PLM and Digital Threads Are Not Quick Fixes When the Coronavirus Downturn Hits the Aerospace & Defense Industry
Verdi Ogewell posted on November 11, 2020 |
What's happening in the PLM field for the Aerospace & Defense (A&D) industry?

What's happening in the PLM field for the Aerospace & Defense (A&D) industry? The issue is a hot topic not only in the wake of the dramatic coronavirus’ effects, but also related to technological developments, climate concerns and a world that seems to be heading into a massive transition from fossil-fueled to electric power generation.

How is product development affected, especially in civil aviation, when financial resources are radically reduced? What does the way forward look like when it comes to investments in digital tools and the corresponding methods to reach concepts such as digital twins and threads, configuration management, model-based system development, muliti-view BOM’s, secure collaboration and others? Can PLM, Product Innovation Platforms and tools help when money is becoming a scarce resource in the A&D industry that in 2019 spent more than $4.6 billion on PLM related areas?

“It is a tough situation,” says Jim Roche. “But advances in terms of sharper processes, new methods and corresponding tools are foundational regardless of the economic cycles.”

Jim Roche is CIMdata’s Aerospace & Defense practice director, and a well-known profile in the A&D segment. Roche is also a member of CIMdata’s Aerospace & Defense PLM Action Group (AD PAG) initiative. Together with Håkan Kårdén, PDT’s organizer and PLM developer Eurostep’s marketing director, Roche is responsible for the upcoming PLM Road Map & PDT 2020 event agenda, set to take place November 17-19, 2020.

Both Airbus and Boeing are being hit hard by the coronavirus crisis’ effects. In the picture, the A350 XWB jetliner model. With desolate echoes of airports around the world and a civil aviation business that has occasionally been down in 90 percent declines in terms of air travel, technological development may not feel like the first thing that comes to mind. Nevertheless, PLM is foundational within the industry regardless of economic cycles. These companies need to deal with the current economic crisis, yes, but they are always looking to the future and investing in the advances that will protect and advance their competitive position, concludes CIMdata’s Jim Roche. (Image courtesy of Airbus, computer rendering by EIAI.)
Both Airbus and Boeing are being hit hard by the coronavirus crisis’ effects. In the picture, the A350 XWB jetliner model. With desolate echoes of airports around the world and a civil aviation business that has occasionally been down in 90 percent declines in terms of air travel, technological development may not feel like the first thing that comes to mind. Nevertheless, PLM is foundational within the industry regardless of economic cycles. These companies need to deal with the current economic crisis, yes, but they are always looking to the future and investing in the advances that will protect and advance their competitive position, concludes CIMdata’s Jim Roche. (Image courtesy of Airbus, computer rendering by EIAI.)

The content planned for the PLM Road Map & PDT 2020 event is interesting. For those who want to know more about how PLM evolves during this challenging period, especially in the aviation and defense industry, this conference—being held virtually, as almost all events nowadays­—is one of the most exciting to date. This is particularly true because a number of the most important A&D players, including companies such as Boeing, Airbus, Gulfstream, Saab Aeronautics, BAE Systems, Raytheon and Pratt & Whitney, will participate with presentations on the main theme: “The Digital Thread: The PLM professionals' path to delivering innovation, efficiency and quality.”

Influence Through Joint Action

No Quick Fix. “PLM is not a quick fix for an economic downturn, and the same applies for the digital thread. But it can improve efficiency of collaboration and can be an accelerant for a rapid recovery,” says analyst CIMdata’s Aerospace & Defense practice director, Jim Roche, in today’s interview.

No Quick Fix. “PLM is not a quick fix for an economic downturn, and the same applies for the digital thread. But it can improve efficiency of collaboration and can be an accelerant for a rapid recovery,” says analyst CIMdata’s Aerospace & Defense practice director, Jim Roche, in today’s interview.

What is The Aerospace & Defense PLM Action Group and what are their objectives?

