2020 certainly has been a bizarre year. It seems so long ago I was in San Diego and Washington, DC working with prospects and subscribers. Next thing I know, I’m at home being a part-time teacher. My wife and I are fortunate to be in a situation where we were able to work from home. Not everyone has that luxury—thanks Peter!

At Aras, transitioning to remote work was not a big step. Many of our team were already working remotely and the nature of software development afforded us a quick change over. In fact, our SAFe (Agile) process was already done completely virtually. We even increased the frequency that we release service packs. In the move to remote work, it was interesting how quickly the term “Zoom” has become the “Kleenex” of the web video conferencing industry.

We’ve certainly seen an impact on the commercial aerospace business. With less aircraft in the air, there was a significant reduction in new orders, maintenance, and impacts on all of the surrounding industries. This has affected the entire PLM industry.

On the Defense side, there’s been less of an impact. Most of the prime contractors kept moving forward on existing projects and there were several new contracts awarded as well. COVID was definitely a bump in the road, but things smoothed out a bit as the year wore on. One difference (that likely was common to all industries) was that any “end of year” money that would have normally been used to kick off projects and ensure budgets, was not available, as any “extra” funds were used to support new COVID practices.

I really missed being out working with people in the field. I missed presenting at conferences and giving briefings in person. It really sucked that we were forced to cancel our yearly conference, even though it was the right thing to do. I really love talking turkey with people. Sometimes it is imagining new things, sometimes it is educating someone new to the industry, and other times it is architecting a solution for new customers. I miss the energy in those conversations, the scribbling on the whiteboard, and the clinking of glasses after an ah-ha moment at the pub.

A&D Roundtable

We held an A&D Roundtable last week to try and regain a bit of the missing energy of working together, albeit virtually. We had participants from USAF, US Navy, SAIC, MIT Lincoln Lab, Purdue University (Boiler Up!), General Dynamics, and Aerospace Corporation. Funny thing—it is harder to get dedicated blocks of a person’s time now that they are working remote. Normally, we would have roundtable events as part of a conference, but nature abhors a vacuum and calendars get filled up. Even with that challenge, we got a great group of people and a conversation that was still going strong after two hours. We even had to drop our last topic and agree that it was worth a follow-up meeting in January. Our topics included Systems Architecture /Engineering /MBSE integration, Establishing the Digital Thread and Digital Twin/Single Source of Truth, and Remote Work in a multiclassification environment and COVID reality. These are important topics in the A&D Industry and it is clear that they will continue to be going forward. As a group we decided to allow the digital twin discussion to keep running into the last segment as it was a very lively conversation. Here are some of the points discussed:

Systems Engineering:

  • Model validation is key
  • Incremental improvements are good
  • Modeling for the sake of modeling is not valuable, model with a purpose and decompose, there is a need for connectivity to other domains and tools
  • Change control is out of control, no enterprise Configuration Management
  • Integration: right information to the right person at the right time
  • Update frequency across teams/domains is still in flux
  • Stovepipes/siloes persist— consistent problem

Digital Thread/Single Source of Truth:

  • Detailed thread/twin definitions vary
  • Integration and interoperability are challenges
  • What is a “single source of truth and who decides?
  • Digital twin is still abstract—how to interact etc.
  • Need connected system model/simulation to support generative modeling
  • Connecting model parameters to design/simulation/testing is powerful
  • Commercial is WAY faster to release product
  • Age gap, hiring, skill sets, engineering theory vs practice—there was significant discussion about this

Our roundtable event concluded with agreement from the entire team that there was value in the discussion and the participants took home ideas and things to look into. To support an ongoing and healthy discussion, we are going to plan a recurring schedule of events—stay tuned.

Looking forward to 2021

I believe that the transition into 2021 is unclear. With a newly elected president and policies on the horizon, an economic recession, and a pandemic whose end is uncertain, it is hard to predict anything. But here is what I do know. The engine of innovation and technology will continue. We may be in a lower gear, but that means we will have fuel when we rev up and bust out of our current funk!

We will continue to see advances in technology and, unfortunately, we will see resistance to change. We will continue to see innovators like SpaceX defy convention, reuse rockets, and win. And others will keep on keeping on.

“And this is the best that you c – that the-the government, the *U.S. government* can come up with? I mean,..you-you're NASA for cryin' out loud,..you put a man on the moon, you're geniuses! You-you're the guys that think this *** up! I'm sure you got a team of men sitting around somewhere right now just thinking *** up and somebody backing them up!““Bruce Willis as Harry Stamper in, “Armageddon”

I continue to see the pace of change slowed by various forms of inertia. The shame is, there is plenty of proven technology available that can positively impact a firm’s bottom line. I talk to many people about the idea for a Rapid Development Incubator (i.e. Greenhouse) and see plenty of ah-ha moments. We know this initiative will help our subscribers go fast—we have seen it at USAF, Airbus, and SAIC. Now, we need to get everyone to jump on the bandwagon.

Systems Architecture and MBSE are only going to continue to push forward. We are seeing an evolution in systems development that is driving improved methodology for how systems engineering is approached and how MBSE tools are being utilized. MBSE tools are like CAD for Systems Engineers.The challenge is connecting the information in a model to the product development process. That data is the digital DNA that defines the context and missions for a product/system. Simply creating a MagicDraw model and throwing it in a shared folder or in its own lonely PDM is not good enough. If you can’t get that information to the downstream domains efficiently and effectively, you have thrown away much of the utility of the model.

Want to shake things up? Make the block definition diagram the input to the detailed design team—MCAD, ECAD, and software. Watch the MCAD guys start throwing out excuses.

To bring modeling full circle, we cannot simulate enough. I’m a huge proponent of “simulate early, simulate often.” We will see more processing power from Intel, new cloud capabilities from ReScale, and the raw power of simulation number mashing from Ansys. But just like MBSE—what are you going to do with the data? Is it related to that systems model? Is it related to the test plan? Is it statistically correlated with test results so you can save $$ on physical tests?

We recently partnered with SAIC to present: Systems Architecture-The Connective Tissue of Your Digital Thread. Check it out and let’s talk shop!

The digital thread will keep on threading in 2021. The curious question is—when will people realize that just having data in a database does not make a digital thread? A digital string yes—but it is still a silo!

And when will there be a realization that shoe-horning data into a 30-year-old legacy data model is not the answer? Stock up on digital duct tape—you’re going to need it to keep things running.

If you want to make a real change, we need to look at the product development process, the people, and the tools used. (If you don’t know why the people are important go to any book about Kaizen or the Toyota Production System and you will realize that the people involved are important.) With this view we can understand how a firm works, how processes need to be executed, and the proper data structure to support the needs of the business.

We all know that everyone has a favorite tool for MBSE, Software, CAD and Simulation. Don’t fight it—integrate it. Connect those tools and sometimes even their respective PDMs. But, the key is to wrap configuration management and business logic around all the processes and tools. That is how you achieve your digital thread single source of truth.

I wish everyone out there a Merry Christmas, happy holiday season, and a happy new year. I’m really hoping to get out and talk shop with you soon!