PLM has been defined as “the process of managing the entire lifecycle of a product from inception, through engineering design and manufacture, to service and disposal of manufactured products.” Proper tool implementation ensures that the data which is critical for product development is controlled, and accessible throughout the product lifecycle. PLM is an overall business integration approach providing an end-to-end solution to close the loop between design process and product support. The PLM environment provides a common operating platform enabling multiple departments within the enterprise to work with the same data concurrently. Product developers retain rapid-fielding capabilities and cross-platform compatibility while in-service support maintainers acquire the most up-to-date product information.
A single PLM tool can combine all of the data that defines a system, assimilating roles and process into an interconnected framework. When placed in the context of major defense systems, these roles and processes can be related as shown:
Product Data Management (PDM)
Before the rise of PLM, there was PDM. The software tools that are now integral components of modern PLM systems were initially developed to support PDM functionality. PDM was conceived as a means to make product development more efficient, so its focus was limited to optimizing CAD systems and drawing them into a larger suite of tools to accelerate the overall development cycle. The three main PLM systems available today, PTC Windchill, Siemens Teamcenter, and Dassault ENOVIA, are all rooted in PDM. Although early versions of these applications certainly accomplished their goal of improving the development phase, at the end of that cycle the resulting product design was still dumped “over the wall” to all the downstream processes to fend for themselves just as they always had. Today, these mature software systems have expanded to encompass the entire product lifecycle to fulfill the larger PLM role within the digital thread concept.
StraCon can readily assist with the selection, implementation, and population of a PDM/PLM software environments such as Windchill, Teamcenter, and ENOVIA. We have conducted comparative assessments of these three platforms on behalf of NAVAIR to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. We have also set up and maintained instances of these products for our DoD customers. When it comes to PLM, StraCon can provide solid support for considerations such as licensing, CAD interoperability, requirements management, software development interfaces, and sustainment/scalability.
As Additive Manufacturing (AM) becomes part of the supply chain, there will be new processes and data types to incorporate. These processes can be documented and actualized within any of the PLM tools. Standards for AM are still being developed, and can encompass much more than just part geometry. Establishing an environment that ties modeling, simulation, and all manufacturing data into the AM process enables the enterprise to build a better understanding of the technology and feasibility for widespread application. PLM systems can incorporate processes and capture the data that constitutes the digital thread of NAVAIR systems. The implementation will support a consolidated single source of authenticated information that can be tied into many tools and shared with other IT systems. It is important to evaluate the best overall data management environment, not just what appears to be the cheapest PLM license cost. Total cost is heavily dependent on what other software—especially CAD programs—will be accessing and contributing to PLM both through plug-ins and customizations. Custom software interfaces can have significant long-term costs once regular software updates are accounted for. Additionally, utilizing open standards where possible can help reduce cost and risk. The better defined the data to be managed by the PLM, the more accurate the overall pricing estimates will be.
As industry and military systems transition from paper to digital processes, the “Digital Thread” concept has become critical to the success of a program or product. StraCon has been implementing and pioneering digital thread processes for customers since our inception. StraCon specializes in providing end-to-end processes that support and define the digital thread through concurrency management using a PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) system. We believe that it is vital to perpetuate full traceability of the digital thread throughout the lifecycle of a product. Such tracking enables our customers to better refine, maintain, and sustain their product from “cradle to the grave.” Additionally, our methodology paves the way for future capability such as Additive Manufacturing (AM) and real-time data analytics.
Throughout the industry, digital thread is the digital integration of the product lifecycle processes. It utilizes an all-digital approach to managing the collective design, engineering, production, and sustainment processes of a product. By connecting these processes—and by using a standardized set of digital tools and product data—the digital thread accelerates the development cycle and simultaneously lowers costs for product support and/or integration of new capabilities. This accelerated timeframe directly impacts operational readiness via rapid access to the authoritative data necessary for unlocking next-generation fabrication and logistics. StraCon realizes that the digital thread is pivotal to activating modern and cost-effective industrial lifecycle management for the DoD, our focus is upon creating processes to increase productivity and efficiency. StraCon’s understanding of digital thread concepts and the importance of lean processes opens the door for AM to be operationalized across the enterprise. Data integrity is crucial to the efficiency and functionality of a PLM environment. DoD programs require a comprehensive solution whose built-in workflows touch all business areas while maintaining configuration management, data integrity, and appropriate approvals over a common integrated IT framework. Leveraging our DoD experience and industry standards, StraCon strongly advocates the implementation of digital thread principles by means of a PLM system during the early stages of a program to capitalize on the rewards throughout a product’s lifecycle.
The “Digital Twin” of a product is an all-digital depiction comprised of the product’s design specifications, engineering data (e.g., CAD models), simulation results, material data, etc. Responding to industry’s shift to digital data and concurrency management, StraCon has married our PLM expertise, Model Based Systems Engineering philosophy, 3D modeling skills, configuration management proficiency, and digital thread approach to provide a digital twin solution for customers. This allows all key stakeholders to have access to a digital representation of the product and all of the associated data.
StraCon is working with the Navy to implement this capability for their aviation programs to consolidate disparate data while providing a single authoritative source for all program entities. Currently, StraCon has contracted with NAVAIR 6.8 to deploy digital thread at an enterprise level with an emphasis on additive manufacturing and fleet concurrency management. StraCon specializes in generating and validating 3D CAD models engineered to fulfill the digital twin role. Our expertise includes electrical routing, material and finish data, Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerance (GD&T) information, and all metadata for simplified uploading to PLM systems
The digital twin representation captures more than just the product definition; it also simulates performance and behavior. Carried to logical fruition, the digital twin records as-built production data, operational records (e.g., runtime, mileage, or flight hours), and service logs along with any repair part serial numbers. For complex systems, each manufactured asset would have a corresponding digital twin linked to its own unique identifier or “tail number.” The digital twin is never static with time, and its history of changes is precisely what the digital thread strives to preserve. Together, the digital twin and digital thread form a all-inclusive history of a product. StraCon has the know-how and past performance to assist our customers in getting to the next level via the digital thread.
StraCon is the standout choice when it comes to Digital Thread, Digital Twin, PLM, and PDM solutions.