Powering the digital engine

One of Canada’s most high-profile aerospace companies has embarked on a five-year mission to digitize its enterprise.

Longueuil, Qué.-based Pratt & Whitney Canada, which designs and manufactures engines for aircraft, helicopters and industrial applications, has committed itself to

implementing what it calls a Benchmark Digital Enterprise over the next three to five years.

“”The digital enterprise is how we link all of our enterprise systems, processes and information together, seamlessly and electronically,”” says Amal Girgis, vice-president of technology and chief information officer, “”so that all of the processes and information are available to everybody, internally to our enterprise and to the extended enterprise in terms of customers, partners and suppliers.””

A primary component of this mission is its Digital Engine. Launched in late 2001, it will enable Pratt & Whitney’s designers to work on engines concurrently in a virtual environment with other stakeholders throughout the company’s engineering, operations and product support functions.

One of the principal drivers is Pratt & Whitney’s global reach, says Sherrill Novosad, project manager. “”We have suppliers that we deal with in many different countries. The operators of the aircraft that have our engines need information. We have remote offices around the world and we have employees who travel and need information to support our product.

“”Our product has a very long life in the field, and we have to make sure that the information is available,”” she adds.

One of the other drivers, says Girgis, is the partnerships Pratt & Whitney has in the development of its product. “”We do many engine developments in partnership with other companies,”” she notes. “”So we will do part of the engine, another partner will do another part. Without tools such as this, you run into problems of integration. You need collaborative tools to speed up the process.””

Before embarking on the Digital Engine, Pratt & Whitney engineers had to transfer huge files overnight, says Girgis, “”and when you’re working globally, there really is no overnight. Because of the time lag of transferring data, the data is never the most up to date.”” Synchronization of work between engineers in Toronto and Germany, for example, proved difficult, she adds. “”It did happen at times that an engineer would be working on the wrong version of a design.””

A key tool in the development of an engine at Pratt & Whitney is CATIA. As part of the Digital Engine project, the company is upgrading from version four to version five. Dassault Systemes’ CATIA enables engineers to create product data and perform manufacturing process simulations. “”The newest release of CATIA provides some ways of handling files that are much different than before,”” says Novosad, which will make it easier for users to share large files across the globe.

Pratt & Whitney has been using CATIA for some time — it’s considered a staple in the aerospace business. “”The idea of this project was not to make a change in direction,”” says Girgis. “”The idea was to build on what we had and we have been using CATIA as our design tool for at least 10 years.””

Another outcome of the Digital Enterprise project, she says, is integration. For example, one of the side benefits of the CATIA upgrade is it will run on PCs as well Unix workstations, so Pratt & Whitney is the process on migrating its users to the Window platform, which it believes will be less costly to support.

Meanwhile, a portal ties everything together providing the Web access so users can view the CATIA information without having heavy files. “”The V5 tool is really a different tool. It’s really a step forward from before,”” Novosad says.

The project is a progressive rollout by area, she says. “”They go through a validation of how they work today, what they can do differently . . . they develop a methodology for how to best use (the technology).””

In addition to the Digital Engine aspect, Pratt & Whitney’s Digital Enterprise also includes linking manufacturing, business systems, supply chain and customer relationship management.

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Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has written thousands of words for print and pixel in publications across North America. His areas of interest and expertise include software, enterprise and networking technology, memory systems, green energy, sustainable transportation, and research and education. His articles have been published by EE Times, SolarEnergy.Net, Network Computing, InformationWeek, Computing Canada, Computer Dealer News, Toronto Business Times and the Ottawa Citizen, among others.

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