Frequently in manufacturing, especially in Aerospace and Defense (A&D), we see the service domain as a low-priority investment area on the digital transformation roadmap. However, in recent years, industry leading companies are realizing the business value in elevating service-related activities with service lifecycle management (SLM) to increase profitability, lower operational expenses, and drive ongoing improvements.
The service portion of the product lifecycle is frequently the longest, especially with long life assets, such as the U.S. Air Force A10 aircraft. Consider that some military hardware remains in use for 50 or more years. Similarly, the amount of spend on a long life asset is greatest during the operations phase, vs. in its design and manufacturing phases. In a 2021 article published by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), it states that most of the life cycle costs of U.S. military programs are spent on sustainment and operations — not acquisition.
The impact of service cost, and the opportunity to drive up revenue and customer satisfaction with service-related activities is why you should focus on service lifecycle management for long life assets. SLM is getting more focus today, especially in light of the current global economy and the need to explore digital solutions to meet greater operational efficiencies and new revenue-generating business models. According to MarketWatch, the service lifecycle management market will reach at an estimated value of USD 3,173.41 million and grow at a CAGR of 6.70% in the forecast period of 2021 to 2028.
The maturity of the management of military maintenance information differs between military systems. Some are quite modern, while others still use paper and binders. With contractors doing more of the depot-level maintenance, innovation in digital infrastructure is being pushed to these companies. Adoption of SLM practices can help contractors improve margins and reduce the time it takes to service vehicles by depot facilities, and therefore provide a better position in the bidding process. Many other programs in the military are looking for these solutions, and how they can be applied more widely.
Service lifecycle management defined
While we are all familiar with the system domains of product lifecycle management (PLM) and manufacturing planning and operations in the design and production process, SLM is a relatively less known domain. An effective SLM system is part of the digital thread that is woven throughout the product lifecycle and the value chain. It maintains accurate, updated configuration information for all the assets that are manufactured as part of the product lifecycle. That includes mechanical, electrical, electronic, and software components that comprise the end product. It tracks those assets as they are used in operation and updates the status and history of their use and asset maintenance across service locations. It also supports the concept of closed-loop manufacturing (CLM), where data from service processes feeds back into product engineering to improve design and correct deficiencies.
SLM in the digital manufacturing ecosystem
The interaction of service with the other parts of the business process is multi-fold. When an issue is found in an aircraft that has been in operation, for example, collaboration may be required with design engineering to develop a resolution. The resolution might include a new design, new maintenance documentation, or manufacturing process. For example, manufacturing engineers become involved when maintenance operations reveal a problem with manufacturing. The original assets may require specific maintenance at the service depots to ultimately correct the issue. A connected digital thread, and the associated digital twins, are key to making these changes correctly and efficiently.
An example is the A10, which has a limit on flight hours after which the wings become compromised from fatigue and fractures. A new wing is designed by engineers, produced by an airframe manufacturer, and shipped out to service depots. When the aircraft is serviced, the old wings are replaced, extending the life of the aircraft. This requires the communication of status in service back to engineering and manufacturing. The change on the aircraft must come full circle, and the current configuration, with up-to-date wing data, must be maintained.
Let’s take another example where a discrepancy is found with a military vehicle, and there is no maintenance documentation to repair the problem. The discrepancy must be evaluated by engineering, who can decide to address the issue with one of these 3 approaches. First, if the vehicle adheres to the design, they need to change the design to correct the problem. Second, if the vehicle does not adhere to the design, they must create the instructions to align it. Third, the engineer may allow the vehicle to disagree with the design by issuing a deviation or waiver, an allowed exception to the design.
In each of these cases, the information must flow seamlessly across each function. Accurate design, configuration, and maintenance data must be visible and updated appropriately. This requires an unbroken digital thread in a closed-loop platform that encompasses the entire product lifecycle.
Stay tuned for my next blog in this 4 part series, to hear more about the benefits of a comprehensive digital twin for service to address challenges in maintaining A&D assets in the field. I’ll highlight solutions from the Siemens Xcelerator portfolio, including Teamcenter Service Lifecycle Management.
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About the author
Jim Batka currently works as a consultant for Service Lifecycle Management in the U.S. Aerospace and Defense industry. He has 27 years of PLM software experience, and 34 years of industry experience.