Case Study

Optimizing productivity, quality and reliability


Airborne ejection systems manufacturer leverages PLM Components’ Geolus Search engine to quickly find part data and improve design cost projections; expands an advanced PLM environment built on NX and Teamcenter to improve total enterprise productivity

A mission-critical charter with survival in the balance

In the event of an accident, the aircrew escape system represents the last chance for crew members to survive. So when Martin-Baker Aircraft Company Limited (Martin-Baker) says that there can be “no compromise” in the quality of its products, it really means it. Every facet of these safety systems – from initiation, escape path clearance, ejection sequencing, stabilization, life support and parachute descent to final rescue – must work perfectly to safeguard a precious life.

In order to have the best possible chance of survival, aircrew members must also reach the ground uninjured, especially in hostile environments. The systems that Martin-Baker provides must work properly the first time, and work every time.

Martin-Baker’s Head of Engineering, Steve Ruff, is responsible for managing the company’s drawing office, design drawing office services, modification office and data library. He explains, “Our biggest market is in the U.S., where we have manufacturing and assembly plants. The market is tough and highly competitive, so anything we can do that helps us do our jobs better is important.” That is why Martin-Baker continues to rely on Siemens PLM Software and its product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions, which now include newly added Geolus® Search™ software, a 3D geometry search engine that’s part of Siemens’ PLM Components suite.

Martin-Baker’s exemplary performance

Martin-Baker Aircraft Company Limited is the world’s longest established and most experienced manufacturer of ejection seats and related equipment. Backed by more than 60 years of continuous innovation and technology, the company has gained its global marketplace credentials. This has been proven by winning 11 Queen’s Awards for Excellence. With a staff of 650 workers at its headquarters in Denham, Buckinghamshire and with locations in France, Italy and the United States, Martin-Baker has established an extensive range of unique and modern facilities and specialized engineering capabilities, ensuring that its products reflect the highest quality and reliability, and most importantly, that they will perform as designed the first time. Martin-Baker has saved over 7,378 aircrew lives to date in more than 90 air forces around the world.

“Over the years, we have created an extensive array of different products characterized by wide variety, relatively low volumes and long in-service life,” notes Ruff. “It’s a challenge to keep up-to-date with all these programs, making sure that manufacturing has the data in a format it can use quickly, while meeting legal requirements for configuration control and drawings. Over the years, we have refined our PLM solution so that we have exactly what we need to address that challenge. We have 42 seats of NX™ CAD and 10 seats of NX CAM together with six seats of specialist applications, such as advanced simulation, advanced motion and FEA (finite element analysis).”

Ruff continues, “We need to support a concurrent work process so that many people can work on the same program at the same time, iterate the design, model the assemblies and so on. We have 240 licenses of Teamcenter® software, going beyond design and manufacturing, right across the business so that every entitled user can view these models. And now we are extending this with Geolus Search.”

Geolus Search finds shapes – it’s as simple as that

Ruff describes the role that Geolus Search plays in Martin-Baker’s PLM environment: “The reality is that, up until now, it has been easier to redesign a part than to try to find a similar one that can be re-used.”

With Geolus Search, all that has changed. Ruff explains, “First of all, during the design phase, we take the part we are designing and search to see if there is anything like it in the database, so we can use an existing part rather than starting from scratch. Geolus Search retrieves all similarly shaped parts, even though we may not yet have defined the dimensions.”

Ruff continues, “The JT thumbnails in Geolus Search are great for seeing whether the shape of the part is what we want. It gives us a choice. We can open up the part that looks the closest, see if it is appropriate and then we can modify it to suit our needs. We can open up the part directly in NX and retrieve the drawing, if necessary.”

Quicker than starting from scratch

Martin-Baker has taken Geolus Search beyond basic capabilities. Ruff explains, “We’ve had part attributes added to Geolus Search. Now can we see the shape of the part, as well as determine the material, the surface finish and so on, so that we can select parts that are even closer to what we want. If we can’t use the selected part in its entirety, we can still ‘Save As’ and retain all the underlying attributes, all the manufacturing data and all the other things that come along with it. That way, we capture the entire history of the part and can modify it far more quickly than if we’d started from scratch.”

