To maintain its lead in today's highly aggressive executive jet market, Dassault Aviation must remain one step ahead of its North American rivals who are unaffected by fluctuations in the dollar. "Staying competitive means delivering more than our competitors in all areas of aircraft development," says Christian Decaix, executive vice-president, Operations. Dassault Aviation must focus on delivering high quality, secure aircraft that are custom-tailored to client requests. The company must also constantly innovate and optimise its business processes and operations to remain flexible in the face of economic variations. Since the life of an aircraft can span more than 30 years, Dassault Aviation must make aircraft maintenance and support a priority. Finally, as new aircraft projects involve large groups of risk-sharing partners, Dassault Aviation has to develop its aircraft in concert with a geographically dispersed team of global partners
To address its business challenges, and in particular, optimise development of its new Falcon 7X business jet, Dassault Aviation, using IBM PLM Solutions developed by Dassault Systèmes, created the world's first virtual development platform.
The goal of the virtual platform was to enable Dassault Aviation and its 27 partners in Europe, the USA and Canada to concurrently design the Falcon 7X from their home sites.
In September 2002, Dassault Aviation linked its partners through a single, virtual collaborative workspace in which they shared a common, configured, constantly-updated digital mock-up of the Falcon 7X.
The mock-up was based on the Falcon 7X definition that more than 300 partner representatives and 200 Dassault Aviation engineers had developed together on a 'physical' platform during the aircraft's joint definition phase at Dassault Aviation's St. Cloud site near Paris.
"Thanks to the virtual platform, we were able to work together right from the conception stage, sharing the same database and the same tools, which is something we could not do in the past," says Jérôme Camps, aerospace engineer, Dassault Aviation.
In parallel to the virtual platform project, Dassault Aviation launched an ambitious plan to restructure the company's entire IT system. This included expanding its PLM platform to integrate product development from conception to manufacturing to maintenance.
"We expanded our use of PLM for the Falcon 7X in order to optimise the aircraft from the outset and throughout the entire development process," says Jacques Pellas, CIO, Dassault Aviation. "The virtual platform is based on Catia V4 and V5 for product definition and digital assembly, Enovia VPM for realtime sharing of digital mock-up. We also use Delmia from Dassault Systémes for definition of maintenance operations."
Dassault Aviation has set new standards for aircraft development thanks to PLM and its virtual platform:
* Unprecedented product quality.
Since the Falcon 7X was entirely defined with 3D digital precision prior to assembly, including 40 000 parts, 20 0000 fasteners, and the aircraft's sophisticated equipment and systems, Dassault Aviation was able to construct a business jet of unparalleled quality.
"Thanks to PLM, we created an absolutely perfect definition of the aircraft," says Christian Decaix, executive vice-president, Operations. "When we reached the assembly stage, from the first aircraft, we had the quality that previously took us several dozen aircrafts to achieve."
By defining the parts and structure of the Falcon 7X digitally with its partners via the virtual platform, Dassault Aviation dramatically reduced the assembly time of the aircraft.
"Parts that are defined virtually fit together perfectly the first time to one-hundredth of a centimetre," says Jean-Claude Hironde, deputy senior vice-president, Research, Design and Engineering. "Previously, an assembly used to take us 16 months. For the first Falcon 7X, it took us only seven months."
Through the virtual platform, Dassault Aviation's risk-sharing partners were able to share and refine the detailed design of their sections in context of the Falcon 7X. This upstream co-development set the stage for a flawless assembly.
"We have eliminated assembly problems by 100%," says Jean-Claude Hironde. "The few times we did have some difficulty were due to the fact that the parts did not respect the digital definition in Catia."
Reduced tooling costs
Prior to the virtual platform, Dassault Aviation required specialised tools to assemble its aircraft. However, thanks to the precision of digitally defined parts and the perfect alignment of drill holes between sections, many positioning tools have become obsolete.
"We have cut tooling costs by at least two, maybe even three times because we require significantly fewer tools for the Falcon 7X than for previous aircrafts," says Christian Decaix.
The digital mock-up of the Falcon 7X is so precise that Dassault Aviation was able to cut out the costly and time consuming step of building a physical prototype.
IBM PLM Solutions contribute to Dassault Aviation's policy of sustainable development by helping the company to advance economically while ensuring environmental quality.
"From an economic perspective, PLM increases our competitiveness through optimised development processes and re-use of corporate knowledge," says Jérôme Camps, aerospace engineer.
"From a social perspective, it enables us to improve conditions for people by anticipating and optimising ergonomic factors."
"Environmentally, it allows us to use only what is required to build an aircraft, and we no longer produce physical prototypes."
Dassault Aviation will continue to enhance its use of PLM by migrating from Enovia VPM to Enovia V5.
The company also plans to extend use of the virtual platform to other projects such as the unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV). In addition, it intends to increase the functionality of the virtual platform by increasing the frequency of data exchange and to offer e-conferencing to enhance realtime collaboration.
IBM PLM Solutions developed by Dassault Systémes have enabled Dassault Aviation to meet and exceed the challenges of the executive business jet market.
With its ground-breaking virtual platform, Dassault Aviation has not only reinforced its position as a leader in the aerospace industry, but also revolutionised the way all aircraft will be developed in the future.
"The Falcon 7X project made the whole company feel younger," says Christian Decaix. "You can feel the enthusiasm at each production site you visit."