In the early 1980s, aerospace companies were pushing for increasingly sophisticated systems. But progress came at a price: quality became a recurring problem, and companies struggled to complete projects on time and on budget.
Struck by the escalating cost of jet fighters, Norman R. Augustine, who at the time was an executive with Martin Marietta Corporation (a US aerospace manufacturing company that merged to become Lockheed Martin in 1995), was inspired to write the first of 52 satirical aphorisms about the complexities of managing large aerospace programs. In 1983, he compiled them into a book called Augustine’s Laws.
Almost 40 years later, Augustine is confident that many remain valid. Although he wishes that were not the case, he also doesn’t believe technology can solve all of the ills chronicled by the laws.
Still, while many of the original laws have withstood the test of time, modern technology is making important inroads in addressing others.
OUT OF STEP
An example of a law that would seem out of step with today’s leading software solutions is Number 15, which states: “The last 10% of performance generates one-third of the cost and two-thirds of the problems.” Aerospace customers refer to this conundrum as the pursuit of “exquisite solutions” – ultimate performance, whatever the cost.
Exquisite solutions were common when Augustine compiled his laws, but government customers now push for innovative technology that’s just good enough to meet their requirements affordably. To help the industry achieve this balancing act, many organizations rely on business innovation platforms designed to help engineers optimize designs while keeping a firm eye on costs. Simon Briceno, senior research engineer at Georgia Institute of Technology’s Aerospace Systems Design Lab, has a firsthand appreciation for modern digital solutions’ ability to help engineers balance performance with cost.
“Past methods of building and testing physical prototypes for each design are just too expensive and time consuming,” he said. “We needed a way to reduce the design, integration and testing time of unmanned aerial systems. The way we do this is by creating, analyzing and testing our design and behavior in a virtual environment.” In general, testing in a virtual environment using multi-physics, multi-discipline simulations lowers the cost of testing and certifications by more than 25%, compared to physical tests. Virtual tests also can be completed in most cases in about 30 minutes, compared to two weeks or more for physical tests.
Ask aerospace customers what rivals affordability at the top of their wish lists and they’re apt to say “shorter development cycles.” This goal, however, flies in the face of Augustine’s Law Number 24: “The only thing more costly than stretching the schedule of an established project is accelerating it, which is the most costly action known to man.”
That give-and-take relationship may be changing, however, for aerospace companies that are using the latest state-of-the-art software solutions. For example, at Embraer, a Brazil-based commercial and executive jet manufacturer, about 4,000 members of the company’s engineering, technical and product-support team use a concept-through-manufacturing product innovation platform, as do many shop floor, pre-design and customer service-oriented employees. Adoption even extends into Embraer’s supply chain.
“This has allowed Embraer to shorten the time it takes to shepherd new products through development, from conceptualization to manufacturing, due to improved communications among functional teams, as well as the elimination of some documentation and intermediate steps,” said Humberto Pereira, Embraer’s vice president of engineering and technology.
Augustine’s Law Number 35 addresses another historical industry weakness: its traditional inability to analyze its data to increase efficiency and quality. The law states: “The weaker the data available upon which to base a conclusion, the greater the precision should be quoted in order to give the data authenticity.”
Using the right digital solutions, however, aerospace companies today are getting more skilled at mining big data to improve operating performance in a way they couldn’t decades ago. “The ability to connect a complete suite of digital tools is allowing us to address a range of design and manufacturing problems,” said Roland Gerhards, chief executive of ZALCenter of Applied Aeronautical Research in Hamburg, Germany. “It’s all about big data and making sense of all the information that digital tools provide.”
Indeed, the ability to correctly interpret the voluminous information that digital applications generate also threatens Law Number 37: “Ninety percent of the time things will turn out worse than you expect. The other 10%, you had no right to expect so much.”
At US-based aerospace and defense technology company Northrop Grumman, managers are using a suite of digital solutions to predict performance outcomes earlier, saving time and helping to avoid cost overruns caused by late-cycle discovery of design issues.
“We are incorporating advanced sensors, analytics and IoT (Internet of Things) solutions to provide not just first-time quality of products, but also integrating digital information from key automation assets and business systems to enable unparalleled shop-floor visibility and proactive decisions throughout our factories,” said David Tracy, a vice president of production programs at Northrop Grumman.
Law Number 42, another example of the apparent disconnect between the digital age and what was possible in the early 1980s, states: “Simple systems are not feasible because they require infinite testing.”
While physical testing remains time-consuming and costly, engineers using a business innovation platform can rapidly test an infinite combination of components virtually. Digital testing helps engineers confirm not only which design performs best, but also which design can be manufactured and maintained least expensively.
As David Miller, chief technologist of NASA, puts it: “We’re at the point where 3D models and testing are coming together. Of the things we’re less certain about, we focus on the interplay between the two, using advanced digital tool sets we didn’t have until recently.”