IT plays key role in jet contract

$200B deal hinges on data management

With a multibillion-dollar contract for the Joint Strike Fighter at stake, two competing contractors, Lockheed Martin Corp. and The Boeing Co., are counting on their IT systems to help one of them get the nod.

Final proposals are due to be presented to the Department of Defense this week for a contract estimated by the government to be worth as much as $200 billion. Lockheed and Boeing both said winning the contract hinges on demonstrating their ability to control costs and predict aircraft performance.

And both said managing product data - which virtualizes multiple configurations of a very complex aircraft to be used by the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps and the British Royal Air Force - is what will enable them to demonstrate that ability. That's where the software comes in.

The two competitors said they agree that software that maintains up-to-date information on design specifications, digitized parts and assembly diagrams is key to controlling costs and enabling the production of a superior aircraft. But the companies have tapped two different product data management tools for the critical task of controlling the flow of information in the design and production process.

Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed, which is partnering with Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Corp. and U.K.-based BAE Systems, uses Metaphase software from Structural Dynamics Research Corp. in Milford, Ohio, to capture and track product data on its Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program.

Seattle-based Boeing uses virtual product model (VPM) software called EnoviaVPM from France-based Dassault Systemes SA.

Lockheed and Boeing said they have worked with their software providers to customize their respective product management systems for the JSF program.

Vaughn Morris, Lockheed's chief architect of product data management, said even the off-the-shelf version of Metaphase is one of the best applications available for managing computer-aided design (CAD) drawings, technical documents, materials bills and other product information prior to design and through the manufacturing process. Morris said Metaphase, which has a browser-based user interface, "enables virtual collaboration over networks across geographically distributed sites."

But the Lockheed group said it decided early on that Metaphase needed some tweaking to do a better job at tracking changes in parts designs and aircraft configuration. Logicon Inc. in Herndon, Va., was contracted to develop the enhancements that, according to Logicon project manager Bob Kinnon, better enable Metaphase to track design changes in parts and aircraft subassemblies to ensure that they don't vary from specifications set by the military.

Kinnon said Logicon also added functionality to keep engineering teams on schedule and to track deliverables from subcontractors, which he said "makes sure that what we asked [subcontractors] to do is actually being done."

While Boeing also uses Metaphase in its commercial aircraft design and building operations, it chose to use EnoviaVPM for the JSF. That, according to Rick Mutter, senior manager for technology and architecture at Boeing, was due to the existing tight integration between EnoviaVPM and Catia, a CAD and product simulation program also made by Dassault.

Lockheed's team also uses Catia and had to develop an interface between it and Metaphase, said Dave Torchia, manager of product data systems at Northrop Grumman.

Aerospace analyst Mike Burkett at AMR Research Inc. in Boston said Metaphase may be superior to the EnoviaVPM application toward the end of the design cycle. However, he noted the way in which Boeing taps the existing tight integration between EnoviaVPM and Catia creates a powerful combination for product conceptualization and data management during the early phases of the product design.

Mutter said Boeing customized EnoviaVPM for the JSF project to compensate for shortcomings at the final design and build stages but didn't elaborate on what they were.

Both Boeing and Lockheed said they will take lessons they learn about managing data while working on the JSF and apply them to future projects.

The winner of the contract is to be announced in October.

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon