More Companies Relying on Modeling, Simulation to Cut Costs

By Valerie Insinna
As the budget crunch continues, so does the Pentagon’s pressure on industry to squeeze as much risk and cost out of developing and sustaining products.

Many defense companies have responded by increasing the use of modeling and simulation technologies that can help engineers refine designs and detect potential problems without having to work and rework expensive prototypes.

“The faster we can evaluate approaches and evaluate the fidelity and capability of those approaches, the faster we can iterate and improve upon them,” said Paul Ferraro, vice president of advanced technology programs for Raytheon Integrated Defense. “That’s where we’re finding a tremendous value in our modeling and simulation work.”

Executives told National Defense that they expect this trend to increase in the coming years.

“As the services’ budgets are pressurized, I think they’re expending a great deal of effort to do risk management and to do everything they can to assess their financial risk on any particular program,” said Mike Kelly, Northrop Grumman’s director of operations and strategy for its global logistics and operational support division. “The desire to do more modeling and simulation on the logistics side has gone up and up and up.”

One of the biggest benefits of using modeling and simulation is the ability for companies to help customers visualize a product, get their feedback and then quickly make adjustments.

Lockheed Martin has built an entire facility in Suffolk, Virginia, expressly for the purpose of collaborating with stakeholders, said Jim McArthur, vice president of the Lockheed Martin center of innovation. The company leverages the center — also called “the lighthouse” — for wargames and other experiments enabled by modeling and simulation.

The lighthouse contains conference rooms, auditoriums, a classroom with 40 individual workstations and a variety of high-tech immersive equipment. During a media tour of the facility in July, the company exhibited its joint light tactical vehicle simulator.

The purpose of the center is to provide an environment where Lockheed can meet with is customers and test solutions for current or future issues, McArthur said.

“We help our government partners figure out how to exploit the full capability of those platforms,” he said. For instance, the company has explored how to better use the F-35 in concert with the Aegis combat system on cruisers and destroyers.

“We had to develop some new technology to accommodate the communications system of the F-35,” McArthur said. Called the multifunction advanced data link, it works much like an adapter that allows AEGIS to exchange information with the aircraft. “It’s not fully matured, but we use this technology translator in the virtual environment.”

Following a series of workshops this fall on “a day in the life of an F-35 on a nuclear aircraft carrier,” the company plans to carry out a wargame in December with the Navy’s operational and acquisition communities.

The company also held a series of wargames featuring the littoral combat ship before the platform’s first deployment to Singapore in 2013, McArthur said. Representatives from the Navy’s program office, 7th Fleet and the Singapore government, as well as Austal USA — the manufacturer of the Independence variant of the ship — were present.

“In that wargame, we identified over 120 items that had to be taken care of ... basically a checklist of what had to be done, the solutions that had to come to bear to deploy USS Freedom” to Singapore he said. The results helped inform the Navy’s decision to increase the base crew from 40 to 50 sailors.

Lockheed is not the only defense contractor pouring internal funding into modeling and simulation facilities. Raytheon recently launched its immersive design center at its Andover, Massachusetts, location.

Unlike Lockheed’s innovation center, the immersive design center is a single room, which is about 24 feet in diameter and lined with flat screen television monitors. Users — about 20 of whom can fit inside — don 3D goggles and can then interact with virtual models of Raytheon products projected into the room.

Modeling and simulation technologies have only recently become advanced enough to replicate the fidelity of sophisticated military hardware, Ferraro said.

“We’ve made great strides in software development and using … rapid prototyping techniques to improve cycle times,” he said. “Hardware development has often for years been lagging” because of the time needed to physically build a piece of hardware, test it and evaluate it.

“With the fidelity of the models and [simulation] tools that we have now, we’re really finding ourselves able to apply those agile techniques to hardware design,” he said.

Although the facility was originally launched for hardware development, there is interest in using it for other purposes, such as for training, wargaming and systems analysis, he said.

