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Process and Technology Challenges for MBE: Stay Sharp Episode 35

By June 10, 2024No Comments

Episode 35 of Razorleaf’s Stay Sharp podcast, Model Based Challenges in Manufacturing with Jeff Gleeson, Part 2, features our co-hosts Jen Ferello and Jonathan Scott again interviewing aerospace manufacturing veteran Jeff Gleeson, who possesses more than three decades of experience using and innovating production business practices at Lockheed Martin. In this episode, the trio discuss the complex realities of legacy systems and data in a move to model-based enterprise (MBE), how each manufacturer has to make choices based on their existing tools and business value, and why a hybrid approach to MBE might be the best move for your organization.

The Hidden Challenge: Legacy Systems

After talking at length about the challenges of the people factor in an MBE transformation in Part 1 of the podcast, Stay Sharp Episode 33: Model Based Challenges in Manufacturing, Jen, Jonathan, and Jeff focus on the variety of other challenges manufacturers might face. Jeff starts off with a twist—it’s not simply technology that can be a challenge, it’s specifically “what is your enterprise’s legacy that brought you to your current state?”

He explains that the large amount of consolidation in the defense industry in the past three decades means that any large Aerospace and Defense (A&D) contractor today is comprised of many different, smaller companies—each of which comes with different tool sets, data formats, and processes. In addition, lifecycles for most A&D products are measured in multiple decades, which means that no matter how state-of-the-art the initial technology was for product-planning, they’re not cutting-edge anymore. Jeff says, “That saddles the organization with lots and lots of legacy applications, legacy data, and obligations to use all that stuff. Now … we’re going to digitally transform and we’re going to become a model-based enterprise. Good luck with that.”

But Jeff’s message is not “don’t do it.” Instead, he’s encouraging manufacturers to be realistic. Not all companies can or should go directly to all MBE, and in fact, a hybrid approach might be the best compromise. He adds, “I’m saying that you’re going to have a foot in the past and a foot in the future for a long time to come because of all the complexities I just mentioned.” Jonathan agrees, adding that some processes or products wouldn’t be worth the cost to make them digital. “I’ve got this great paper-based process,” he says. “I go through it, and I get a reliable part out the other side. If I only do it five times a year, should I spend a quarter-million dollars to turn that into a model? No. Why would you?”

Process-Planning and Tool Selection

From his dual perspective of using the business processes as a production operations guy and working in IT to improve the production operations tools, Jeff comments on challenges with the tools different teams within the manufacturing organization use. On the shop floor, it’s one manufacturing execution system (MES) that’s receiving inputs from multiple different engineering product data definition systems. He says, “You have all these threads, digital and otherwise. All these threads funnel together and come through one organization. You’re one plant, so you’ve got to make them all work. That presents challenges, particularly now that we’re on this model-based enterprise journey. Process planning is a very interesting case.”

Jeff goes on to say that while “process planning” is defined a little differently by everyone, he sees it as doing the engineering bill of materials (EBOM) to manufacturing bill of materials (MBOM) conversion, creating routings for part creation on the shop floor, and generating the manufacturing work instructions for each stop on the manufacturing process. “The process planning has to be done in all cases,” he says. “The current thinking is that EBOM to MBOM transformation should be done in the PLM [product lifecycle management software], and I’m an adherent to that point of view.”

But Jonathan and Jeff concur that the choice of which tool to use for process planning can vary by organization, department, or other reasons. Jeff says, “You can imagine that you’ll be doing some of your process planning in PLMs for some programs, at the same time as you’re doing process planning for other programs—perhaps older, more legacy programs, in your MES.” Because it depends on the capabilities of the tools available to your organization, the trio agrees, there’s no one right answer. 

Learn More About the Model-Based Approach

The full Stay Sharp Episode 35 podcast, Model Based Challenges in Manufacturing with Jeff Gleeson, Part 2, offers additional details including the greatest challenge Jeff encountered in 33 years of systems integration work for Lockheed Martin, how the success of big manufacturers’ efforts to transform to MBE can inspire smaller companies to make the change too, and much more.

Don’t forget to catch the start of the conversation about the people challenges involved in the model-based approach to manufacturing in Stay Sharp Episode 33: Model Based Challenges in Manufacturing. Join us each week for a new episode.

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