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Digital Manufacturing is Streamlining Innovation

How to reduce a new product cycle to 90 days.

In today’s market, even large companies need flexibility. One of the ways some companies achieve this is through undertaking projects separate from their regular operations, and sometimes in different locations. Whether they are called innovation centers or accelerators, the goal of these endeavors is the same: Bring something new to market, and do it fast.

Companies have achieved success through physical separation and working in small groups. Festo has done this for years, developing its Bionic program. Recently, I was given the opportunity to visit the new Innovation Campus at Wichita State University (WSU) in Kansas. I didn’t know much about this area, but that changed quickly while I toured the new Dassault Systèmes 3DEXPERIENCE Center.

The Beginning

This facility started out as an 18-hole golf course beside WSU that was a placeholder for expansion. The golfers may have been a bit upset, as in just three years the entire course was up rooted. However, what stands there today is unbelievable.

Located within the Experiential Engineering Building (EEB), the 3DEXPERIENCE Center enables companies to engage in advanced product development and the manufacturing of next-generation materials and technologies.

The grand opening for Airbus’ and Dassault Systèmes’ sites at Wichita State University was held April 27, 2017. “This is the beginning of a new era at Wichita State University—an opportunity for students to work alongside experienced professionals, gaining knowledge about the tools and processes used by industry,” said Wichita State President John Bardo. “We see these partnerships as a model for future partnerships in areas such as business, education, health professions, arts, and sciences.”

“Higher-education institutions like Wichita State University play an absolutely critical role in economic development,” added Dennis Alvord, deputy assistant secretary for regional affairs for the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA). “EDA is proud of our strong partnership with WSU—a partnership that has led to $10 million in EDA investment to help establish the impressive Innovation Campus that today is attracting world-class companies to the region, and playing a critical role in training the next generation of workers to compete for advanced manufacturing and other in-demand jobs.”  

This multiple robot setup is an engineer’s playground. With what looked like motion capture surrounding the space, it is able to operate without safety cages. Robotic arms are able to work dynamically with each other switching tools and using each arm to accomplish task together. This is an example of how large companies will be able to use advance automation to combat incumbent inertia and promote flexibility.

As WSU Innovation Campus partners, Airbus Engineering and Dassault Systèmes have access to campus support infrastructure, including research labs, meeting facilities, education/training opportunities, and boundless collaboration with faculty, staff, students and business entities on campus.

Working with these companies helps WSU offer an end-to-end student to professional experience. The University is a place to live, learn, play, and with the growth of this innovation campus, work with some of the nation’s largest companies.

Aerospace by Tornado Alley

When you think of aerospace, Kansas may not be the first place that comes to mind. However, Wichita has the highest concentration of aerospace manufacturing in the nation. This is apparent just from a stroll around the university’s grounds, as the campus is teeming with large buildings filled with manufacturing projects and aerospace leaders.

Wichita is No. 1 in industry-financed aerospace R&D at $31 million, with Georgia in second place at $7 million. Wichita is also No. 4 in aerospace R&D expenditures at $45 million. Now with this massive extension of WSU, Wichita is really making a name for itself. These resources could not only extend manufacturing in the area, but produce more graduates with a wealth of hands-on real-world experience. With such a large concern about the skills gap, companies are investing heavily in areas that possess large concentrations of skilled people. This Innovation Campus could benefit Wichita as a whole.

Standards and 3D printing

Some of the work here is focused on the development of new standards. One of the main issues holding back additive manufacturing in aerospace is material certification. While companies like GKN can provide powder control, machine to machine hardware, power, etc. are subject to changes. The inconsistency in machines might be one of the biggest hurdles to jump over when trying to find a universal standard for metal 3D printing in the aerospace industry.

In addition, my tour guide—Jeff Smith, director of the Aerospace and Defense Ideas Lab at Dassault Systèmes—mentioned that additive manufacturing represents a small portion of overall industry production, so an understanding of traditional manufacturing is still imperative.

Walking through the center, it became apparent that it follows many of the trends I’ve found to breed success in innovation. There were three collaboration rooms in the center, each of which only had eight workstations. Smith said he believes that eight people boasting interdisciplinary skills could tackle most any problem. Indeed, one of the first problems the center worked on was a search-and-rescue unmanned aerial system (UAS).

Tackling Hard Problems

The goal of the Innovation Campus is to take the average production cycle of two to five years and reduce it to 90 days. As noted above, the first student-run project aiming to accomplish this involved designing and manufacturing a search-and-rescue UAS. The deliverables seemed like the project was setup to fail.

  • From idea to working prototype in 90 days
  • Weight: 55 lbs.
  • Wingspan: 13 ft.
  • Able to transport a 5 lb. payload
  • Deploy payload to ground with a parachute
  • Retractable landing gear
  • Three different camera configurations

The team was successful in delivering the product, but it was done in nine months—not 90 days. However, this far exceeded normal new product time cycles.

How to Speed up Innovation

The idea is to perform as much as possible digitally. In 90 days you don’t have time for physical testing, or time for tooling each iteration. You must eliminate as much physical testing and prototypes as possible. This is where digital twins, advanced FEA, and simulation are crucial. Smith noted that for every dollar you invest digitally in form, fit, and function, you save roughly $7 compared to performing it in the physical world.

CAVE stands for Cave Automatic Virtual Environment. Smith took me for a test flight of the unmanned aerial vehicle. Stepping into the room with a mountainous environment projected onto the walls in 3D, I stood next to the UAS as it took off. This was serious work, but I couldn’t help to wonder if they could project a movie in the CAVE.

This is where Dassault Systèmes fits into the equation. Smith believes it is possible to take an idea to working prototype in 90 days or less with a robust end-to-end digital thread, performing as much testing and simulation digitally within an enabling environment like the 3DEXPERIENCE Center, bringing together the people, processes, and equipment with the right software platform. In one example, the UAS had a problem: The RC motors selected for the aircraft operated at a higher temperature than advertised. This was melting materials and causing problems. 

By modeling the motor and simulating the exhaust, the team was able to design a 3D-printed heat exchanger to cool the motors to the needed 12°F. With accurate digital tools from Dassault Systèmes the team was able to find a solution quickly. It might sound simple, but it enabled small teams to make their own decision on what they need, and choose resources—specifically, digital resources—that can greatly cut new product cycle times.

Dassault Systèmes

Dassault Systèmes walked me around just one section of one building on the 120-acre Innovation Campus. The 3DEXPERIENCE Company, known for its 3D design software, 3D Digital Mock Up and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solutions, formed a unique partnership between Wichita State’s National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR). The 3DEXPERIENCE Center was first announced in 2015 with four key points.

  • Engineered new materials development
  • Multi-scale simulation and optimization
  • Multi-Robotic Advanced Manufacturing (MRAM)
  • On-demand certification

The 3DEXPERIENCE Center is devoted to accelerating virtual product development, manufacturing, and technology innovation with both aviation and non-aviation companies on projects large or small—whether developing manufacturing or product development strategies, implementing new technology, or solving a specific challenge.

Reverse engineering and inspection allows engineers to scan complex parts to create new virtual representations, as well as to inspect new parts for certification and quality control.

The Innovation Campus at Wichita State University

Wichita State University’s Innovation Campus is an interconnected community of partnership buildings where organizations establish operations and reap the rewards of the university’s vast resources:  laboratories that give students access to real-world applications and the training needed to effortlessly assimilate into the workforce; a community makerspace that provides access to technology and services that facilitate product development; and mixed-use areas that provide everyone with a place to learn, work, live, and play.

For more information, check out WSU or the 3DEXPERIENCE Center.

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