Better, faster, cheaper: Orbital ATK transitions from 2D to 3D

Aerospace contractor Orbital ATK has replaced its 2D engineering drawings with 3D digital models running in Siemens JT2Go software on Microsoft Surface Pro

Lindsay James
Lindsay James
By Lindsay James on 18 August 2015
Better, faster, cheaper: Orbital ATK transitions from 2D to 3D

This article was first published in the Summer 2015 issue of OnWindows

For aerospace companies, developing successful and reliable products isn’t enough. They must come up with innovative processes to do it better, faster, and cheaper than ever before. This is a challenge which aerospace manufacturer Orbital ATK knows only too well.

While the rocket engines that Orbital ATK makes bristle with the latest technology, Orbital ATK saw an opportunity to improve the processes it used to make them. Design, engineering, analysis, quality, and manufacturing all relied on 2D drawings. Historically, when departments needed computer models – for example, for certain inspections – they would create 3D models from the vaulted 2D drawings into their local systems. The creation of multiple 3D models was time consuming and introduced errors. The later in the manufacturing process that those errors were caught, the more expensive they were to correct. Replacing a rocket nozzle after it’s on the launch pad – an extreme but real example – would have enormous impact on a project’s schedule and budget.

Orbital ATK’s standard for production software, Siemens PLM Software, offered a solution: the ISO-accepted 3D data format JT, which Orbital ATK already publishes with Siemens Teamcenter product lifecycle management (PLM) software.

JT can be viewed on the shop floor using JT2Go, a license-free viewer for Windows desktops and tablets. Widely used and supporting all product manufacturing information, it can be created from all major 3D CAD formats, yet it’s lightweight in file size.

Orbital ATK adopted the Siemens and Microsoft solution and the results have been impressive. The organisation is both reducing errors in the manufacturing process, and reducing the time and cost to address errors that do occur.

The use of a single 3D model not only eliminates the time formerly spent to create multiple models, but also results in a single version of the truth that minimises the errors formerly created through inadvertent inconsistencies. Because the single model also supports concurrent engineering, errors are generally caught earlier than they would be in the traditional process, and so are faster and easier to correct.

Getting workers to accept, and even embrace, the move from 2D to a digital model was a triumph of change management for Orbital ATK. Orbital ATK suppliers largely accepted the change, in part because the free JT2Go software did not require them to purchase additional software licenses. Adoption of the digital 3D solution has required Orbital ATK to seek contractual changes with its customers. Some customers approved the change to 3D models in part because Orbital ATK was already providing data to them in the JT format. Orbital ATK has implemented the digital 3D solution with several suppliers and large customers.

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