FORT WORTH, TEXAS - As part of its ongoing effort to foster product affordability, Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems (LMTAS), in Fort Worth, Texas, recently implemented an international data exchange standard known as the Standard for the Exchange of Product Model Data, or STEP, on its F-16, F-22, Joint Strike Fighter, F-2 and KTX-2 programs.
LMTAS is unique in implementing STEP on such a wide range of programs. While others in the industry have done controlled pilots within their respective companies, or between two companies, at LMTAS the standard is being used for all programs within the plant. Moreover, LMTAS is pioneering the STEP standard with smaller businesses that are its supply base, whereas most users of STEP are, at this point, larger companies with large systems that move data around in bulk.
The standard provides a universal format to share product data between companies, their suppliers and customers, which leads to costs savings through direct use of the engineering digital data model. At LMTAS, STEP has realized significant savings and process improvements. For example, within engineering design, pilot programs have shown a 10 percent improvement in reliability of data exchange, a 10 percent process savings for non-composite parts, and a 50 percent process savings for composites. For manufacturing, the projected savings for tool design on CAD/CAM systems is 27 percent, and 38 percent for NC CAM systems due to elimination of data re-entry.
Prior to implementing STEP, the process for exchanging data between companies and vendors was considerably slower and more expensive. Custom software for data exchange had to be developed, and data re-entry added to the overall expense of building fighter aircraft. STEP, on the other hand, captures the complexities of fighter aircraft design, manufacture and support in a digital format that is customized for the fighter aircraft industry.
To achieve this capability, Lockheed Martin banded together in August of 1988 with other industrial companies and formed PDES, Inc. Lockheed Martin was a founding member of this consortium that continues today with 24 industry and government members who represent more than $600 billion in annual revenue and sales. PDES, Inc. is a global leader in accelerating the development and deployment of the STEP standard for digital product data.
"The principle driver behind standardizations like STEP is the increasing emphasis on affordability by the customer, which in turn is driven by reduced defense budgets in the U.S. and abroad. Therefore, the entire industry has to strive to become a leaner manufacturer" said Mike Jahadi, Engineering Chief of CAD/CAM Systems at LMTAS.
The STEP standard is also playing an important role in advancing Lockheed Martin's Virtual Product Development Initiative, or VPDI, which will be critical to managing life cycle costs of future weapons systems like the Joint Strike Fighter. To supplement the consortium's efforts, Lockheed Martin has developed strategic partnerships with companies like IBM, Dassault Systemes, and the MacNeal-Schwendler Corporation who have been instrumental in implementing the STEP standard within VPDI.
LMTAS produces the F-16 for the U.S. Air Force and a number of foreign countries, and is leading the company's Joint Strike Fighter program. It also produces the F-22's mid-fuselage section, is responsible for various subsystems of the air dominance fighter, and is participating in the production of Japan's F-2 fighter.