others were affected by the aircraft structure itself. The company has now fully embraced the ideas of an overall digital mock-up of the aeroplane - and that everyone working on the project should use the same CAD software! Estimates of the cost of the debacle range up to $6.1 billion. Shares in parent EADS were, at time of writing, trading at just over 21 euros, down from 30 euros this time last year. Airbus CEO Christian Streiff resigned. Another part of EADS, on the other hand, which also has users on both Catia V4 and V5, nonetheless seems to have coped with the incompatibility problems without dire consequences - apparently by making use of Cimmetry's AutoVue software. Eurocopter develops helicopters and aircraft components at three locations: Donauworth and Ottobrunn in Germany and Marignane in France. Production is distributed over six main plants in France, Germany and Spain. The company has 13,000 employees and also supports 16 regional offices and affiliates on all five continents. Sales breakdown is: 55% helicopters, 31% maintenance, and 14% other activities including the supply of door systems, emergency exits and cargo hatches to Airbus. Almost one third of all development tasks are now outsourced. Eurocopter uses Catia V4 and V5 on 700 Unix workstations, with most users still on V4. Colleagues in process planning, production, quality assurance and procurement mostly work on PCs and were previously unable to access CAD data directly. The remaining departments could only access tiff files of released drawings. And just to add to the complexity, some of its suppliers use CAD systems other than Catia. AutoVue at Eurocopter is installed as a web-based solution, with 150 users of SolidModel Professional and 50 more licenses for mobile uses. The latter are primarily used by staff from technical sales so they can show customers Catia models produced by the design department. The company also intends to similarly equip service engineers so they can use the 3D models to better identify faulty helicopter components on-site. While personnel at Eurocopter primarily use AutoVue to view Catia models, they can also see CAD data in formats such as SolidWorks' own, STEP, IGES, VDA-FS and AutoCAD DWG and DXF - as well as the tiff images. To allow users to find files rapidly, the company employs a web-based search system that examines all PDM databases, extracts the relevant files and provides views in AutoVue. Also, the browser-based solution offers the option of launching a file download or making it available for data exchanged with other locations or external partners on the Internet. Incidentally, the PDM environment principally consists of a single instance of Enovia VPM with AutoVue on top. In addition, AutoVue is directly linked to its SAP production planning system. Eurocopter is currently studying AutoVue's digital mock-up capabilities. But global accessibility and consistency is not just germane to the aerospace sector. In automotive too there is a need to standardise on software and ensure co-ordination of design and development. Ford, for example, has extended its multi-year contract with Dassault Systmes, which designates Catia V5 as its global design and engineering standard for all new vehicle and power train systems development. Massive improvements Part of the solution at Ford is its 'Engineering Hub', which provides a native Catia V5 environment for access and management within the company's C3P NG platform (CAD/CAM/CAE; Product Information Management; Next Generation). Suppliers have to work in either Catia or UGS I-deas NX. Meanwhile, other large, complex projects that also require a single management environment, use other approaches. For example, Bergmeier Machinenbau, a mid-sized company based in Hiddenhausen, Germany, designing and producing complex plant for the food industry, uses none of the big ticket CAD or PLM. It uses CoCreate's OneSpace Designer Modelling, Designer Drafting and data management system. Company owner Gerd Bergmeier says: "I paid an external designer for six weeks to show me how to design my product using a popular, parametric 3D CAD software. Pretty soon, my development was over-budget and late. Thankfully, OneSpace Designer reeled in my project at the last minute." What went wrong? "The fact that the model carried such a high data volume in the original software was the reason there were so many system crashes," explains Bergmeier. Moving to OneSpace Designer got the data for 100 parts down to an easily manageable 6.8Mb. Bottom line results include design times and project costs halved, training requirements 40% less, changes late in design implemented faster and easier, and data volumes 20 times smaller and loaded 60 times faster. Beyond that, design errors were cut by 20%!