Manufacturing

Boeing's 7E7 Project Pushes PLM Boundaries

1 Apr, 2004 By: Arnie Williams

DIGITAL BEHAVIOR MODELING From Concept Through Lifecycle


In 1990, Boeing ( www.boeing.com) stunned the design world with the launch of its Boeing 777 project. Using CATIA V4 from Dassault Systémes ( www.3ds.com), the company's engineering group modeled the 777's parts as 3D solids, simulated the geometry of the airplane's design on a computer, and thereby avoided the time-consuming and costly investment in physical mockups. The final assembly line included more than 10,000 parts. Boeing reports that using digital 3D models in the design phase helped reduce the number of changes, errors, and rework by more than 50%. That's an astounding figure-that and other benefits realized by Boeing in this bold digital project made the 777 the design story of the decade and garnered the company the top manufacturing prize in 1995 in the annual Computerworld Smithsonian Awards.

Figure 1. The Boeing 7E7 Dreamliner will travel much more efficiently thanks to the use of composite material in its fuselage and wings.
Figure 1. The Boeing 7E7 Dreamliner will travel much more efficiently thanks to the use of composite material in its fuselage and wings.

As amazing as the 777 project was-and still is-Boeing and Dassault Syst%s are about two years into a new project that could very well make it pale by comparison. Drawing on lessons learned during the design and manufacture of the Boeing 777 and on other projects during the past decade, the companies are partnering on the next-generation aircraft project-the 7E7. If PLM (product lifecycle management) has been a murky term for many in recent years, the 7E7 project promises to clarify its meaning once and for all.

Digital Modeling on a Global Scale

"We broke new ground with the 777 around digital mockup and 3D presentation," says Marcelo Lemos, president of Dassault Syst%s of America. "The 7E7 project is very different in terms of the technology being used. We will be modeling the full behavior of the plane, not just the geometry of parts. We're moving beyond the digital modeling of static parts and geometry to the behavior of the plane throughout its lifecycle, including its operations and maintenance."
Figure 2. Designed for ultimate passenger comfort, the 7E7 will sport "health-monitoring" technology to alert ground-based computer systems of maintenance needs.
Figure 2. Designed for ultimate passenger comfort, the 7E7 will sport "health-monitoring" technology to alert ground-based computer systems of maintenance needs.

Moving from part modeling to behavior modeling means that Boeing must rely on a much more comprehensive set of design tools. In addition to CATIA V5, the project team will employ a full suite of PLM tools from Dassault Syst%s, says Lemos, including ENOVIA for lifecycle applications, DELMIA for digital manufacturing, and SMARTEAM for collaborative product data and lifecycle management.

But a digital project of this scale means more than just an adjustment in the suite of design tools used. Boeing is also revolutionizing the way it works with its partners with this project. Instead of some 10,000 items being assembled by Boeing at project's end, as was the case with the 777, Lemos reports that Boeing will assemble only 13 to 17 units at the end. Many of these subassemblies will be wholly designed by partners hailing from various parts of the United States and from around the world.

Figure 3. The Boeing 7E7 will be a midsized aircraft with large-size ranges. One model will cover routes up to 8,300 miles.
Figure 3. The Boeing 7E7 will be a midsized aircraft with large-size ranges. One model will cover routes up to 8,300 miles.

Boeing will supply 35% of the structure of the aircraft, but even here different parts will come from other areas within the United States. The vertical fin will come from Boeing's Frederickson, Washington, facilities; the fixed and movable leading edges of the wings from Tulsa, Oklahoma; the flight deck and forward fuselage section from Wichita, Kansas; the movable trailing edges from facilities in Australia; and the wing-to-body fairing from Winnipeg, Canada. Partners working on other aspects of the 7E7 structure include Japan's Fuji Heavy Industries, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Vought Aircraft Industries of Dallas and Alenia Aeronautica of Italy are also involved.

To address the many technological and human challenges of bringing together such a diverse team of designers and manufacturers, Boeing and Dassault Syst%s have created something called the GCE (Global Collaborative Environment). Through the GCE, all of the partners on the project will use the same set of PLM tools from Dassault Syst%s, and all of the appropriate project data will reside in the GCE.

Sharing and Protecting Vital Data

In the past, collaboration of this magnitude has often snagged on the same hurdle-the need to share partner data in a central repository without compromising proprietary design methods and processes.
Figure 4. The 7E7 project is a veritable textbook example of collaborative design and manufacture. Boeing will supply approximately 35% of the 7E7 structure. Other design and build areas will be the responsibility of Japan's Fuji Heavy Industries, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Vought Aircraft Industries (Dallas), and Italy's Alenia Aeronautica.
Figure 4. The 7E7 project is a veritable textbook example of collaborative design and manufacture. Boeing will supply approximately 35% of the 7E7 structure. Other design and build areas will be the responsibility of Japan's Fuji Heavy Industries, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Vought Aircraft Industries (Dallas), and Italy's Alenia Aeronautica.

"We faced this challenge early on," says Lemos. "This project needs collaboration at the deepest level, and for that to be successful, we have to find the right mix of how much knowledge gets segregated as proprietary and how much will be shared."

Making that kind of decision for the many partners involved has become easier because of Dassault Systémes' role in the project. Boeing has brought them in not only as a consulting and services partner to Boeing, but also to all of the other partners. That lets Dassault Syst%s work on an ongoing basis with partners to fully use the project's standard PLM tools so that the right mix of data is shared through the GCE.

The Full Impact

A number of technological aspects of the project will impact the industry. One involves the actual materials used in plane construction. Boeing will extensively use composites throughout the 7E7, reducing weight and cost. Another is the use of sophisticated knowledgeware to capture and reuse knowledge gained on the project. But the biggest impact is likely to be a sociological one. The small number of partners made responsible for large discrete elements of the plane could change the way large manufacturers bring projects to market and will doubtless lay bare the many challenges in taking such a holistic approach to lifecycle management.
Boeing's 7E7 Dreamliner - A Technologist's Dream
Boeing's 7E7 Dreamliner - A Technologist's Dream

Despite the inherent challenges, this approach is one that Boeing believes in and is determined to stand behind. The company has standardized on Dassault Systémes' suite of PLM tools for its projects going forward and will apply the lessons learned in its GCE-centric approach to all of its future design projects.


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