Harnessing the wind

  • 30-Jun-2008 07:13 EDT
EclipseE500-Wiring my.jpg

Wire harness being installed in the Eclipse 500, which has a backlog of 2600 planes on order.

Eclipse Aviation says its Eclipse 500 was built upon the principle of a total product lifecycle management approach combining mechanical, electronic, electrical, and manufacturing disciplines. The integration of subsystems into a final wire harness was key, this being the “living neurological system” of the aircraft, controlling all electrical and electronic signals to all essential systems.

Initially, the design process was a semi-manual task. Lee Whittenton, an engineer in Eclipse’s Avionics and Electrical Engineering department, explained that when looking at any harness, the source of the harness will have many subsystems, each with its own wiring diagram. “Harness modeling was done in programs such as AutoCAD. Though embedding intelligence was possible, the level of effort was great,” said Whittenton. “A systems engineer needed to type data into a spreadsheet or database, reading it from each wiring schematic.”

In 2002, the search began for a schematic tool that would interface with the Siemens UGS NX-3D CAD modeling program Eclipse was using; a program that would capture all the point-to-point connections and dimensional data to create a model in accurate and detailed scale.

There were products that could accomplish schematic capture, but most involved a huge learning curve and difficult integration tasks because they were developed using proprietary programming tools.

The solution finally came in the form of E3.series, a software program from Zuken Inc. A major component of this suite was E3.cable that provided design and automatic documentation of the aircraft’s wiring harness.

Eclipse engineers liked the fact that it was based on a standard relational database architecture. E3.cable is a Microsoft Windows-based solution that made it possible to create block diagrams and detailed interconnection diagrams, all under logic control, while providing an overview of all electronic and electrical elements. “Other reasons it was selected were that it was very flexible and easily customized,” said Whittenton.

Without needing to learn a language specific to the program, systems engineers were able to generate all interconnections, cabling, and wire harnesses, plus document every component used and electronically communicate that information to the rest of the systems.

For flight-based technology, the wire harness encompasses a vast amount of monitoring and control, requiring an intricate complex of wires spanning the aircraft’s nose to tail. Software within the electrical design lifecycle needed to be integrated throughout the process. E3.cable’s architecture allowed Eclipse to fully integrate it with the 3-D wiring environment provided by UGS.

Within this environment, block diagrams are created under logic control. By automatically checking Eclipse’s audit programs, E3.cable was able to enforce design rules set by Eclipse and the aviation industry, in real time, to ensure right-first-time accurate design data. Using data feeds from E3.cable, the design was then transferred to the UGS environment to enable 3-D routing of the harness throughout the plane.

“Using E3.cable we have a schematic tool that eliminates writing,” Whittenton said. “Now the connection list is simply captured.”

E3.cable’s bidirectional COM interface allows the program to also provide direct access to the design data, using common programming tools such as Visual Basic and .NET. This feature allows full integration of E3.cable into the engineering process. For example, when components are dragged and dropped into a drawing, because E3.cable is object-oriented, the database information is carried along with it. Component IDs are updated to the next available number, thereby ensuring the integrity of the design database. For any interconnection drawing, the systems engineer is able to view all wires, cables, shielding—everything that can be seen on a typical schematic—and behind this is all of the data associated with it. Because the data resides in the design, review is simply done by right-clicking on an object to open it in a dialog box and, in addition, access it via the COM interface for integration purposes.

In addition to the productivity gains, E3.cable has had an important impact on the accuracy of electrical product life cycle. Single source data for first design review diagram through the design process and into the mechanical construction environment delivers true consistency, said Whittenton. The common rules library that feeds the entire electrical product life cycle allows testing parameters to be applied centrally and early. This central management of rules and components means that Eclipse can guarantee that updates are communicated to everyone in the design and maintenance process, going beyond the CAD environment to encompass all equipment and test procedures.

Whittenton noted that although E3.cable is a huge time-saver, accuracy is the top benefit. “Saving time is great,” he said, “but if you still make a lot of mistakes, you really don’t save much time because you have to do it over. This is very accurate.”

The relationship has been a benefit for both companies and will continue as Eclipse expands, which seems to be going extremely well. “We currently have a backlog of 2600 planes on order,” Whittenton said. “That gives an idea of the demand for this plane.”

As for E3.series, Zuken says that capabilities are expanding: “What happens with this product, particularly in the aerospace industry, is customer driven. We take industry input and use it to build functionality to meet their needs both today, and in the future.”

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