Airbus: “Oops, We Did It Again”

By | Aerospace, IT Strategy, PLM, Strategy | No Comments

Airbus-Aras Strategic Partnership

When it comes to changing enterprise software vendors, the aerospace industry isn’t exactly known as a fast moving bunch. While aerospace companies push the envelope of the most advanced CAD and CAE tools available in the market, they tend to select and stick for the long haul with one of three PLM software vendors: Dassault Systèmes, PTC and Siemens PLM.

It was therefore a bit of a surprise back in 2008 when EADS, as Airbus was known then, selected PTC’s Windchill over Dassault Systèmes’ Enovia as a single enterprise system to harmonize PLM activities across all EADS business divisions. At the time, this was not only considered a bold decision, but also as a slap in the face of fellow French company and aerospace insider Dassault Systèmes which is Airbus’s CAD and CAE vendors of choice.

And Airbus just did it again. Going against the consensus, that is. Last month it announced signing a strategic partner agreement with Aras PLM “to use Aras Innovator for Enterprise-wide Engineering Business Processes beyond 30,000 Users.”

The selection of Aras over the top tier PLM players, is a strong testimonial that, at least in Airbus’s estimation, Aras Innovator software can handle the scale and complexity of the PLM requirements of a huge global manufacturing company. Aras will no doubt use this win to continue threatening the longstanding PLM hegemony.

But Airbus’s decision could mean more than simply Aras’s ability to compete against the big PLM companies. Anders Romare, Vice President of Engineering Solutions at Airbus was quoted by the press release to say: “The unique SaaS subscription business model of Aras which eliminates up-front license costs and includes system upgrades with customizations is also quite compelling.”

As the open licensing model employed by Aras is gaining recognition and acceptance even by the most traditional manufacturing industries, Aras will have more than just functionality and scale which, arguably, is getting harder to compare and compete on. It will have a different business model that could potentially become a bigger lever to disrupt the PLM’s status quo.

The exposure and buzz created by wins such as the recent one at Airbus is great, but Aras is not dependent on them. There seems to be wave of renewed interest in PLM, perhaps because the status quo has lasted for so long and companies are seeking more modern software architectures and delivery models. The open licensing model of Aras Innovator should help lower the barrier to entry and simplify the thorny ROI questions for new users as well as those seeking a replacement.

[Photo: Airbus]


A Flying Car by 2017?

By | Aerospace, Automotive, Aviation | No Comments

Will AeroMobil beat Terrafugia to Market?

According to CNN Money, Slovakian company AeroMobil will begin selling its AeroMobil 3.0 flying car in 2017. AeroMobil is a two-seat personal aircraft with folding wings that is also a street legal car and can be driven from a personal garage to the nearest airstrip.

The AeroMobil is powered by a single Rotax 912 engine which gives the aircraft a maximum speed of 125 MPH and a range of 435 miles. On the ground, the AeroMobil can travel at top speed of 100 MPH and has a range of 550 miles.

The specifications of AeroMobil are very similar to those of another light sport aircraft (LSA) class flying car – the Transition, manufactured by the Woburn, MA based Terrafugia (although the esthetics of the Transition pale in comparison to the very cool design of the AeroMobil). The Transition has been in development since 2006. The first prototype was flown successfully in early 2009, and the second generation Transition entered flight testing three years later, in early 2012.

Terrafugia was hoping to start delivery in 2016. While you can reserve a Transition for a refundable $10,000 deposit (the full price is $279,000), actual availability date seems uncertain.

In addition to the technical challenges, certifying any aircraft, let along one that needs to also be a street legal vehicle is an arduous process. In 2011, the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency (NHTSA) granted Terrafugia several exemptions, but limited the stability control and airbag exemptions to one year. In December 2014, the company asked the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) to allow a higher gross weight and faster stall speed relative to LSA classification.

While Terrafugia and the government agencies have been transparent about the certification process, AeroMobil provides only vague information about its aircraft’s certification status. According to AeroMobil’s website, the prototype is “compatible with the requirements set for an aircraft in the category Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) or Ultra Light in EU” and is “certified with Slovak Federation of Ultralight Flying.”

With that, it’s unclear how the company can deliver a certified aircraft by 2017 as CNN Money claims.