“The Group was founded in February 2014 by the executives responsible for PLM investment at Airbus, Boeing, Embraer and Gulfstream, who had decided that their common PLM pain points could best be remediated through joint action,” explains Roche.

“Examples include management of PLM technology obsolescence, design chain and supply chain collaboration, the flow of digital product definition from development to manufacture to service. These companies came together to shift their spend profiles, increasing resources available for innovation by reducing redundant spend on common problems. Also, they wanted to amplify their message by speaking to PLM solution providers with a single voice. The founding members engaged CIMdata to help organize the Group and to administer its ongoing operations. Over the years, the membership grew to eleven of the world’s leading airframer and propulsion OEMs. Today, with consolidations and financial pressures in the industry, the membership stands at eight,” Roche adds.

A Paradoxical Dilemma

It doesn’t require rocket science to figure out the background to the situation Roche talks about. With desolate echoes of empty airports around the world and a civil aviation business that has occasionally been down by 90 percent in terms of air travel, technological development may not feel like the first thing that comes to mind.

Rather, the discussions are about almost existential issues. When Boeing, Airbus and other aerospace players barely receive any new orders for civilian aircraft month after month, the questions become more about how to create financial resources that can keep an industry that employs hundreds of thousands employees afloat, as well as the vast network of partners and suppliers.

Low activity in aerospace manufacturing is a typical effect of the coronavirus crisis, and the halted air travel that followed and continues to follow in the wake of shut-downs connected to the pandemic. (Image: Getty.)
Low activity in aerospace manufacturing is a typical effect of the coronavirus crisis, and the halted air travel that followed and continues to follow in the wake of shut-downs connected to the pandemic. (Image: Getty.)

The paradoxical dilemma seems to be that at the same time, technological development and the pace of innovation are required now more than ever. Electrification, autonomy development, shifting the weighting between software and electronics on the one hand and classical mechanics on the other, IoT, IIoT and increased simulation use at all levels places great demands on capable and rational digital tools, methodology development and new process approaches. We are talking about things such as MBD, MBSE, multi-view BOM’s and in general about a transition from paper-based documentation to digital models, and solutions for collaboration and exchange of the same models.

PLM is Central to the A&D Mission

Generally, what role can PLM and Product Innovation Platforms (PIP) play? A lot can be done to solve what from some perspectives appears to be an “impossible” equation. PLM investments will be affected, says Roche. Still, he is confident that the leading PLM position that has always been the hallmark of the industry will remain, regardless of the economic cycles.

“The AD PAG members consider PLM and the Product Innovation Platform to be central to their mission. Since the Group’s inception, the members have pursued a strategy of collaborative engagement with the PLM solution providers. Projects to address topics such as model-based definition (MBD) to achieve regulatory certification, or model-based systems engineering interoperability specifications, have progressed through stages of causal analysis and definition of desired future state, to definition of requirements and use cases for achieving the future state. At each stage, the PLM software providers have been engaged to contribute their expertise and recommendations,” asserts Roche.

Are there any concrete examples?

“There are several,” says Roche.  “This has resulted in a rich exchange of ideas and greater alignment of thought leaders from the two communities. One meaningful metric for the influence of AD PAG project outcomes on the PLM solution provider community is the number of research reports, direction statements and position papers downloaded from the AD PAG website. That number of downloads is currently more than 4,000.”

