Space system development spans five countries
Teamcenter is the business-critical system that links pan-European colleagues, suppliers and customers, while functioning as a single design center and seamlessly integrating CAD with MRP
One-stop space system shop
A wholly owned subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS), Astrium is the European “one-stop shop” for civil and military space systems and services. It is one of the few companies worldwide to provide complete end-to-end tailored solutions for surveillance, communication and satellite navigation. Astrium is playing a key role in the design and development of the new European global satellite navigation system, Galileo, and is sole prime contractor for the Ariane 5 system. It has 12,000 employees and state-of-theart facilities in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands.
Astrium designs and manufactures customized satellites; it also provides services through its own space platforms. Satellites typically have lifetimes of between four and twenty years and during that time, reliability is the number-one requirement. Testing of components must be carried out to the point of no failure and this process is both time-consuming and expensive. The fundamental challenges for Astrium are to cut the cost of developing components and to reduce the number of different components required. The Teamcenter® digital lifecycle management solution from Siemens PLM Software plays a key role in this effort.
Product lifecycle management (PLM) with less customization
Astrium has employed the PLM system since the late 1990s when it became clear that the company could save money and employee time by managing product development centrally rather than through a variety of departmental spreadsheets. Other considerations were quality and customer service. According to an Astrium spokesperson, “The benefits were evident early on and have continued.”
When Astrium established its first Teamcenter system, it was given the in-house name SPRINT (from Systems Produits Integrés). This has been updated and re-engineered during the intervening years. Part of the refinement process has been the gradual removal of layers of customization and control. “We originally had a lot of customization,” explains one systems analyst. “We subsequently worked with Siemens PLM Software to question all of our customization, reduce any that was unnecessary and make SPRINT a lot simpler. This has long-term benefits as it is expensive and painful to upgrade a system that is heavily customized.”
As a result of this streamlining, the system is easier and faster to manipulate. Authorization focuses on certain key components, rather than all components, and the approval of a number of specific bills of material (BOM) rather than every single BOM. While the authority to issue the correct version of a design and to authorize engineering change orders (ECO) is limited to certain individuals, such controls closely reflect the team structure of Astrium’s engineers.
Linking design to manufacturing
In 2002, Astrium implemented SAP throughout the company. “We’d had disparate systems and after review decided to consolidate on SAP for manufacturing resource planning,” says the analyst. “This uses a simple file format rather than a customized interface. The choice of a neutral file format was a conscious decision, again based on the premise that we wanted to have simplicity and the option to move data easily from one system to another.” SPRINT now sits as a configuration and control module between CAD and SAP, which means that information in the central database defines individual components and their sourcing.
For Astrium accessibility is the crucial benefit.“There are no brick walls and information is passed back and forth in a timely manner,” explains one user.“For example, we have a process which means that as soon as a BOM is issued details are sent to SAP and the manufacturing team. At this stage, the BOM is at pre-issue status so buyers know not to go ahead and make a purchase, but they are given a cue as to future requirements and the opportunity to make suggestions. This particular process is a direct result of the smooth communication between Teamcenter and SAP, communication which has brought the design and manufacture cycle down from 24 months to 18 months in the past five years.”
Teamcenter has electronic workflow to cue each person in the chain to give approval to any proposed changes or flag any potential problems.Once changes are made, the approval process is repeated. This has reduced errors and cut the time it takes to make changes. A change can be completed inside one day. Security levels comply with customer and government requirements such as those for the UK Ministry of Defense. Again, this makes upgrades easier.
Easy access for occasional users
In 2006, Astrium completed its latest upgrade to Teamcenter, and introduced a web client. This is particularly suitable for the engineers, partners and customers involved in the change request process. A SPRINT support team member explains: “We send a URL to these users so that they can log in and see the object in question. Receiving a link and web tab saves them a lot of time and effort if they just need a quick dip into the system. Access to SPRINT through the standard interface is more complicated and infrequent users may forget the route in. This option is particularly beneficial in Germany where there are many new users. While existing users have classic access, the ‘quick look’ process suits engineers working on other systems who may only need to enter SPRINT to find a component on a preferred list.”
Astrium can quickly activate and deactivate people on the system, even on restricted networks. With 1,000 Teamcenter licenses, the number of regular and occasional users is about 1,300.
A satellite view of the benefits
The systems analyst notes,“With all product documents and designs in one place engineers can see and talk about the same things wherever they are based. Because all CAD information is brought into SPRINT for configuration, we effectively have one design center even if it crosses different countries. Having a shared benchmark means that the management of change is straightforward; the process of reading, assessing and accepting or rejecting is much quicker. As a result, reliability and quality have increased and our product line is better.”
Previously, users would capture data then manage and distribute spreadsheets that would quickly go out of date. He estimates that the company has saved five engineer days per month simply on data handling.
Now progress meetings can be conducted with real data, easily extracted from the central database via a web portal. “At a glance we can track the progress of engineering change requests and see any that are outstanding,” he says.“We can also see whether the number of change requests is going up or coming down. We can see this by product team, and we can also see whether a team is increasing or decreasing. We can see trends and resolve problems, for example meet requests for stage payments.”
Increasing design data re-use
Because SPRINT integrates CAD with manufacturing, it is easy to place repeat orders and identify all the components that the company needs to concentrate on. From SPRINT, engineers can enter SAP to make a component request with five associated values. When they are shown the options, they can look at stock and cost and can see which component should be used. As a result, Astrium is in a better position to begin the re-use of components and stock and explore the potential for product lines.
“It is very difficult in our business to create product lines,” comments one user. “A major order may be three or possibly four satellites. This is in complete contrast to the mass development production behind a product such as a mobile phone. Another consideration is that manufacturing is not simple. Our designs have to deal with extremes such as the vibration at launch and the temperature extremes in orbit. If we knew that a product had been through testing with 100 percent success, then we could use it again. However, any new component would need testing thoroughly. In reality when a satellite is coming to the end of its life and customers begin to think of a replacement, they want all the latest technology so it is not usually possible to reuse designs.”
The one place Astrium can readily begin to standardize is on some of the individual building blocks that create the end product. For example, there may be 40 amplifiers on board a satellite. If engineers can be directed to pick one of three standard designs, they can be made in large quantities. Reusing the best of Astrium’s individual designs has become a major objective.
“Ninety percent standardization in a platform would be a success,” continues the user. “With a proven product line we could quote a shorter timeframe for customers. If they really wanted extra, customized performance then the timeframe would be longer. This would give the customer the opportunity to judge the return on investment of a quick implementation versus extra performance in the future.”
Astrium is in the process of rolling out Teamcenter across German sites where a move from legacy systems took place. Sites in Spain will be next. The systems analyst notes, “We no longer have design, manufacture and test. We have an end-to-end solution.”