(Photo source: AeroMobil)


Number 48 (Jackson Pollock, 1949)

The Fallacy Behind Counting Lines of Code

By | Aerospace, Automotive | 4 Comments

Mercedes-Benz vs. F-35

A while ago I attended a discussion about vehicle software development and maintenance. The presenters discussed the increased complexity in automotive software, especially in in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) and the advantages of remote over the air firmware update (FOTA).

To demonstrate the magnitude of the problem, one of the speakers used oft-cited statistics contrasting the number of lines of code (LOC) in the software in a modern car and of a military aircraft. The statistics (attributed to IEEE) were:

  • Current generation aircraft        1.7 Million LOCs
  • Next generation aircraft (F-35)   5.7 Million LOCs
  • Modern passenger car                100 Million LOCs

Do these figures mean that the software in a passenger car packs more functionality than an F-35?  As complexity increases exponentially with the number of lines of code, do the numbers indicate some 500-fold increase in the complexity of vehicle software? Read More

From Trinkets to Turbines — Why Did 3D Systems Acquire Cimatron?

By | Aerospace, Manufacturing | No Comments

In what might be considered heresy in the devoted 3D printing community, on November 24, 3D Systems announced it will acquire all outstanding shares of Cimatron for $8.97 per share in cash, for a total of around $97 million. Cimatron’s software is as far from additive manufacturing as one can possibly be. The company‘s  CAD/CAM software is used for mold and die designs and CNC programming for 2.5 to 5 Axis production milling and turning machines.

While the mainstream press continues to gravitate towards unrealistic and impractical 3D printing  applications and seems to have difficulties telling present (R&D and prototypes) from future (industrial grade applications), industrial 3D printings is expanding, but not necessarily at the expense of traditional subtractive manufacturing methods. Current additive manufacturing technologies cannot and perhaps will never be able replace all the needs in terms of precision, manufacturing speed, and choice of materials.  In a Viewpoint article in Aviation Week, Alan Epstein, Vice President of Technology at Pratt & Whitney offers some coolheaded perspective (subscription required. If you are unable to access, I provided a few excerpts below.)

To establish a strong position in the manufacturing industry, one that might allow it to penetrate more manufacturing processes over time, 3D Systems needs to support a broad set of manufacturing processes, including of traditional subtractive manufacturing, which is still the predominate industrial manufacturing process.

From Trinkets to Turbines

There are additional telltales of the shift that additive manufacturing industry is undergoing in order to mature faster from trinkets to turbines. Recently, Stratasys, the archrival of 3D Systems, acquired GrabCAD, a PDM tool designed for the small enterprise, the kind that in addition to a having a small traditional machine shop may also utilize additive manufacturing for prototyping and proof of concept of products that may be machined using traditional methods.

And there’s more. On November 25, Stratasys announced it is partnering with PTC to co-develop technical and educational capabilities to enhance design for additive manufacturing and close the “gap between design software programs and additive manufacturing technologies.”

It appears that the 3D Market leaders 3D Systems and Stratasys are opening a new battleground in the traditional, i.e. subtractive, manufacturing space. This, however, does not seem to impress Wall Street. In the course of the last three months, Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS) stock lost about 15% of its value and 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD) is trading 30% below.

Excerpts from “Opinion: 3-D Printing Helps Tell Novelty And Innovation Apart”
Alan H. Epstein
Published in Aviation Week & Space Technology Jul 09, 2014 , p. 50

My view is from aircraft engines rather than, for example, costume jewelry. Jet engines provide a particularly relevant aerospace vantage point to assess this technology since many engine parts fall within the size and material capabilities of current 3-D printers. For aircraft engines, as for most aerospace parts, shape is important but material properties are equally so. In both cases, the current 3-D printing machines are lacking.

One misconception is that 3-D printers produce finished parts. The geometric accuracy of current 3-D printers is much less than required for most engine parts, the surface finish is relatively poor and final inspection is needed, all necessitating additional processing that can double the cost of the part. Mechanical properties are a mixed bag. At the moment, metal 3-D printed parts can be stronger than the same part would be if cast, but weaker than if it were forged.

3-D printing can yield more value to aerospace than just cost. In prototyping and product development, time is very important, so the capability to produce a highly complex shape relatively quickly can have significant value. This value is constrained, however, if the 3-D part in the test is not the one going into the production product, since the test will not certify an accurate life. Under some circumstances, it may be expedient to design prototypes or products with very small production runs using reduced performance to stay within the capabilities of 3-D printing.