As new technologies develop, an interconnected systems-level approach is needed to better integrate standards into engineering workflows.
When Boeing, in partnership with Saab, developed the T-7 Red Hawk trainer aircraft, they employed a “digital thread” to design, test and build the hardware and software systems. A “digital thread” is a framework enabling communication and collaboration among all the participants in an aircraft’s development, from design through maintenance.
This process, according to the companies, produced a 75 percent increase in first-time engineering quality, allowed an 80 percent reduction in assembly hours and led to a 50 percent reduction in time spent on software development and verification. Outcomes like this are being recognized by companies and procurement agencies eager to implement strategies to optimize operational efficiencies, support product development and manage costs.
Development and production of modern aircraft, like the T-7, would be impossible without accessible, up-to-date engineering standards. Over the years as technology advances, the distribution of these standards has evolved from print to PDF to EPUB formats. But in today’s increasingly digital environment, these forms are proving inadequate for easy consumption by electronic endpoints that aim to integrate standards within the complete product lifecycle.
SAE International is a standards development organization (SDO) working with the aerospace industry to develop standards tools with highly integrated usage. Given the rich content of standards, the number of them in use, plus their diverse document structures, formats and purposes, SAE maintains that a single format approach will not support their use in the digital era. A digital standards system with a multi-faceted approach is required.
Solving the Challenge
The format of standards evolved from print distribution to using Extensible Markup Language (XML) in document production. XML uses a set of “tags” to structure a document so it can be read by a machine and any changes in it can be tracked. A structured, machine-readable format coupled with a content management system means greater functionality when published on a digital distribution platform, such as the SAE Mobilus® technical platform. A strong digital standards system will also support many input types, of which XML is only one, and allow for standards development within the system.
The implementation of a digital standards system that is highly integrated with multiple engineering applications must be driven by several considerations, including the following:
- Normalization: Provides a common approach to defining different parts of a document, using a reference model. By normalizing the model, content within the database that is created can be queried.
- Data Ownership: Data used in standards, and transmitted in documents, must be source-traced for potential audits and verified for accuracy and up-to-date status. Developers must know data end points, how content will be accessed, integrated, and how terms will be enforced.
- Interoperability: Standards data is used in every product lifecycle management (PLM) stage, so the information in them should be accessible by and interoperable with the PLM platform, with design tools used by engineers, and with others in the supply chain, so the most accurate and current standard information is available.
- Flexibility and Scalability: A digital standards system needs to be flexible to allow for inputs from multiple data sources and formats, and scalable enough to change as technologies and improvements are introduced requiring document changes.
- Costs: To manage document maintenance and conversion costs to support XML, cooperation between stakeholders is necessary and can be costly. Different formatting of data between standards can cause problems and be expensive to display data. Databases need to scale horizontally to keep these costs in check.
- Document Types: A digital standard XML-based system should be able to accommodate both data-centric standards and document-centric standards.
- Maturity: Database technologies that allow queries against large numbers of XML documents are being developed. Hybrid approaches to digital standards development will be required in the interim.
- Performance and Concurrency Control: Concurrency is when the execution of tasks overlaps in a system. Concurrency control seeks to maintain serial order. With the volume of standards used in transportation, and the complexity of queries on them, performance could suffer. Any digital standards system will have to consider the type of database being used to store content, whether in XML or otherwise.
- Transaction Management and Auditing: When moving to a digital standards system using XML or a database extracted from XML, error corrections are expected. Users must be notified of database errors or changes to a document due to updates or revision, and an audit trail should be available.
- Change Management: Standards are updated over time, so if a standard’s information is integrated within, or referenced by, a secondary document, its information must be maintained.
As a result of the successes of digital thread strategies in optimizing efficiencies, companies have increased their focus on identifying productivity gains throughout a product’s lifecycle. Industry standards are critical to all facets of the aerospace industry and the development of a digital standards system will allow them to be efficiently communicated, updated, revised and tracked.
To support these initiatives, the formatting of standards must evolve. Independent SDOs are working on optimal ways to format standards and allow their intelligent use throughout the entire value chain. SAE International, a pioneer in standards technology, recommends a multi-faceted approach to a digital standards system supporting highly-integrated standards usage.
Audra Ziegenfuss is the Director of New Product Development & Portfolio Management at SAE International. She recently published a whitepaper titled “Digital Standards Systems—An Integrated Approach to Engineering Standards Usage.”