DUBAI AIR SHOW NEWS: Boeing Improving Sustainment with Digital Manufacturing

By Meredith Roaten
Royal Air Force chinook helicopter

Royal Air Force photo

Digital engineering and other advanced manufacturing techniques are keeping platforms like the C-17 and Chinook in fighting shape, said an official at the Dubai Airshow Nov. 14.

The manufacturer is looking to cut costs and improve safety by incorporating data from platforms around the world and more frequently relying on digital models, Mark Ballew, senior director for international government and defense at Boeing, said at a press briefing.

As Boeing has moved away from “transactional” sustainment processes with its customers, it is now focused on collecting more data from its platforms to more efficiently get its customers to operational readiness and resilient maintenance, he said.

“The aircraft is talking to us already. It’s a matter of: are we listening?” he said.

Korea’s fleet of F-15s and Canada and the United Kingdom’s Chinooks are “success stories” for Boeing’s focus on performance-based logistics contracts, which is made possible by digital manufacturing, he said.

“We're also reducing their flying hour costs for those customers,” he said. “We're reducing those lifecycle costs for those customers.”

Based on data from the platform — such as temperature and vibration readings — Boeing is able to predict if the platform’s parts can wait to be replaced, he said.

More accurate data and life cycle predictions can help the military better plan for maintenance and repair, he noted.

“That allows us to go through and make that change at a time more conducive … as opposed to having to do it in an austere environment,” he said.

Improving safety is also a factor, he added.

Boeing was finally awarded a contract for the Chinook Block IIs helicopter after some rotor blade design issues that were deemed a safety risk delayed the process.

The digital information can also be used to create digital models for testing instead of having to waste resources during real flights, Ballew said.

“We're getting smarter on a daily basis, having the advantage of multiple countries around the world flying aircraft,” he said. “Boeing has made this a concerted effort. We're working with a lot of our teammates, the countries that are operating our platforms on as well as a lot of the companies that we’re teamed with.”

The improvements are coming through in both legacy platforms and newer designs, such as the T-7A trainer that Boeing is designing to replace the aging T-38C, he noted. Sustainment will likely be more than 70 percent of the aircraft, so it needs to be built around a digital design that will make this approach more efficient, he said.

However, digitizing legacy systems will have limitations because of their age and the fact that they were not designed for the digital environment, he noted.

Topics: Global Defense Market

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