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Operational Architecture Drives Digital Transformation at Lockheed Martin F-35 Program

Matthew Littlefield
By Matthew Littlefield President and Principal Analyst, LNS Research

Arriving to much fanfare, the X-35 concept first took shape in a 1997 government competition, and in 2001, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 moved into production with partners Northrup Grumman and BAE Systems. By 2006, the first F-35A rolled off the company’s Fort Worth production line for testing, and by 2011, the company was delivering aircraft.

In 2012, production was starting to ramp up with 30 aircraft deliveries. By 2014, production operations leadership at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics began planning a major upgrade of the plant-floor software to support continued ramp. Over the more than 10 years since the initial buildout of the production line, the disparate software packages on the production line have grown to include a highly-customized version of CAMS (complex assembly manufacturing solution) MES (manufacturing execution system) software by SAP, along with over 80 homegrown applications for managing quality, maintenance, productivity and human resources among many other areas.

The legacy application architecture presented many challenges for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, including:

  • Limited flexibility to adapt and evolve processes over time for continuous improvement, cost reductions and ramping production
  • Forced users to use multiple screens for a variety of operations, including the manual movement of data from one system to another
  • Risk because of difficulty to maintain homegrown applications over time
  • Risk from potential sunsetting of CAMS MES
  • Limited the ability to integrate shop-floor applications with other enterprise applications and limited access to data collected
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Lockheed Martin’s F-35

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics leadership started with some important organizational changes to address manufacturing software challenges.

The first major change came in 2014, when it created a digital manufacturing practice to complement the existing matrix organization. The new practice area included business functions and technologies and put MOM (manufacturing operations management) software on an even playing field with other technologies like ERP (enterprise resource planning) and PLM (product lifecycle management). Leadership also created a new role, the digital manufacturing fellow, which was filled by Jeff Gleeson.

It became Gleeson’s responsibility to chart a path forward for the software to support the F-35 production line. The job wasn’t made any easier by the business requirements of the F-35 program: the need to cut costs and ramp production and zero tolerance for production line downtime while implementing new software.

To jumpstart the solution selection and technology adoption process, Gleeson put together a project team and kicked off a next-gen MES project. The cross-functional team was sponsored by manufacturing leadership and included staff from quality, manufacturing, IT and engineering.

Gleeson also brought in outside help to drive the project forward. He engaged LNS Research to define a scope for the project to align with industry best practices and standards like ISA-95, the International Society of Automation’s standard for developing an automated interface between enterprise and control systems, for MOM software.

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Lockheed Martin Enterprise Architecture

Replacing Homegrown Systems

As the team began work, it encountered challenges typical for any large company looking to replace mission-critical and homegrown manufacturing systems.

The first hurdle was that many team members were hesitant to adopt COTS (commercial-off-the-shelf) software.

They felt that the benefit of homegrown software is that it closely meets functional needs and business users have a sense of ownership and control. These characteristics made giving up local purpose-built solutions to benefit the broader operation a tough sell, especially without a framework for understanding the long-term costs and benefits of new COTS vs. existing purpose-built software.

The second hurdle was the team’s focus on feature and function comparisons without consideration of how the overall application and information architecture would support the company’s higher level strategic goals.

As the team members ran into the types of starts and stops that are typical for any MES project, LNS Research introduced to them its framework for digital transformation and the idea that companies often start with solution selection, when in reality that should be the endpoint.

Addressing at Once IT and OT

LNS Research recommended that the Lockheed Martin team should not start with solution selection, but rather take the strategic objectives already defined for the F-35 program and use them as the input for the enterprise architecture process.

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics could then use enterprise architecture tools and methodologies to define an operational architecture that would provide a roadmap for the solution selection and adoption of both IT and OT (operational technology), including MOM software.

Although Lockheed Martin was about one-third of the way through the selection process, the team decided to pause and explore the concept of using an enterprise architecture process to align strategic objectives with technology selection and define a long-term technology roadmap to align shop-floor systems with all other enterprise applications.

The Operational Architecture Workshop

To accomplish this, Gleeson sponsored an LNS Research operational architecture workshop in 2015, facilitated by Dan Miklovic, research fellow, and Matthew Littlefield, president and principal analyst.

Gleeson had four goals in mind for the workshop:

  1. Educate Lockheed Martin executives on how to use enterprise architecture to align technology with business goals
  2. Explain how enterprise architecture is a discipline that doesn’t just apply to IT, but can also extend to OT
  3. Enlist executive sponsorship of an enterprise architecture approach
  4. Recruit cross-functional volunteers for participation

Over 40 participants attended the workshop from across all areas of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, and it was an eye-opening experience for all involved.

Many did not realize the wide scope of different applications that existed on the shop floor. Furthermore, it quickly became evident that if they didn’t take a disciplined approach to proactively define the application, information and data architecture needed to connect strategic objectives and technology selection, the existing next-gen MES project would likely not deliver the desired results.

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Lockheed Martin’s F-35 production line

A Grass-Roots Approach to Enterprise Architecture

After the workshop, Gleeson took ownership of the initiative and became a subject matter expert in enterprise architecture, even going so far as to participate in the Penn State Enterprise Architecture certificate program. Over the next year and a half, he took a grass-roots approach to drive the discipline of Enterprise Architecture across Lockheed Martin.

To create change, Gleeson used the following strategies to drive change in executives, as well as practitioners:

  • Demonstrate to senior executives that there was a “data and architecture problem.” Too much time and money was being spent collecting and analyzing data, and the organization still couldn’t deliver the right visibility to executives
  • Engage with cross-functional leadership throughout the corporation, both within and outside of the aeronautics business area to drive adoption of enterprise architecture
  • Introduce the operating model framework from MIT’s Sloan Center for Information Systems Research as a way to let the business (as opposed to IT) drive decisions on whether to standardize business applications at either the corporate level or the business area level
  • Balance the use of time and resources to create both a current state and future state architecture
  • Partner with executives to sharpen business strategy as an input to defining architecture

A Solid Footing for Achieving Business Goals

The F-35 program is one of the most high-profile in the storied history of Lockheed Martin, and over the past three years the company has faced tremendous internal and external pressure to cut costs and ramp production.

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics leadership could have taken the quick and easy road to relieve pressure—adopt a next-gen MES and hope business benefits would follow.

Instead, the company put in place a robust enterprise architecture process to define the current and future states of both IT and OT systems; explicitly mapping how new technology would deliver on business goals. Over the coming years, the success of mission-critical business systems on the F-35 production line will determine the program’s ability to deliver for customers. With a robust enterprise architecture in place, the company now has the capability to ensure its manufacturing systems help it get it done.

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