Fast lessons take to the air

There are big advantages to be gained from using PLM in motorsport. And now aerospace looks set to do the same, as Tom Shelley explains

Lessons learned in successfully applying PLM to ensure the integrity of design enhancements in an F1 racing team are about to be applied in aerospace.
The F1 team is Red Bull Racing, which has long been enjoying the benefits of what is now Siemens PLM’s Teamcenter software (formerly Iman PDF). And they are in good company. When Eureka visited the Redbull HQ, we discovered a representative from BAE Systems was also there, working on the Nimrod refurbishment programme. They are also rolling out Teamcenter, it seems, and were seeking to apply some of the same techniques that had been proven on the racetrack. Red Bull owns two F1 teams – Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso – and has 150 seats of NX and Teamcenter.
This is strong contrast to how things used to be, as Steve Nevey, business development manager for Red Bull Technology, explains.
“In the early 1990s, I was part of a team of eight people led by a chief designer, who was the star. These days it is managed by a project management team, overseeing separate departments concerned with aerodynamics and structures. In the past, cars were often hand-crafted. These days, everything is designed in detail in a digital mock-up. The emphasis is now on project planning and making sure people hit milestones.”
At one time, if somebody came up with a new material or component, the team would have to try that out.
“That’s why you used to see so many cars fail on the track,” he says.
Now, if there is a new idea, first it has to go before senior executives, who take what is regarded as both technical and business decisions as to whether it will obtain a sufficient return on investment (ROI).
ROI in motorsport is not about making money – all motorsport teams guzzle large sums of the stuff – but about fractions of seconds shaved off lap times. As Nevey points out: “We now set ourselves objectives that give best ROIs.”
Of Siemens PLM Teamcenter package, Nevey says it is referred to as the “digital backbone” – the process of making data available to colleagues, and managing engineering changes and the design and development process generally.
The cars are configured in Teamcenter. And what Nevey describes as the Holy Grail, in terms of achievement, has been to produce a single Bill of Materials that includes, as he puts it so succinctly, “everything that goes on a car”. It has now been established that it is the designer who should be responsible for this BOM, which not only represents the model, but also the way the car goes together, so it includes fit and function. The BOM is submitted to the design chief for electronic sign-off and is then frozen.
“We can then be sure that the BOM is consistent,” adds Nevey. “If there is a requirement for a change, it goes back to the designer, so we have consistency.”
The BOM then goes to an Avanti ERP system from Epicor, using an interface written by Siemens PLM specially for Red Bull.
What effect has this had on lead times? “Lead times are still pretty much the same,” he comments, “but we can go through more design iterations.”
One of the areas where this is of benefit is in being able to produce more variations of fins and winglets for wind tunnel tests, in order to generate aerodynamic improvements.
“We found the bottleneck was the model maker,” says Nevey.
Now, Siemens PLM has taught Red Bull designers how to make parametrically controlled template parts. Having produced one, it is then possible to generate variants in minutes or even seconds, all of which can then be produced as stereolithography rapid prototype parts and then wind-tunnel tested.
“That’s where the value is,” Nevey confirms, “and where these guys are so important to us.”
What is really intriguing, of course, is how these processes are going to be embraced within BAE Systems’ Nimrod MRA4 rebuilding programme at Wharton.
Nimrods, based on the old DeHavilland Comet airliner, have been in service with the RAF since 1969. The aeroplanes are ageing and have been repeatedly modified, and there seem to have been some serious design management issues, according to the summary of the RAF board of enquiry into the crash of Nimrod XV230 in Afghanistan in September 2006. What appears to have happened is this: a fuel leak occurred during refuelling, which entered No. 7 tank dry bay, through which passed a pipe carrying hot air at 400ºC air, going to one of three supplementary conditioning packs, which took engine bleed air to pressurise and condition the cabin.
The turning of old Nimrods into MRA4s is more of a total rebuild than a refurbishment, with new turbofan engines, new Airbus derived wings and a glass cockpit, derived from the Airbus A340. Needless to say, there is an urgent desire to ensure there are no design errors, such as the one that led to the loss of the Nimrod in Afghanistan, and a general aspiration to be able to accommodate changes demanded by the RAF and MOD, who are notorious for requiring these during development.
Changes can result from advances in technology, lessons learned during military operations and new missions. F1 teams require the careful management of changes that shave seconds off lap times, while hopefully ensuring the car makes it to the end of the next race. In a surveillance aircraft, it is that much more important to manage changes, for errors may result not just in a car coming to a halt, embarrassing team owners and annoying the driver, but in loss of lives and, perhaps, failure of a military mission, with all of the implications associated with that.
Steve Sharples, the IT manager for the Nimrod rebuilding project, was understandably reluctant to give details, but it seems that Teamcenter will be rolled out there in 2009, to the tune of several hundred seats.


* The Holy Grail of a single BOM has now been achieved.

* Lead times are the same, but many more variations in design can now be prototyped and tested in that time, so that the final design chosen is the best possible

* The same technology, developed in Formula 1, is about to be applied to a very critical military aerospace project

Tom Shelley

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