The aerospace industry’s leading OEMs—Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, Dassault Aviation, Embraer, GE Aviation, Gulfstream, Rolls-Royce, SAFRAN—have banded together to magnify their influence on the top PLM vendors to take action on persistent product and process deficiencies through the Aerospace & Defense PLM Action Group (AD PAG) founded in February 2014. In a recent benchmark, the industry’s strategic PLM providers were invited—including Dassault, Siemens, PTC and Aras—to show how each solution can address the real world use case complexity of transforming engineering Bill of Materials (eBOM) into manufacturing BOMs (mBOM). The key question was: how can A&D companies best meet the needs of product development and manufacturing teams for their own, unique view of the authoritative source for product information—the BOM? “A&D companies typically use one of two approaches to manage these diverse needs,” says Aras PLM’s Marc Lind.  ‘Single BOM’ includes both engineering and manufacturing data and uses customized, manual techniques to enable different roles to interpret necessary data from the combined structure. ‘Dual BOM’ leverages two separate BOM structures for engineering and manufacturing, often in two or more different systems.  The final “Multi-view BOM Solution Evaluation Benchmarks Report” proposes a best practice approach allowing for multiple views of the same information in a single PLM, using filtering and calculation to generate different views of the same information depending on the user’s role and with each view enabling new information and data structures to be managed by each team.
The aerospace industry’s leading OEMs—Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, Dassault Aviation, Embraer, GE Aviation, Gulfstream, Rolls-Royce, SAFRAN—have banded together to magnify their influence on the top PLM vendors to take action on persistent product and process deficiencies through the Aerospace & Defense PLM Action Group (AD PAG) founded in February 2014. In a recent benchmark, the industry’s strategic PLM providers were invited—including Dassault, Siemens, PTC and Aras—to show how each solution can address the real world use case complexity of transforming engineering Bill of Materials (eBOM) into manufacturing BOMs (mBOM). The key question was: how can A&D companies best meet the needs of product development and manufacturing teams for their own, unique view of the authoritative source for product information—the BOM? “A&D companies typically use one of two approaches to manage these diverse needs,” says Aras PLM’s Marc Lind. ‘Single BOM’ includes both engineering and manufacturing data and uses customized, manual techniques to enable different roles to interpret necessary data from the combined structure. ‘Dual BOM’ leverages two separate BOM structures for engineering and manufacturing, often in two or more different systems. The final “Multi-view BOM Solution Evaluation Benchmarks Report” proposes a best practice approach allowing for multiple views of the same information in a single PLM, using filtering and calculation to generate different views of the same information depending on the user’s role and with each view enabling new information and data structures to be managed by each team.

Airbus and Gulfstream Presents a Multi-View BOM Report

In the industry, there are always discussions around new processes as a means to create more effective flows. Collaboration between stakeholders in this context is paramount.

For example, The AD PAG has recently published a study called “Multi-view BOM Solution Evaluation Benchmarks Report,” released on July 16, 2020. During the PLM Road Map & PDT 2020 conference, Javier Reinés, configuration management expert at Airbus and Dan Ganser, PLM staff scientist at Gulfstream Aerospace, will present the results.

The report documents the definition of test cases that encapsulate requirements for Multi-view BOM management within an aerospace OEM, and the findings and conclusions from evaluating the capability of commercially available PLM software to fulfill those requirements (more details can be found in the caption under the picture above).

What are the most important conclusions here?

“This is a great example of the richness of the work performed by member company domain experts within the project teams and the power of the members posture of collaborative engagement with the solution providers. A team of experts from eight member companies analyzed current practice and defined a future state architecture, the Multiple-view Bill of Materials (Multi-view BOM) Approach. The question on the table in the spring of 2019 was whether commercial PLM technologies had matured to a level where implementation of Multi-view BOM management within an aerospace OEM would be a practical possibility,” says Roche.

“The benchmark answered that fundamental question, and the answer is ‘Yes,’ albeit with certain caveats. With some exceptions, the required functionality is generally available with acceptable useability in multiple commercial PLM software solutions,” he continues.

Roche adds that, “It should be noted that the knowledge exchange and alignment of perspectives that was achieved through this exercise was remarkable. Several of the participating providers have posted blogs promoting the AD PAG benchmark use cases as models for the industry.”

