Boeing plans virtual everything before 7E7 rollout

Dec. 11, 2003
Before the first 7E7 Dreamliner rolls out of the Boeing factory in 2008, every component will have been modeled in 3D geometry, milled and bent on digital machine tools, assembled several times in virtual factories, and maintained by people who have "crawled" into digital equipment bays.
Boeing's Dreamliner will carry 200 to 250 passengers at the speed and range of a 777 and be 20% more efficient than comparably sized twin-engine aircraft. Over the next 20 years, Boeing says as many as 3,000 will be needed.
Boeing's Fowler says the company is working to ensure the 7E7 is more comfortable than any other commercial jet airplane. Although the cabin shown is a concept, the real one will have pressure and humidity similar to that at 5,000 ft. Today's cabins simulate 8,000-ft elevations.
Assembly and production cells will be modeled using Dassault's Delmia software. Simulations will include factory cells, such as this one.
For the 7E7, assembly personnel will practice on a virtual line to have skills in place for the first real plane.
Fuel-efficiency goals for the 7E7 will place the plane in a class of its own.

"And the first real plane off the assembly line will not be a prototype. It will be presented to a customer who will put it into service," says Kevin Fowler, director of process integration for the 7E7 program.

The simulations Fowler cites will shorten the development period by 18 months over what was needed for the 777 and validate all production requirements before design release. For comparison, the 777 was designed in the early 1990s and defined completely in 3D geometry. "When we put the hydraulic tubes in the first fuselage, about 20% encountered some interference," says Fowler. "The 737 Next Generation aircraft that followed had interference issues with two tubes. And although that model simulated manufacturing, 2D drawings were still prevalent on the shop floor. For the 7E7, there will be no interference issues or drawings in assembly areas," he says. Another design goal is to model separate subsystems and assemble them into a complete 3D model of the entire plane.

Another goal is to use 20% less fuel than existing comparably sized twin-engine airliners. "This will come out of advanced composite structures for the fuselage, wings, and control surfaces. What's more, the plane will be entirely electric. And thanks to advances in 3D CFD, the nacelle, wing, and body will have better flow," says Fowler. In addition, he says a team is developing a new aeroelasticity program. Better jet engines will boost fuel economy by 5%.

Enovia software from IBM and SmarTeam from SmarTeam Inc. provide support for workgroups, while EDS Teamcenter stores product information for sharing among teams. "It is the single source of data for this program," says Fowler. Dassault's Delmia V5 will perform manufacturing and assembly simulations, and MSC.Nastran from MSC.Software has been tapped for simulating internal and external loads. And large PC clusters will handle the heavy lifting for CFD simulations.

In the same way a real rollout is a big celebration, a virtual rollout will be celebrated 11 months before the physical one, says Fowler. "Mechanics and line people will build the first planes in the virtual world. This will lower the learning curve so the first unit off the assembly line has the learning experience of the second and third."

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