Software is a central part of aircraft design, and it is a key factor in the push to improve quality at every step from concept design to full production. Design tools are adding features that make quality an even more integral part of development, and other tools are helping elsewhere in product life cycles.
End-product quality and engineering have been intertwined since the days of the first hot air balloons. Today, design software is helping engineers examine their designs more completely, testing them for quality before the first prototypes are built.
"Engineering is where quality begins. In modeling and simulation, you want to be focused on taking waste out," said Steve Wells, Vice President of Quality and Continuous Improvement, Goodrich Corp.
Once component and system designs are finalized or close to it, design and manufacturing engineers start working more closely together. They are now able to see how the tolerances for various components may impact a final system design, an important factor for aircraft that will have long production runs.
One of the keys to manufacturing is to understand the variables and how they impact the end product. Advances in both hardware and software make that easier to understand.
"Simulations should not be just for ideal parts; they should take into account the variables in manufacturing," said Kyle Indermuehle, Aerospace Industry Lead, Simulia. "We just acquired Engineous Software. Their tools let you do hundreds of thousands of variations so you can understand how they impact performance."
The power of modern computers is a key factor in making that possible. When Linux clusters leverage many computers, many simulations can be run in a relatively short time. "We’ll automatically create tens of thousands of possibilities that can be simulated," said Indermuehle.
The link between manufacturing and design is being strengthened in other areas. A growing number of companies are using tools that let them utilize CAD files when they set up plant floor equipment and post-production quality inspections.
"We are presently implementing a new strategy directed at utilization of SolidWorks design models of our parts uploaded directly to our SmartScope visual-inspection system to create model-based comparator templates that are used for in-process inspections," said Jesse Flores, Vice President of Quality, Bal Seal Engineering Inc.
However, it is going to be a very long time before data moves from design to manufacture without translations from one program to another, if that day ever comes. Toolmakers have figured out one aspect, eliminating spreadsheet errors in formula translations.
"Facton eliminates unnecessary spreadsheet summary meetings, unnecessary administrative time to calculate the spreadsheets, and unmanaged formula submission to the model," said Rodger CieChanski, Channel Partner Manager, Facton Inc.
Analysis tools help during production, making it possible to examine minute trends that can impact quality. Goodrich has leveraged this capability to all but eliminate some problems at its plating facilities.
"Software lets us find things that may not appear as trends until we start looking at multiple lines at multiple sites," said Goodrich's Wells. "We found a chemical cleaning and plating issue that way. Now our lines are running at 12 Sigma, producing billions of parts before we see an error."