The UK’s aerospace industry’s ambitions are sky high but their legacy approach to product data management is broken. To fix it, the sector needs to prioritize three things: transparency, flexibility and adaptability.
Documents supporting the UK Government’s Aerospace Sector Deal highlight the ambition for the UK to be at the forefront of developing the technologies that will shape the future of flight. A key part of this involves embracing a major shift in innovation―specifically, focusing on key areas such as electric and autonomous flight. When an aerospace company embarks on a major new product development effort, it must make a host of important strategic decisions that lie outside the core engineering challenges. How will work be divided up between project partners, suppliers and sub-contractors? How will the activities of multiple stakeholders be coordinated? What design tools and data management systems will be used?
With ten years or more between product generations, the answers to those questions tend to be different for every project. The aircraft, engines, and systems under development today use new materials, new technologies, and new architectures. Projects involve different partners with different responsibilities and expertise. In addition, design tools, simulation packages and collaboration systems continue to evolve at a rapid pace.
The industry’s usual approach is to use each significant new product introduction as an opportunity to upgrade its supply chain, engineering processes, and collaboration approach. Companies pick the best combination of solutions available to them today in the expectation that projects will benefit from the cost, quality, and productivity improvements that a decade’s improvement in technology can deliver.
A legacy of complexity
This approach works, but only up to a point. A key weakness is the issue of in-service support. Aerospace products can stay in production for many years, and in operation for several decades. Manufacturers must maintain access to product data throughout that time., And, when data is intimately linked to the tools used to create it, that means they need to support legacy engineering and data management systems long after they have been retired from use in new projects.
Today, the strain is beginning to show. Just keeping tens, or even hundreds of different systems up and running is a drain on time, money, and talent. And that’s before things go wrong. Suppliers and technology vendors don’t always stick around for the full lifecycle of a product. If they abandon a market, or disappear altogether, companies can find themselves struggling with obsolete, unsupported technology.
Products change too. A single aircraft type may go through multiple upgraded cycles in its lifetime as customer needs change and new technologies become available. Such upgrades are made harder and more costly if, as becomes increasingly likely, the product’s original data platform wasn’t designed with them in mind.
The age of the resilient data platform
How can the aerospace sector break out if this cycle of rising costs, complexity and obsolescence? The answer is a shift in the way it thinks about product and process related data. Companies should move beyond today’s project-by-project perspective and demand systems that are designed with flexibility and agility in mind. At Aras, we call this approach the resilient data platform.
A resilient platform is one that adapts to changing business requirements while never locking users into a specific technology. It is a platform that is made to be upgraded while maintaining all previous customizations and one in which the data is fully transparent.
Any truly resilient data platform should be able to pass three key tests:
1) Built for resiliency
A resilient platform eliminates the data’s dependency on the application. In many PLM systems, it is virtually impossible to understand the data layer of the application due to the complexity of the model or proprietary encryption. Working with complex data structures in the application may be fine within today’s application, but if this data were needed years from now, without the application, it may no longer be accessible. A resilient platform allows the owner to control their data— it’s not held hostage by a software vendor or an aging technology.
2) Built for change
Change is certain. Business processes change often, quickly, and without any concern for the ability of their supporting systems to change with them. A resilient PLM platform should never be locked into a single technology. If a platform is built with hard dependencies on its technology, everything built on top of the platform also becomes dependent. The ability to adopt new technology in a strategic manner will set the stage, allowing for growth and change regardless of how customized and complex the eventual technical landscape becomes.
3) Built for flexibility
Most applications today are built on platforms requiring significant coding and testing to make everyday business model changes, severely limiting the ability to stay current. Even worse, upgrade projects to implement strategic changes through new software versions are expensive and create so much disruption that many companies simply forgo them. A resilient platform is adaptable, built to model-based business processes, rules, and data in a low-code environment that not only supports change, but encourages it. This solution allows critical information to be easily portable and ready to move forward with any technology at any time.
A resilient solution openly accommodates whatever is needed to meet today’s, and tomorrow’s, business and technology requirements without disruption. The Aras platform has been architected from the ground up with that kind of resiliency in mind. The combination of Aras’ unique model-based approach and service-oriented architecture (SOA) in the platform ensures that its users have the performance that required now and, in the future, regardless of what challenges may lie ahead.