Data management helps A380 take off on time

Feb. 6, 2003
When Airbus Industries finishes deploying Windchill from PTC, later this year, more than 5,000 engineers will be using the product-life-cycle management system in the A380 program.
In about the time it takes to pay off a 60-month automobile loan, engineers with Airbus will have designed, configured, manufactured, and flown a plane with 50% more parts than went into their A340-600, a Boeing 747-sized aircraft. About 2,000 seats of PTC's CADDS5 software represent more than 60% of the CAD seats in the A380 project.

When Airbus Industries finishes deploying Windchill from PTC, Needham, Mass. (, later this year, more than 5,000 engineers will be using the product-life-cycle management system in the A380 program. Keeping the plane on schedule for a first flight in 2004 will entail managing about 120 Terabytes of information. Included in this database are 15,000 drawings generated monthly in the definition phase, input from 3,000 CAD workstations, 150,000 parts in different configurations, and data from a supply chain that reaches around the globe.

Airbus Industries calls the 555-passenger airplane the most extensive peacetime engineering effort in history. The company has factories and engineers working on it in France, Germany, Spain, and the U.K.

Airbus bought and deployed Windchill in mid-2000. "The deployment is staged to periodically introduce process changes and additional features," says Christopher Williams, senior vice president of Classic Products Group at PTC. But changes to the PLM will cease this summer.

Airbus calls its customized version of Windchill, Primes -- Product Relative Information Management Enterprise Systems. It makes managing the plane's product structure, changes, the release process, 2D and 3D visualization, connectivity to legacy systems, and ERP easier.

The aircraft was announced in December 2000 and is in its detail definition phase. This means the first production drawings have been delivered to manufacturing units, and the first metal and carbon cuts have been made. The aircraft's definition will be nearly complete by year-end. Assembly of major components will start about midyear for delivery to the final assembly line in Toulouse, early 2004.

In addition to size, the A380 is redefining first class. This sleeping compartment is a little of what well-heeled passengers can expect to enjoy on long flights.

The second phase for rolling out Primes will let Airbus manage a federated product structure across all sites, effectivity calculations, and complete and direct integration of the various CAD/CAM tools on site. A federated product structure refers to the many types and formats of data in the product structure. For example, different parts of the company may use older configuration management, CAD, or ERP systems. "That's OK for each engineering site," says Williams. "Using Primes you can see the A380's entire product structure, regardless of the origin or source of the data. An engineer using Primes to view the A380 product data sees the information they need without concern for its origin.

What's more, engineers can operate on information in a legacy application thanks to additional technology from Auxilum, a company purchased by PTC. "Approved users can view and operate on it without going through a translation," says Williams. In addition, Windchill can access data in Catia without access to Catia APIs. This lets Primes users pull up Catia drawings without a Catia license.

Airbus calculates effectivity in its change process using a different method than other organizations. "Effectivity is the time, for example, that revision B of a part or assembly becomes effective over revision A," says Williams. "Until then, there could be two valid configurations. As you can imagine, there are changes to each aircraft right up until it goes out the door," he adds. "From only an aircraft's tail number, we'll be able to identify its special configuration. Airbus plans to use Windchill to track the in-service configuration of each plane."

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