The main benefit of the digital thread in airplane manufacture is the seamless flow of information from one application to the next throughout the manufacturing process. With this data flow, everyone knows for sure that they are working on the most up to date information. The digital thread also adds value by allowing the manufacturer to trace the “genealogy” of materials used, which assembly methods and tools were implemented, and to track down defects that may have been introduced earlier. The digital thread concept originated in the aerospace industry, where buyers expect cost savings, fast responses and anticipation of their needs based on such trends as Industry 4.0, as well as unification with digital manufacturing, including smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0.
The main benefit of the digital thread in airplane manufacture is the seamless flow of information from one application to the next throughout the manufacturing process. With this data flow, everyone knows for sure that they are working on the most up to date information. The digital thread also adds value by allowing the manufacturer to trace the “genealogy” of materials used, which assembly methods and tools were implemented, and to track down defects that may have been introduced earlier. The digital thread concept originated in the aerospace industry, where buyers expect cost savings, fast responses and anticipation of their needs based on such trends as Industry 4.0, as well as unification with digital manufacturing, including smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0.

What Can the Digital Thread Do?

Let’s get back to the main theme of the conference: the digital thread. CIMdata defines the digital thread as a communication framework that allows a connected data flow and integrated view of an asset’s data throughout its lifecycle across traditionally siloed functional domains. 

But there’s more to it: it’s hard to explain the meaning of digital thread without connecting it to digital twins. This concept is widely used today, but definitions vary significantly.

“Yes, what each solution provider means by the phrase varies, mainly as a function of their current offerings and strategies,” claims CIMdata’s president and CEO, Peter Bilello, who is also presenting at the event. However, CIMdata’s preferred definition of the digital twin is, “a virtual representation of a physical asset or collection of physical assets that exploits data flow to or from the associated physical asset(s).”

A conclusion of the function and how it can be used is that in a smart, connected world, products can report detailed information on their current status and recent use, information that can optimize future product designs based on real world data.

“Industry insiders generally agree that keeping them joined–digital twins and threads–maximizes their value and justifies the effort of keeping them current. Yet the gaps between them seem not to be closing. Unfortunately, the specifics of digital twins and digital threads often differ widely, but many of their underlying considerations are similar; both are fed by many of the same information flows, especially if PLM enables them. Fundamentally, a digital twin without a digital thread is an orphan, disconnected from the decisions and processes that impact it,” Bilello added.

A Diversified PLM Landscape. The acquisition of the integrated circuit (IC) and PCB software Mentor has proved to be a real hit for Siemens Digital Industries. This is not only because the solution accounted for a powerful part of the growth for Siemens Digital Industries during the last reported quarter, but also because this electrical and electronics platform has proven to be able to make a difference in tough competitive situations, such as with aircraft manufacturer Boeing. In 2017, the company had decided to invest fully in Dassault Systèmes' 3DEXPERIENCE platform. It was launched as the
A Diversified PLM Landscape. The acquisition of the integrated circuit (IC) and PCB software Mentor has proved to be a real hit for Siemens Digital Industries. This is not only because the solution accounted for a powerful part of the growth for Siemens Digital Industries during the last reported quarter, but also because this electrical and electronics platform has proven to be able to make a difference in tough competitive situations, such as with aircraft manufacturer Boeing. In 2017, the company had decided to invest fully in Dassault Systèmes' 3DEXPERIENCE platform. It was launched as the "PLM business of the century" and was said to be worth $1 billion. Within a couple of years, all other solutions would be phased out. However, that did not happen. There are several reasons, but important factors include the complexity that follows a system swap, limited functionalities in the new platform and a lack of financial resources. Today the implementation of 3DEXPERIENCE has slowed down; instead, Boeing has invested in upgrades and also in new solution licenses from Siemens’ competition. In the picture: FloEFD for simulation of external aerodynamics, courtesy of Mentor Graphics.

“The Digital Thread Can Be an Accelerant for Rapid Recovery”

Are we moving towards digital threads even in the short term? Can and will this play a significant role in A&D and other industries as a bridge over the gap that the coronavirus crisis has exposed?

