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Rethinking aerospace and defence data management

Posted 17 January 2020 · Add Comment

Graham McCall, Vice President Operations UK, Aras, tells us why the aerospace and defence sectors need to rethink their approach to data management.


Courtesy Aras

The volume, variety and complexity of the data associated with aerospace and defence projects is increasing exponentially.

Each new product generation involves different materials, different technologies and different architectures. Work is distributed and must be coordinated across different networks of project partners and suppliers.

Engineering teams use different design, simulation and test approaches. Every one of those changes places new demands on the tools and platforms companies use to create store, manage and share their data.

So far, the industry has responded to those demands with periodic and sometimes painful, technological transitions. Often using the beginning of a major new programme as an opportunity to upgrade their capabilities, companies pick the best combination of solutions available to them at the time. They hope that the new project will benefit from the cost, quality and productivity improvements that the latest technology can offer.

That 'performance first' way of approaching product data management is now reaching its limits.

Engineering data has a long life. It must remain accessible and maintainable long after the initial development phase of a project is over.

Aerospace and defence products can stay in production for many years and in operation for decades. When product data is tied to the particular tools used in its creation, it means companies must maintain and support those tools for as long as products created with them remain in service.

Then there is the challenge of continual product development. An aerospace or defence product may go through several major upgrade cycles during its life. Later product revisions may incorporate technologies or address user requirements that did not exist when the original engineering tools and data platforms were created. This forces companies to use a poorly integrated and hard-to-maintain patchwork of different systems.



For many aerospace and defence players today, the need to keep tens or hundreds of different systems up and running is becoming a significant drain on time, money and talent. How can the aerospace sector break out if this cycle of rising costs, complexity and obsolescence?

The answer is a shift in the way the industry thinks about engineering and product related data. Companies need to demand systems that are designed with long-term flexibility and agility in mind. We call this approach the resilient data platform.

A resilient platform is one that adapts to changing business requirements and does not tie companies to specific tools, technologies or vendors. It is a platform that is made to be upgraded without losing critical information, customisations or data relationships. Any truly resilient data platform should be able to pass three key tests.

1) Is the data truly transparent?
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 transparent platform allows the owner to control their data, so it is not held hostage by a software vendor or an ageing technology.

2) Is the platform built with change in mind?
Change is certain. Business processes change quickly and often, 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 for how customised and complex the eventual technical landscape will become. If extending is difficult, companies risk creating complex, immobile systems with high maintenance costs; a common problem of yesterday’s PLM systems.

3) Is the platform easy to modify?
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 often create so much disruption that many companies simply forgo them. A resilient platform is adaptable, built to model business process, rules and data in a low-code environment that not only supports change but encourages it. Ensuring that critical information is portable and ready to move forward with any technology at any time.

The designers of yesterday’s aerospace data management systems had no idea that they would have to accommodate generative design algorithms, additive manufacturing systems or digital twins. Nobody knows what technologies and approaches will be in use 10, 20 or 30 years from now. Data being generated now will be used in unexpected ways tomorrow. It is time for the industry to build its data platforms with that in mind.

 

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