Digital Thread is an increasingly popular buzzword in modern manufacturing and in aerospace particularly. General Electric has been emphasizing digital approaches to engine design and production. Speaking at a recent briefing in Washington, Bell CEO Mitch Snyder says digital threads are already making a difference on his production line and will aid maintenance in the future.
Discussing the V-280 Valor, a tilt-rotor aircraft being developed for the U.S. Army's Future Vertical Lift program, Snyder says digital threads and 3D designs are being used extensively from the earliest stages of design. Once Bell has a mock-up of the new aircraft ready, digital threads will enable the OEM to easily use Augmented Reality to enable Bell engineers and Army customers to do a walk-around of the V-280. “With a touch, they will be able to see the fuel system and other components.”
Moreover, the digital approach is already helping on Bell’s V-22 Osprey production line in Amarillo, Texas. Every production-line worker has a laptop, and can easily see and explore 3D images of new tilt-rotorcraft coming down the line. About 40% of Bell’s Amarillo workers are ex-military. “They say, if we had this when we were in the service, we could have maintained aircraft much easier,” Snyder noted. And as changes are made in the aircraft, these changes will immediately flow into the digital data that production workers and maintenance mechanics exploit to do their jobs.
That is the whole point of the digital thread. By starting design digitally, a consistent digital version of the aircraft is easily carried through all phases of the lifecycle, from initial design and redesign through testing, production and lifecycle sustainment. This is much easier than trying to digitize paper designs and records later, during the sustainment phase. And digital threading from the start is happening in an increasing portion of aerospace manufacture.