The issue is particularly topical, not least of which is because it is a concept that in many perspectives can be regarded as a sort of “inheritor” to Industry 3.0 and the PLM concept as it looked when it appeared back in the 2000s.

Back then, the industry converged on the concept of PLM, which was regarded as a strategic business approach enabled by a set of digital technologies. Since its emergence, as CIMdata’s Bilello puts it, PLM has always been about managing a wide range of information—CAD files, BOMs, documents, visualization/markup, CAM files and more—including the interrelationships among them associated with the evolving product and its lifecycle in an extremely heterogeneous tool environment. This hasn’t substantially changed and remains a challenge irrespective of if the solution is PLM or the “newer” digital thread.

Jim Roche agrees; however, he emphasizes that as in almost every instance of new technology, things will take time.  

“PLM is not a quick fix for an economic downturn, and the same applies for the digital thread. But it can improve efficiency of collaboration and can be an accelerant for a rapid recovery. The current downturn provides an opportunity to plan and pre-position a PLM improvement initiative for deployment when the hold is lifted on the next new product program once the industry shows signs of recovery,” Roche says.

This appears to be a solid argument, but there is a downside: investments in new tools will definitely be affected by the economic downturn. As it is, projects are already being halted or slowed down, and a situation where engineers and designers must look at how they can use and develop the platforms they already have has occurred. It is not jumping to conclusions to assume that solutions which were previously regarded as almost obsolete will be subject to extended lifespans with necessary upgrades. With this, PLM platform developers and sales will be affected to varying degrees.

Still, the use of PLM tools and new approaches containing digital twins, MBD and MBSD will be a part of what we will see emerge in the industry, claims Roche: “It’s foundational.”

“Commercial aerospace OEMs invented PLM in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and up to the present day have been leading investors in PLM development and deployment. This strategic positioning of PLM is foundational within the industry regardless of economic cycles. These companies need to deal with the current economic crisis, yes, but they are always looking to the future and investing in the advances that will protect and advance their competitive position. Over the next few years, you can expect a reduction in the scale of PLM tool deployment as operations are scaled back, but look for the pace of development to be sustained or accelerated,” Roche says.

Dassault Systèmes, together with Siemens Digital Industries, are the two leading companies in terms of PLM solutions in the A&D industry. In the picture is a model produced in Dassault’s high-end CAD system, CATIA V5.
Dassault Systèmes, together with Siemens Digital Industries, are the two leading companies in terms of PLM solutions in the A&D industry. In the picture is a model produced in Dassault’s high-end CAD system, CATIA V5.

The Big A&D PLM Tool Developers and Deliverers Will Be Affected

The Aerospace & Defense industry is a big spender in terms of PLM software tools and PLM consulting. According to CIMdata, in 2019 the largest investments—including areas such as cPDm, systems integration/services, digital manufacturing, MCAD and simulation & analysis (S&A)—traded for just over $4.6 billion.

The largest individual items were S&A with just over $1.4 billion, systems integration/services with approximately $1.4 billion, MCAD at close to $906 million and cPDm (collaborative Product Definition management) at just under $720 million.

This makes A&D one of the economic pillars in terms of revenues for PLM software developers and consultancies such as Siemens Digital Industries, Dassault Systèmes, PTC, Aras, Ansys, IBM, Accenture and others.  

As it stands, the aerospace industry is definitely in one of the toughest positions, seeing heavy crisis situations for major manufacturers such as Boeing and competing European counterparts such as Airbus. The military side is less severely impacted, mainly because state-funded aircraft investments belong to the type of long-term contracts that are not as badly affected by the short-term effects of a depressed economy. 

The situation is different when it comes to civilian aircraft production. Under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic, civilian aircraft production has been exposed to the effects of an unusual global drop in air travel—to levels no one could have imagined a year ago. On the other hand, aircraft manufacturing is an activity of significant importance from a socio-economic point of view. It is so important that bankruptcies seem almost unthinkable, as this would have extremely dire consequences for aerospace industries employing hundreds of thousands of workers in countries around the world.