“It’s an investment, but it’s a relatively modest investment for the capability that it brings,” Ferraro said. Because the center is only four months old, he was unable to provide figures on the return of investment, he said. However, he expects it will reduce the time it takes to design and make prototypes for hardware.

“We’ve used it in a number of design reviews and design cycles with some of our major programs … and the benefit is very obvious,” he said.

For instance, the company has built a 3D model of the shelters on the Patriot surface-to-air-missile system’s control station, including the computing, communications and other equipment located inside, Ferraro said. Operators and maintainers can then move throughout the virtual shelter, interact with the equipment and then give designers feedback about how easy it is to find items or repair them.

“Rather than simply rely [on] or keep to the legacy layout ... this has really allowed the team [members] to almost physically immerse themselves in a variety of solution spaces as to how we may go about the mechanical design and layout of the Patriot shelter,” he said.

“There’s a handheld device that you can hold, and with that you have a virtual hand that you can pull the equipment item out of a rack … and then in a three dimensional sense, rotate that virtual equipment item and take a look at where all of the replaceable parts are … and then reinstall that piece of equipment,” he said.

Boeing is using similar technologies at its immersive collaboration centers — conference rooms with high-end computing systems and displays where stakeholders can use simulation to test anything from product designs to a new maintenance construct, said Dan Seal, program manager for the company’s immersive development environment. The company houses collaboration centers at most of its major facilities.

“We will actually integrate [customers] into the design process and show them the design as it’s unfolding,” Seal said. “They can ask questions, and since we have the models right there, we can usually answer the questions in real time versus” having to do research and follow up with more information.

A couple of the collaboration facilities are equipped with motion-tracking cameras that allow Boeing to do ergonomic analysis of designs, he said.

“I can suit up a maintainer, and he can actually interact with a virtual product that’s really not even there,” he said. Analysts can then collect metrics about how long it takes to repair a piece of equipment and whether that matches predicted times. Data can be further extrapolated to evaluate if personnel of various heights and weights would be able to comfortably carry out repairs.

Boeing has used motion capture data to inform work on the V-22 Osprey and CH-47 Chinook, Seal said.

The company first employed the immersive development environment — which includes the brick-and-mortar collaboration centers as well as online tools — to update the F-15’s forward center fuselage design for Saudi Arabia.

Engineers, analysts and the personnel responsible for manufacturing the aircraft all gave input on how to alter the design, which could then be immediately updated in simulation and discussed further.

“We’re building them now, [and] we’re seeing excellent quality,” Seal said. “We’re seeing large cost savings from a traditional development approach which typically has a lot of redesign and rework.” He declined to specify how much money has been saved compared to legacy methods of design.

Northrop Grumman is also incorporating modeling and simulation throughout an aircraft’s lifecycle. When modeling is used at the first stages of product development, companies can weigh how different tradeoffs impact cost, Kelly said.

“The procurement of a weapon system is only a part of the total cost,” while operations and sustainment make up as much of 70 percent of that figure, he said. There are “trades you can make between the upfront procurement cost and the lifecycle costs. … We can make the airplane more reliable so it breaks less, so maybe we need less spare parts, but the cost of making it more reliable may drive up the unit costs.”

All of these factors — such as the maintenance profile, supply chain and projected unit cost — can be put through a model that predicts trends in cost, availability and reliability. Northrop can then present that information to the military, which can then judge whether that product would meet its operational needs or whether changes should be made. 

The company also uses simulation to solve problems after a product has been fully developed. For example, the company virtually tested whether the new MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter would be able to fit inside a guided missile destroyer hangar, Kelly said.

“We were able to show that while one of the hangars could not support two Fire Scout Cs, the other hangar could support it with all of the appropriate safety clearances,” he said. The digital demonstration helped give Northrop and the program office confidence that they had found a solution “without having to bring a ship all the way into port and crane everything aboard.”

Topics: Simulation Modeling Wargaming and Training, Live Training

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