Digital value chains, threads, and twins

Features - Cover Story

Three ways smart manufacturing is changing aerospace and defense.

May 30, 2019

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The aerospace and defense (A&D) industry is experiencing tremendous growth; however, that growth can frequently be inhibited by outdated processes, aging technology, and fragmented value chains.

Integrated digital value chains will enable A&D companies to streamline and connect key processes across their design, manufacturing, and service domains. Increased collaboration between business leaders, information technology (IT), and other technology partners is critical in today’s business climate, where success cannot be achieved without accelerating digital transformation.

Three major components of digital transformation in A&D, highlighted with a few recent examples, show how these strategies and tools are being deployed.

Digital value chain

Within design, manufacture, and service (DMS), a digital value chain improves product availability and profitability and digitizes business processes for improved collaboration and knowledge sharing. Digital value chains promote learning, improve knowledge sharing capabilities, and better-support decision-making.

Creating an isolated digital value chain brings immediate results while laying the groundwork for long-term growth.

For example, more than 80% of jet engine manufacturing quality issues relate to airfoils. One A&D company has been rejecting jet engine airfoils due to blade imperfections, costing millions in scrap, rework, and downgraded engine sales. Expensive manual inspection did not detect all defects, leading to downstream maintenance and warranty costs.

To digitally transform airfoil inspection, the company combined vast amounts of data with robotic systems to enable automatic pass/fail assessment. Pass rates improved, production rates climbed, and the company saved millions of dollars.

Digital thread

Tying core components of a value chain together creates a digital thread, an integrated overview of key planning and execution domains. A digital thread allows organizations to connect key components – product life-cycle management (PLM), supply chain management (SCM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), and customer relationship management (CRM) – drawing more data for actionable insights.

A major A&D manufacturer could create a fully integrated environment where all parties would work from the same information. If the company implements a planning and scheduling engine, an alert management and escalation utility, and a manufacturing intelligence and visual factory information system, it could synchronize its workforce, methods, materials, machines, and data in real-time.

The manufacturer could manage resources and downtime events, solve root-cause problems, and focus more on preventive and predictive – instead of reactive – maintenance while decreasing costs and reducing unplanned work stoppages, resulting in fewer missed shipments.

Digital twins

Unlike a simple CAD wireframe, which will only describe the look and shape of an object, a digital twin is a digital model of a physical asset in the real world that uses sensor data associated with the physical device being replicated.

With a digital twin, it’s possible to visualize, test, and learn in a simulated environment, enabling rapid what-if iterations before embarking on a physical model.

A digital twin provides rich feedback, enabling researchers and engineers to confidently move through various stages of manufacturing with minimal risk and cost.

Intelligent enterprises

Today, the needs of A&D organizations go well beyond traditional manufacturing. A&D companies that streamline and connect design, manufacturing, and service using a smart manufacturing approach – including the digital value chain, digital thread, and digital twins – can improve product availability, become more profitable, and develop into intelligent enterprises. Successful organizations will radically increase collaboration between their business leaders, IT, and technology partners to deliver on needed process and technology changes.

DXC Technology

About the author: Chris Lennon is DXC Technology’s aerospace & defense chief technologist for the Americas.