Today’s virtual technology enables faster and better product development. Planes, trains and automobiles are defined in CAD, subjected to virtual tests to see how they might fail, re-designed, virtually manufactured and virtually shown to customers to confirm market acceptance. Yet, it still takes three to five years to develop planes, trains and automobiles (or their subsystems), according to Jeff Smith, director of the Aerospace & Defense Ideas Lab at Dassault Systèmes. Smith thinks this is a problem that needs to be solved.
Perhaps surprisingly, the problem is not inherent in these virtual tools. It is created by how companies use and adopt them.
Smith and Dassault Systèmes think they have a way to help companies maximize the use of advanced virtual technologies. How much better could it be? Smith would like to see companies develop complex equipment in a few months rather than a few years. He has proof it can be done. Airbus developed a new thrust reverser using the tools available through a Dassault Systèmes 3DEXPERIENCE Center in record time. The center was installed and funded in partnership with the National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) at Wichita State University. “We developed a full-scale operating prototype [of the thrust reverser] in 84 days,” said Smith, something that normally takes 18 to 24 months.
A core team of 10 engineers from Airbus came together and eventually connected with more than 31 people across 22 organizations around the globe. Team members stayed in sync through a common project dashboard and conducted design reviews through Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform. This platform provides access to all of the company’s software tools, such as CATIA and the SIMULIA set of simulation tools, PLM management, manufacturing simulations and a robotic manufacturing prototype cell.
Confirming my thesis, Smith observed the problem was not that they lacked all the nifty new technology that the 3DEXPERIENCE platform offers. “[The biggest impediment] is the number of handoffs that typically occur in a project,” he said.
Information handoffs occur as a development project moves from concept to design to manufacturing to service/repair. Different professionals use different languages and terms. Technologies like 3D virtual reality and additive manufacturing are a big help, but are not the whole answer.
“Unfortunately, we design systems, even software systems like PLM, that incorporate the existing organizational structure. And in that structure, you have all those handoffs,” he said. That comes from legacy technology and legacy thinking.
That is perhaps the real power of tech centers such as the 3DEXPERIENCE Center at WSU. The goal of bringing teams to these centers is not just to help organizations better understand the technology, but how to create teams to use it to its best advantage, let engineers and professionals adapt, and allow managers to develop new ways of planning. “When we designed the 3DEXPERIENCE Center at WSU, we incorporated organization, processes, systems of work, libraries, rules and templates, as well as technologies like virtual reality, 3D printing and reverse engineering,” Smith said. “Changing an organization is like trying to change the wheels of a train going 90 miles an hour. It’s tough.”
That’s why this approach is vital. Organizations have room to experiment where the stakes are not high and operational imperatives won’t force a return to old practices. New thinking can be tried without disrupting ongoing business. Dassault Systèmes thinks this is vital, and Smith predicts more such centers will open worldwide—possibly dozens of them. In our fast-moving world, places where management experimentation can blossom are sorely needed.