Avoiding product defects—and quickly finding and fixing those that occur—is a critical priority for all manufacturers. And it’s increasingly difficult because of mounting product complexity. This challenge is particularly acute in the aerospace and defense arena where advanced technology with highly interconnected systems, software and electrical and mechanical parts must be integrated with seamless interoperability. In addition, A&D manufacturers have to manage the variation across their product lines, as they try to meet the escalating demand for a range of sophisticated features and functionality.
In tandem, current economic pressures require major improvements in production efficiency and cost avoidance. “Do more with less” is the prevailing mantra.
Traditional engineering approaches take a product-centric perspective to designing, producing, maintaining and evolving the products in a product family. In that world, a product line is nothing more than a collection of individual products developed independently. This product-centric approach creates a quagmire of inefficient, labor-intensive interactions, dependencies and duplicated coordination across the individual project teams.
The variant and complexity management challenges that result can impede a manufacturer’s ability to achieve key objectives, such as meeting stringent product quality requirements, while maximizing efficiency and profitability. Feature-based product line engineering (PLE) addresses these challenges.
Forward-thinking A&D manufacturers are moving away from product-centric engineering and embracing feature-based PLE, which lets them create a “superset” of digital assets shared across the product line. These assets are equipped with all the feature options offered in the product line. Features are contained in a catalog, which becomes the “single source of feature truth” for the organization. With PLE, the features chosen for each product are specified in a bill-of-features, and digital assets are automatically assembled and configured to create each product instance.
With PLE’s single source of feature truth, functions across the enterprise have a common language for managing a product line based on features – breaking down operational silos and improving communication, collaboration and alignment. This unified, automated approach eliminates manual processes, reduces human error and risk and allows A&D manufacturers to achieve new levels of efficiency and product quality.
PLE also makes it much easier to find and fix any defects that occur. With product-centric engineering, for example, it is common for engineers to duplicate and share assets using the traditional clone-and-own approach. When a defect is identified, it can be nearly impossible to trace and fix all the product iterations that have been duplicated and shared throughout the organization. With feature-based PLE, defects found in a product can easily be located and fixed once in the asset superset and new defect-free product versions can be automatically generated.
Cost avoidance can be achieved by reducing the engineering effort required to develop, deliver, maintain and evolve a product line.
For example, suppose a task affects four products. In a product-centric environment, each product team will apply that task. Even if each team sets efficiency records in completing the task, by shifting perspective from individual products to the product line portfolio as a whole, it becomes immediately obvious that the same work is being done four times instead of once.
With feature-based PLE, the task affecting four products involves changes to the shared asset superset, or the feature catalog, or the bills-of-features for the products. This work can then be automatically applied across the product line.
PLE extends across the engineering and operations lifecycle to enable A&D manufacturers to achieve greater productivity, quality and scalability of product lines—while reducing engineering effort, cost and defects. These advantages result in more proposal wins, fewer product recalls and higher profits, as well as more diverse product lines for new market opportunities.