Smooth Flying at NASA Glenn Research Center with ProductCenter PLM

ProductCenter PLM Automates Manual Flight Work Order System to Enhance Safety Controls

The Company:

When you think NASA, you tend to picture space missions, but in actuality NASA is involved with a wide variety of research. In one project, NASA was called upon to use their expertise and specially equipped aircraft with infrared and temperature sensors to fly over Yellowstone National Park. The purpose of this mission was to help prove or disprove that increased water temperatures were causing parasite infestations among local trout populations. Of course, they’re also involved in more traditional NASA-like pursuits, such as research for secure voice transmission and weather aircraft communications, aircraft icing research, and satellite solar cell experiments, among other projects.

NASA Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field in Cleveland, Ohio excels at the application of aviation technology research to address a wide spectrum of needs like these, using configurable aircraft such as the DeHavilland Twin Otter and Lear jets for its experiments. Each unique research project requires a variety of complex probes, electronics, and other high-tech gadgetry to be developed, tested, and installed on-board, with crew safety of utmost concern on every single mission.

The Situation:

Aircraft modifications require that NASA Flight Operations prepare and obtain the necessary approvals on a flight work order. The flight work order is much like an engineering change order, with associated computer-aided design (CAD) drawings, specifications, and other instructions attached. Each package goes through a comprehensive review and approval process and once approved, becomes the detailed instructions given to flight technicians to install the necessary equipment onboard the aircraft.

NASA Glenn had used paper processes to manage flight work orders. However, with manual systems, information could be stored in a variety of places on different systems, making it time consuming to find data. Reviewers’ packages also had to be physically assembled and hand carried to each individual on the review cycle. The main problem was that these processes lacked lock-tight safety controls. It wasn’t always easy to verify if there were outstanding work orders on an aircraft. Typically, for safety, no work orders can be open on an aircraft for approval to fly a mission.

The Solution:

Through a program driven by NASA headquarters, NASA Glenn secured funding to automate their research flight work order configuration control through the purchase of the ProductCenter product lifecycle management (PLM) solution from SofTech, Inc. SofTech’s solution was evaluated among others and was selected by NASA for its intuitive user interface, ease of use and administration, and low support cost. ProductCenter could also integrate with SAP, which NASA is moving to.

A ProductCenter™ PLM WebLink™ application was developed to manage the user interface. ProductCenter™ PLM Workflow was used to automate NASA Glenn’s flight work order process, integrated with the group’s Web browsers and email systems, along with AutoCAD and OrCAD computer-aided design, and office applications.

Little training was required to launch the new system. Users were already familiar with the flight work order form, created in ProductCenter to look just like the paper form they were already using. Associated documentation and drawings were easy to locate, taking just minutes to attach to a work order form and to launch via ProductCenter Workflow for approval.

Now with ProductCenter, reviewers are automatically notified via email of the arrival of a work order for their review. They open the email and simply click on a URL to get the full review package. There are no hold-ups. Plus, Flight Operations personnel can immediately see where the work order is in the sign-off process.

In addition, ProductCenter™ PLM GenView™ automates the creation of viewable files of CAD drawings and other data, which can be viewed on any system. Viewables are tied into ProductCenter release control to assure the documents accessed are always current. This is especially helpful for researchers who often go back to previous missions’ documentation.

Current data is now centrally located and immediately available, saving considerable time. A NASA Quality Assurance representative can also click on an aircraft icon in ProductCenter and immediately see if there are outstanding work orders against the aircraft prior to releasing it for flight.

For safety, the only person that can make a change to an in-process work order is the initiator and when he or she does, ProductCenter automatically erases all previous review signatures. This prevents anyone from making modifications to an aircraft without full approval. All the controls, including electronic signatures, passwords, and reviewer date/time stamps are managed with ProductCenter.

Also for safety, as each piece of equipment is added or removed from the aircraft, a new weight and balance calculation must be obtained to adjust fuel loads and proper forward and aft balancing of the aircraft. NASA Glenn is modeling the aircraft in ProductCenter, tying it to the work order process for automatic calculation of these figures with each exchange of equipment.

The Future:

In the early stage of any research project, a program requires approval by Glenn’s Aviation Safety Committee. Each work order then must carry a reference to a safety permit number. Today, board review packages are still assembled in paper form, which could be the next application for automation with ProductCenter Workflow. After that, aircraft maintenance change orders and approval processes could be automated.

Among the best, NASA Glenn strives to stand out as a technology leader, with an ongoing commitment to continually refine operations and mission safety control standards. ProductCenter has helped NASA further this mission through automation of some of its most critical research processes.

ProductCenter @ NASA

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