Military Equipment Designers Focus on Big Picture
Design tool providers are working to make it simpler to see how design, manufacturing, and maintenance all impact designs.
By Terry Costlow, Contributing Editor
The US military has made digital technologies a mainstay of its efforts to address defense in the 21st century. As the role of electronics grows, many equipment suppliers and designers are starting to move to fully digital development that encompasses everything from conceptual design to field maintenance over long vehicle lifetimes.
Modeling and simulation have become standard design practices, so digital models of components and systems are readily available. At the same time, manufacturing equipment suppliers have also adopted digital tools that let plant managers see how products and systems will move through the manufacturing process.
Many of these tools extend to maintenance, giving design engineers a way to see how their products will be kept running over vehicle lifetimes that often span decades. Tool providers are working to make this holistic approach to design and manufacturing easier to implement.
“We want to improve the full value chain for integrating electronic systems,” said Tony Nicoli, aerospace market development director for Mentor Graphics’ Integrated Electrical Systems Division, which makes software for wiring harness design. “Information being captured in data models can be used to understand the whole value chain, understanding how designs impact production and maintenance.”
Software tool providers have expanded their portfolios so designers and manufacturers can improve compatibility between the many tools used to create electronic and mechanical designs and set up manufacturing facilities. Siemens has spent $10 billion acquiring automation and software companies in recent years, adding Mentor Graphics earlier in 2017, and PTC and Dassault Systemes have each bought a dozen or more companies this decade.
This transition to full supply chain digitalization comes as designers are employing more electronic systems in vehicles that drive, fly, and float. Many of these systems help warfighters communicate and see what’s going on around their environment. But many electronic controls, such as by-wire steering and braking, are being deployed to save weight and space.
“Designers want to improve performance, so things that were once done using hydraulics or mechanics are now being handled by electronics,” Nicoli said. “Electronic systems save weight, which extends range or lowers operating costs. Lighter vehicles require less fuel, or allow greater cargo capacity. One pound less weight can mean one pound more in cargo.”
Being able to examine steps throughout the product’s full life cycle can help engineers understand how their decisions will help them meet design requirements that can sometimes conflict. For example, increasing performance may drive manufacturing costs higher. Sophisticated design environments can help engineers and managers see how tradeoffs will impact all parameters.