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Lockheed Martin Explodes the ‘Digital Tapestry’

Posted By Jeff Moad, June 21, 2017 at 5:14 PM, in Category: Transformative Technologies

105.jpgTwo years ago, at the Manufacturing Leadership Summit, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Vice President of Production Dennis Little laid out his company’s “Digital Tapestry” strategy which, he said, would reduce product cycle time, decrease costs, and fuel future product development.  

The vision, which seemed bold at the time, called for Lockheed Martin to fashion digital models and simulations of its products that would be the foundation of an end-to-end digital approach where everything is connected—from concept, design, simulation, manufacturing and assembly, to testing and getting the final product to the customer. The ultimate goal, said Little, was to enable Lockheed Martin satisfy customers’ escalating demands for lower costs and shorter new product cycle times.

Fast forward two years and, already, Lockheed Martin is rethinking and vastly expanding the Digital Tapestry vision. Speaking at the 2017 ML Summit recently, Lockheed Martin Virtual Prototyping Group Manager Marc O’Brien labeled the company’s Digital Tapestry successor its “Product Digi-Verse” strategy, so named because it will touch virtually all aspects of the company’s product, manufacturing, and supply chain processes and technologies.

“We have talked about the Digital Tapestry, but we need to go beyond that,” said O’Brien.

Lockheed Martin’s Digi-Verse strategy essentially combines the idea of digitally-connected product and manufacturing processes and information--represented by the Digital Tapestry vision—with the notion of digital twins. Lockheed Martin, said O’Brien, intends to create software-based digital twins that represent all of the company’s products, processes, and tools. These digital twins, said O’Brien, will allow Lockheed Martin to create more accurate simulations of all of its products and core processes. And, by interconnecting them through what O’Brien called Digi-Verse Hubs, Lockheed Martin will gain a deeper understanding of how complex systems interoperate. In turn, that will allow the company to fine tune those processes, or even start and stop production processes on demand in order to meet rapidly-changing customer needs.

“We want to have a cohesive picture of how all this stuff works and cooperates,” he said.

The ability to accurately understand real-world processes and equipment will also give the company the ability to rapidly integrate emerging technologies into production environments by simulating the effect they will have on surrounding systems and processes, O’Brien said.

And the digital twin approach will allow Lockheed Martin to collect and reuse what O’Brien called “tribal knowledge” that is not currently recorded but possessed only by experienced individuals. That tribal knowledge will be captured as part of the digital twins and made part of the simulations, O’Brien said.

Ultimately, said O’Brien, the Digi-Verse approach will make Lockheed Martin’s product designs and production processes much more flexible, allowing the company to start and stop lines practically at will and to produce multiple products on shared lines.

That flexibility is increasingly important for companies such as Lockheed Martin as customer requirements change rapidly. Many of the company’s military aircraft customers, for example, are demanding what some are calling “attritable aircraft,” small, configurable aircraft that are also low-cost and easily replaceable. In order to respond to such requirements, O’Brien said, Lockheed Martin and its design and production processes must become much more agile and flexible.

Lockheed Martin’s Digi-Verse approach, and its reliance on digital twin concepts and technologies, is similar to the direction being taken by other industrial leaders, including General Electric. Its plans for what it calls a digital twin ecosystem are described in this month’s issue of the Manufacturing Leadership Journal.

Written by Jeff Moad

Jeff Moad is Research Director and Executive Editor with the Manufacturing Leadership Community. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Awards Program. Follow our LinkedIn Groups: Manufacturing Leadership Council and Manufacturing Leadership Summit

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