Vertical Take-Off for Model-Based Systems Engineering at KDA

It may sound easy, but the challenge is huge: How do you store documentation in long and complex projects in such a way that relevant information is easily accessible over time? Norwegian arms maker Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace (KDA) is using both PLM and a summer student project to find the answer.

We are going to test how it flies now," says one of the 20 engineering students participating in Kongsberg Defence Aerospace's annual project “Local Hawk.” He is one of hundreds of students who applied to participate in the seven-week project. He is holding a small-scale plane that his team has designed to execute vertical take-offs.

It is a sunny day on a field outside Oslo. There is excitement in the air. How will it perform?

For the students, Local Hawk is an exciting and challenging event. For the arms manufacturer, it is a way to recruit talents, and a way to develop its Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE), which focuses on designing and managing engineering systems over their life cycles.

A Lot to Win

Any company involved in making complex products has a lot to gain in terms of time, improved collaboration and investment from a functional MBSE. At KDA, maker of guidance controls, missiles and other complex systems, life cycles can run over 15 years.

"We need to document so that teams, newcomers to a project and others easily can access relevant information even if it is years after something has been developed," says Torfinn Tobiassen, Manager at the Flight Structures Department.

Students at the Local Hawk project grapple with that challenge. Their task is to continue projects that were begun and documented by students who participated in previous years. "Seven weeks is not a long time. You don't have time to build the wheel again, you need to look into our MBSE and carry on from what has been done before," says Gudrun Straand, project engineer in mechanical design.

PLM as a Cornerstone

KDA has been developing its MBSE for several years and expects to continue fine-tuning it for another three to four years.

"Documentation work can be expensive and costs more than what you gain at the other end. So, you have to make a simple and beautiful solution that works well in the future," says Tobiassen.

A corner stone in KDA's solution is PLM. While PLM’s traditional focus is on physical products, specifically what they look like and how they are made, KDA incorporates much more information such as requirements, functions, concepts, people involved in the work and more.

Instead of searching for documents and files scattered in various databases, components in 3D images (made with CATIA V6) provide interfaces to relevant information. For instance, click on the image of a nose wheel and all kinds of information linked to development of that nose wheel is revealed. Or click on "landing," and the nose wheel and other issues related to landing appear as entries.

A highly interesting development is the ability to use the MBSE-model to do simulation tests. In the Local Hawk project it can be used to simulate vertical take-off, transition into horizontal flight, and the route to be followed.

Higher Speed in Projects

Documentation involves thousands of documents and files. A key challenge is how to minimize the time it takes to document without losing vital information. KDA is testing MBSE and Toyota's A3 process which is used in lean manufacturing. In Local Hawk the documentation process is entirely carried out using A3s and MBSE. Corrective actions, analyses, action plans and other information are written down on single sheets of A3-sized paper. Much of the knowledge may otherwise have been lost, such as the reason why aluminium and not carbon fibre is used in a certain component, or why a 5-mm radius is used and not a 7-mm radius, among others. If A3s shall be implemented in regular KDA projects, it means a big amount of information. In a typical project, 400 engineers will write two A3 reports each week for 15 years, adding up to tens of thousands of documents. CATIA V6 and ENOVIA V6 are the systems to store and systemize all the information.

Local Hawk started in 2008, and the MBSE project begun in 2013. After making a system model in CATIA in 2013, summer of 2014 was the first year that the students could find and use the previous year's documentation in an MBSE model in CATIA. "They got started much faster than previous years' participants. Not only could they make good use of earlier documentation, we have developed how and what you document, speeding up the process also in that end," says Tobiassen.

At the field outside Oslo, the small plane lifts straight from the ground, like a helicopter. In mid-air it stands still and flies forward. The students are ecstatic over the success.