PARIS AIR SHOW NEWS: U.S. Contractor Urges Pentagon to Adopt Digital Twins
PARIS — Defense systems powered by secure electronics platforms are complex, expensive and time-consuming to build, but one U.S. contractor thinks the solution lies in digital twinning, and the Defense Department already has the capability.
A digital twin is a virtual representation of the current state of a manufactured product or system at any given point in time, according to a presentation from electronic design company Cadence Design Systems at the Paris Air Show June 21.
James Chew, senior global director at Cadence, said what this technology enables is not just getting a product “right,” but “getting it right the first time,” in an interview at the air show.
Achieving first-pass success with electronics is tricky because companies need to ensure devices are working correctly before building them, he said.
Getting it right the first time is Cadence’s drumbeat, and they’re championing digital twinning to do it, Chew said. And Cadence argues the Defense Department should embrace digital twinning as well.
Cadence worked with the department to stand up an emulation design center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, which Chew said they have used to show that the department has the capability for secure, cloud-based access anywhere in the country.
Historically, the department has been a victim of well-intentioned trust in performers, Chew said, which resulted in unintended consequences such as bloated expenses and longer timelines. “It’s really black magic to do this,” Chew said. “They have no idea what they’re buying.”
Chew pointed to the “laws” developed by aerospace executive Norman Ralph Augustine in the 1980s. One law stated that the Defense Department’s increasing reliance on electronic systems would saddle it with such exponential cost increases in development, operations, sustainment and modernization that by 2050, the department would only be able to afford one airplane.
Chew said Cadence wants to use digital twinning to break that law.
He said the concept can cut costs by preventing expensive hardware mistakes prior to building physical prototypes, as well as decreasing operations and sustainment costs.
“Schedules and budgets are kind of a suggestion,” he said. “You have to take your own money to develop this product. And you have this schedule called ‘Christmas’…you can’t miss it; you can’t move it. It only comes once a year.”
Companies think differently when their own money is on the line, he said. “You want to make sure that you build that hardware only once.”
Other benefits of hardware-accurate and manufacturing-correlated digital twinning include correlating underlying models and libraries to manufacturing process lines, Chew said. It also enables accurate use of multi-physics simulation and analysis, enabling first pass success, according to his presentation.
Enhanced and continuous testing is also possible with digital twinning, allowing test and evaluation while in the design phase, the presentation stated. It addresses sustainment and agile modernization “upfront and early.”
Chew described what is called a learning curve in manufacturing, where no customer wants to buy the first 1,000 units of anything. “Because that’s where all the mistakes were. They learn from it to get perfect.” He said digital twinning eliminates the learning curve.
Product delivery typically goes through an initial operational capability stage and a full operational capability stage, usually separated by a timeline to allow for mistakes to be discovered and corrected after initial operational capability.
“Let’s see what this thing can really do,” is the intent of IOC, and because companies are not using digital twinning when developing their electronic systems, they’re “finding things out” during IOC, Chew said.
“You can’t do that. These are being used right now,” he said.
Chew said the use of digital twinning significantly shortens the timeline between IOC and FOC, sometimes even making them nearly simultaneous.
Digital twinning also allows testers to be cavalier when poking around — they can break things on the digital twin and it's fine, Chew said. “It’s not like breaking a part or doing dangerous tests.”
Chew said testing should not just ensure a product works as intended, but also that it won’t break when it’s not.
“The worst thing is liability. Because they’ll say, ‘yeah, everybody knows you’re not supposed to do that, but you never said you couldn’t,’” he said. “We don’t only test to make sure it works how it’s supposed to, we also make sure what else can happen and then we fix it.”
Chew said the Defense Department is aware of the capabilities of digital twinning, and a transition is happening under the radar.
“The pilot projects that are being executed are again showing the return on investment that’s needed to say, ‘we need to start looking at this way of doing things,’” he added.
This capability already exists within the Defense Department, Chew said. “You don’t need a bunch of money to do this. It’s already here. Program offices are already putting funds in it to try it out. And that’s where you’re seeing things start to transition.”