More accurate pricing – and quicker too

The world of fixed price tendering is a tough world. According to Ruff, “You have to be as certain as possible of what you are doing, how you are doing it and how much it will cost you to do it. It’s highly competitive and you have to be keen on pricing to win. You also have to be sure you’ll make a profit.”

He notes, “Previously, estimators would come to me and my team and ask what a part is based on, if we have similar parts, what was involved and so on, and then use that information to estimate the cost of the new part. With Geolus Search, they can do all this themselves.”

Ruff explains why this matters: “All the data is there for them, accessible and understandable. They can quickly and easily search for similar existing parts and get all the data, selecting on shape rather than sorting through BOMs (bills of materials) and long lists of part numbers. They can see where and how the parts were manufactured and what the costs were. The bids are more accurate too, and they no longer have to rely on my memory. This has saved them hours and hours of work when putting a bid together.”

Higher volume and less set-up means lower unit cost

The benefits of Geolus Search extend beyond these estimating capabilities. Ruff points out, “We have relatively low volume and a wide variety of parts. In addition, we still outsource some part manufacturing. Instead of asking a supplier to bid on making just one part, we can use Geolus Search to identify and include similar parts, so that we get suppliers to bid on, let’s say, ten similar parts. That way they can use the same machine and the same processes, and we can get a better unit price from the higher volume with less set-up cost.”

The same process also applies to “handed” parts. “There are a number of these parts in our ejection seats, but a buyer might not be aware of this,” says Ruff. “As a result, the left-hand part might go to one supplier and the right-hand part might go to another supplier, with the net result that we could pay twice for tooling and set up. Geolus Search helps us to avoid this by enabling our buyers to check this before asking for bids.”

Adding up the savings

Looking at potential return on investment, Ruff sums up his experience: “It’s difficult to estimate the full financial benefits of Geolus Search. During the pilot scheme, we did keep a record of what parts were found using Geolus Search and how the data was subsequently used. Examples of this include obtaining important part reuse information, cost history and manufacturing data. We then tried to put a value against having this technology. However, the true worth was already being demonstrated during the pilot scheme by the ease with which people around the company were able to find data that, up until then, had been locked into the memories of a declining number of long-serving staff.”

Ruff is careful in his analysis: “The devil is in the details. Sometimes, the opportunities you think are there are not – because you may have other constraints that prevent you from re-using a part. When it comes to deciding if you can use the part, it has to have the right material, the right finish, the right limits and fits. Foolproofing, where similar parts have different threads so you can’t use them in the wrong place, also limits the re-use of existing designs.”

Even more value to come

Ruff sees plenty of opportunities to get more value from Geolus Search, “Our design support people and our reliability people already have it; they can use it to estimate the reliability or maintainability of new parts based on the history of similar parts in the past.”

Other extensions also are possible according to Ruff: “Initially, we configured Geolus Search to only search production-released parts. However, we develop an awful lot of parts that are never released. We would like to bring those into Geolus Search, since re-using a completed and shelved component design can still save us time compared with starting from scratch.”

Integrating the solution with SAP® software is also under consideration. Ruff explains, “We can have a number of parts on the system that look nearly identical, but for some reason, one might cost £5 and one £50. By integrating SAP with Geolus Search, we can see stock levels and item costs. This could enable us to more easily see the reason for this variance and then make the best decision on which design to re-use.”

“A great step forward”

“Our company is run by engineers, so it was easy to get approval for Geolus Search,” says Ruff. “They just ‘got it’ when they saw it and we now have 25 licenses spread across the business.”

He concludes, “You soon get used to Geolus Search and no training course is needed. It’s a bit like Google – a couple of clicks and you’re there. We’ve had Geolus Search for just under a year and we use it a great deal. I’m pleased we have it in our organization; it’s a great step forward.”

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