Embrace Agile Product Development – ​​Tech Briefs

Model courtesy of Bye Aerospace Inc.

We have made impressive progress from both a societal and industry perspective in the face of this relentless pandemic. And while the Aerospace and Defense (A&D) industry has been exceptionally impacted, it will emerge stronger, better, and faster.

The good news is that we are seeing a lot of innovations these days. Electric propulsion, for example, is rapidly becoming a new energy alternative. Not only because it is safer and easier to maintain, but also because it is a green energy solution. Whether it’s electric vertical take-offs and landings (eVTOL), air taxis or commercial aircraft, electric propulsion will soon be here. And have you noticed the resurgence of supersonic aircraft? What about all the great things SpaceX is doing for space travel? Space is now the new frontier for smaller, smarter and more agile businesses.

With all of these innovations, the onus is on companies to find new ways to reduce program risk and cost while getting their products to market faster. When you think about the traditional waterfall approach used for decades, it’s clear that those 10- or 15-year product development lifecycles no longer apply in our current environment. A new process is needed. One that harnesses today’s technologies and promises. Today, everything has to be done right the first time, in a fraction of the time.

Introduce “Agile” in your organization

How does our industry embrace innovation and complexity while remaining fluid? The answer is agile product development. While in the past “agile” for many might have been a euphemism for chaos, this is no longer true. Today’s agile product development represents a modern approach to product lifecycle management (PLM), providing an extremely well-planned and executed process and program with a host of design, testing and manufacturing. Consider the following:

  • What if teams could build and test their product before the full design is complete and start learning something about it?

  • What if integration was not only about managing interfaces around suppliers, but also about managing technical risks so that teams could manage schedules more effectively?

  • What if the silos that exist between teams and partners were dissolved so everyone could truly collaborate and accelerate innovation?

Legacy agile software development has been around for a while, but the industry needs to approach agile product development in an entirely different way. It’s more than people, tools and processes. It’s about having a digital backbone that connects everything. True agile product development relies on a complete digital twin for simulation models, 3D CAD, and additive manufacturing, to name a few possibilities (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Agile product development leverages comprehensive digital twin and digital wire technologies from Siemens, adding virtualization, collaboration, and automation to every step of the product development process. (Photo: Model courtesy of Zipline International Inc.)

Agile is a continuous, iterative approach that integrates product and manufacturing testing, validation, and verification into the entire product development process. With the help of the digital twin, users have access to all types of software and features at every phase of product development. Agile is breaking down a program into sprints, and within each sprint, teams test, verify, and validate until each predetermined “sprint” goal is achieved.

Build and integrate sprints

A sprint breaks down a program into manageable pieces so that teams can focus on completing one aspect of the program before moving on to the next. The first sprint usually lays the groundwork for the program, as well as the next sprint. These sprints can take several forms depending on the product. For a new aircraft, there may be a wing sprint, then a tail sprint, then a cockpit sprint. With a small, agile team, it’s quicker to break the project into manageable chunks and focus on each section to accelerate maturity. If you’re an eVTOL startup, for example, one of the main concerns of an early sprint is probably let’s make sure the plane can fly!

Each consecutive sprint adds more features or capabilities and may also introduce a different level or new type of test. The best thing about sprints is that teams can focus on short-term goals that meet long-term program goals. Going back to the eVTOL example, in a mid-term sprint, they’re probably looking at designing and refining the structural integrity, aerodynamics, and propulsion. As they go through each sprint, they would do more simulation-based design.

Next, how does eVTOL build what it flew in the wind tunnel? But wait, what if after all that testing, some last-minute funding comes along and asks the company to upgrade from a two-seat plane to a five-seat plane? It’s easy to make necessary changes because they can build on previous sprints. To go further, there are the challenges behind the certification. Businesses today face increased complexity when it comes to tackling product certification, but think of all the federal, state, and local regulations that must also be met.

A sprint with active feedback loops that include both virtual product verification and manufacturing can be an invaluable tool at this stage. Plus, being part of the digital thread means all kinds of data is available to the certification team, with full traceability to speed up the process.

Finally, there is manufacturing. How does a company go from prototype to manufacturing? The power of digital transformation is fully realized here in how quickly teams can move when it’s time to increase the rate of production. If they’re building planes, it’s not just about releasing the first plane, but building 10, 20, or 50 a month. Using virtual tools and the production digital twin, a sprint can give teams a solid understanding of their manufacturing processes. Often referred to as virtual commissioning, it is the ability to use simulation to validate that the plant will meet all necessary requirements.

Figure 2. By incorporating Siemens NX software into a sprint, teams can streamline and accelerate design, simulation, and manufacturing processes with full digital twin support. (Photo: Model courtesy of Bye Aerospace Inc.)

It’s safe to say that a sprint takes risk out of the process and allows A&D companies to achieve their goals in a much more flexible way (Figure 2).

Agile means you can integrate multiple disciplines – electronics, mechanics, simulation and software into the process. Eventually, a sprint could bring in elements of generative design, which adds a new level of multi-domain optimization.

The Model Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) thread plays a major role here. It’s a big part of the composite design and manufacturing process. MBSE can also integrate the design of integrated electrical and mechanical systems into the process. Electrical systems are an integral part of many A&D programs today. Bringing this integrated electrical and mechanical system together through the MBSE can help speed up the entire design process and ensure faster transfer from electronics to wiring harness and software design.

Is Agile in your future?

One of the main benefits of agile product development is that companies can mature their product faster. They also derive more functionality from the desired product. Customers have already told us about it. They use connected design tools for simulation and virtual testing which have saved considerable time in their planning. By integrating design, engineering, and manufacturing tools and linking them into a complete digital twin, they speed up and optimize the overall design process, often resulting in substantial cost savings as well.

With sprints, teams become more agile in their execution and decision-making. Additionally, more people are empowered to make better decisions based on better information, as they share the digital thread, which provides traceability and connectivity.

Ultimately, our customers reduce their development time through agile product development. Some have already achieved this 50% reduction in development time and improve the quality of the process. In fact, some customers achieve nearly 90% first-pass efficiency on their design and manufacturing process. They have less rework when they get to manufacturing. And so, with agile product design, you will see benefits in the design world, but also, and more importantly, you will see noticeable benefits in the manufacturing world as well.

Ultimately, while agile product development helps teams throughout the product lifecycle go faster with less risk, the real value of agile product development is when it’s time to build – teams have the capacity and flexibility to get things done.

This article is written by Dale Tutt, Vice President of Aerospace and Defense Industry at Siemens Digital Industries Software (Plano, TX). For more information visit here .

Gary C. Lisi