Interoperability woes in the aerospace and defense industries

Amazingly, interoperability problems still plague large OEMs, especially those in aerospace and defense. That's why, a few years ago, Boeing and Northrup Grumann held a joint conference (closed to the "public" and the media) to see if getting together couldn't help them both iron-out their interoperability issues. Over time, vendors started attending the conference as did government agencies and professional societies (such as standards committees). This year marks the first that media were invited. Besides myself, Stephen Wolfe of Cyon Research and Randall Newton of CADCAMNet are attending. I'm sure there are a few others, but I haven't seen them. Vendors and partners attending the event include Adobe, Altair, ProSTEP, Vistagy, IBM, Dassault, and MSC Software, among others.

The attendees here extremely knowledgeable. Most self-deprecatingly call themselves, "graybeards." James Gordon, VP of Validation Development at Kubotek USA Inc. actually had a hand in writing, or completely wrote, many of the kernels in use today. He is especially interesting to talk to because of his extensive knowledge of the CAD industry's history. I am to speak with him more later.

Brett Hillhouse of IBM talked about "Trends in Aerospace and Defense Product Development." The complexity of products such as airplanes causes expensive failures -- not at the individual component level but at the assembly level, when all the bits and pieces have been put together. One example he gave was windshield wipers that didn't work once installed on the car -- someone forgot to calibrate the sensor for the coefficient of glass used on the vehicle. The problem is so bad, he says, that some companies feel they have to completely redo their product development processes. What is needed is a "requirements engineering" phase that captures all the non-functional, as well as the functional, needs of a design. For example, Can passengers in a car actually use the cup holder or is it in such an unwieldy position they would get a hernia while reaching for their cup of java? According to Hillhouse, CAD and PLM are not enough for global dealings.

So, what exactly comprises a system? In the sense that Hillhouse speaks of, a system provides a set of services; it is used by an enterprise to carry out a business purpose; and it consists of hardware, software, data -- and workers. Companies should use a model-driven approach to systems development, says Hillhouse. The approach is similar to that of 3D CAD in that it ties all the constraints, artifacts, etc., into one model. The new approach is artifact-based, not paper-based.

IBM calls what it does "open services for lifecycle collaboration," says Hillhouse. This is an IDE using the REST API (short foe Representational State Transfer) and integrating systems engineering, requirements engineering, and detailed design with a set of underlying best practices.

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