Northrop Grumman Corporation is an American multinational aerospace and defense technology company focused on digital transformation. With 90,000 employees and an annual revenue in excess of $30 billion, it is one of the world’s largest weapons manufacturers and military technology providers. Altair Kaminski, PLM Systems & Digital Strategy Manager, works in the propulsion systems division, which develops solid rocket motors for the space sector.
The propulsion systems division of Northrop Grumman uses Siemens’ product lifecycle management products to support its digital transformation goals, including for CAD management and manufacturing applications.
Verification management in complex product development environments
For aerospace manufacturers, certification is everything. In addition to already strict regulations, today’s aerospace and defense companies face additional demands for advancements such as aggressive sustainability targets and autonomous aircraft options, which require more integrated systems driven by software and electronics.
While managing the development of their highly complex product line, Northrop Grumman are acutely aware of these challenges. First and foremost, they must meet customer expectations to deliver new products and updates to existing products to market as fast as possible.
To expedite certification and bring products to market faster, it is essential for Northrop Grumman to drive efficiencies to their business processes and operations. When presented with a challenge like change management, product developers need to understand not only why a change is being made, but what impacts a change will have across the entire array of the product.
Reconciling a single change can be extremely tedious when the product data isn’t connected or in context for certification. The problem becomes exacerbated when one change must be multiplied across millions of parts and hundreds of suppliers. To ensure they have the right tools in place to support their programs, Northrop Grumman enlisted Siemens to aid them in their journey toward organizational digital transformation.
Embracing digital transformation
Kaminski and her group have embraced the concept of digital transformation. Digital transformation refers to the adoption of data and digital solutions for business activities and processes. With their PLM system serving as the backbone for enablement, digital transformation engages people with digital workflows to promote the full advantage of technology investments across an organization.
“Data is key to gaining information, but connecting it is where the real power of digital transformation comes from,” said Kaminsky.
PLM is used by Northrop Grumman as a massive hub for storing and managing the information required to establish a digital thread throughout their product lifecycle. It helps to tie the relationships between data together, bring in additional information, and connect to external systems.
A system of systems approach in action
To support their digital transformation, Northrop Grumman has established a product lifecycle digital thread. The PLM system serves as the digital thread backbone, connecting information across functional domains and operational disciplines to enable individual functions to operate as a collaborative unit. This “system of systems” approach opens the door to explore powerful cross-functional capabilities like digital twins.
We were able to see a 25% weight reduction by being able to have access to both the model and run a bunch of iterations on the design in order to get optimal efficiency.
– Altair Kaminsky, PLM Systems & Digital Strategy Manager
For their launch abort system manifold, Northrop Grumman leveraged digital twins, coordinating physical and virtual testing to achieve significant product weight reduction. With the ability to integrate simulation and virtual testing into their project plan, Northrop Grumman can plan the certification testing and documentation in real time. The digital thread creates a fully traceable and auditable chain of data from requirements through service, reducing the reliance on physical parts testing by linking virtual and physical testing for proof of compliance.
Armed with a digitalized virtual verification and validation strategy backed by PLM, Northrop Grumman can more efficiently produce and more confidently show proof of compliance of their advanced products and achieve certification faster.