Therefore, in the short-term, it is necessary to both maintain production and also strive to streamline, rationalize and adapt both the products and the product realization operations of giants such as Boeing and Airbus.

Total Aerospace and Defense Mainstream PLM Spend during ten years. (Source and copyright 2020 by CIMdata, Inc.)
Total Aerospace and Defense Mainstream PLM Spend during ten years. (Source and copyright 2020 by CIMdata, Inc.)

On the PLM side, this in turn puts pressure on big A&D PLM platform deliverers such as Siemens Digital Industries Software, Dassault Systèmes, PTC and Aras PLM—all important players in the aerospace industry—to create solutions that can meet the requirements brought on by the new situation. Furthermore, it might open up opportunities for companies such as PLCS standards solution developers like Eurostep to deliver complementary technology and focus on driving cost and friction out of value and supplier networks.

Gartner’s PLM VP and analyst, Marc Halpern.

Gartner’s PLM VP and analyst, Marc Halpern.

The good news is that having sharp PLM tools is undoubtedly needed to accomplish the goal of technologically and environmentally friendly aircraft. In times of crisis, however—as Roche indicates—there is pressure to manage and invest in cheaper but still smart and productive alternatives, which normally means that when modernizing, the bets are directed to the tools and platforms you already have.

A Warning from Gartner’s Marc Halpern 

As a concept, and described at its theoretical level, digital twins and threads sound promising from the perspective that their introduction can contribute to increased efficiency, quality and shorter lead times. But as always, it is important to look critically at the promises. Gartner analyst Marc Halpern, also presenting at the PLM Road Map & PDT 2020, raises a warning:

“Digital threads can streamline business activities and contribute to greater profits and growth. But what is won or lost depends on the approach. My presentation helps participants understand the risks and benefits of different approaches to support their planning,” he says.

Undeniably, Halpern has an important point, and one should bear in mind that what he has to say about various PLM solutions is based on his achievement of a role of "corporate consumer advocate" in PLM areas. His clients are up to 90 percent PLM user companies, which means that he is “software independent” and perhaps more objective than others in the industry. It gives an extra weight to his words, as in this context Gartner generally reflects the viewpoints of CIOs, rather than the PLM tools, as something that only concerns engineers and technicians.

A Shift In Mindset

Finally, a few words on Eurostep, who is the co-organizer of the conference.

Håkan Kårdén explains that the company has for the last several years teamed up with CIMdata to deliver the joint PLM Road Map & PDT events in the USA and Europe.

“Our input was the PDT Europe concept, with conferences running successfully for about 25 years, Kårdén says. "The point of our involvement has always been to make sure standards are in the picture, and we believe that any PLM vision needs to have standards such as STEP and PLCS embedded." 

"This conference is strong on the standards message. We also believe that after the initial work in the A&D PAG, standards such as STEP AP 242 and PLCS will be positioned as key for the future, as they have already been acknowledged as important to deal with the obsolescence of PLM applications,” he adds.

He adds that collaboration will be more about sharing instead of exchanging in the future. 

“My view is that PDT and PLM Road Map can educate the market in this to take the next steps in digital transformation. Sharing versus exchange is a shift in mindset, but with promises of cost savings and quality gains,” concluded Kårdén. 

It is not hard to see the value of the input that the agenda Jim Roche and Håkan Kårdén created can provide. Configuration management, model-based system development, digital twins and threads, secure collaboration and more need to be illustrated with good examples and analyzed in an industry under tremendous pressure. Information that relates to the reality in the A&D world, the benchmarks and reports from specific interest groups such as the AD PAG, as well as the analyst’s views of where things are heading can all make a difference.

If you want to know more about the agenda in this keen topic, visit PDTEurope.com and CIMdata.com.


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