To the extent that delays in delivery of new aircraft or the modifications, products and services that support current types can be remedied by instant exchange of accurate information within the whole supply chain, relief may be in sight. Product Lifecycle Management tools have been improved and are being used more aggressively by aerospace manufacturers. In July, Boeing expanded its agreement to use Siemens' Teamcenter to standardize PLM across all commercial and military units. The aerospace giant aims for transparency across its own operations and those of its supply chain to boost productivity and performance and enhance future innovation. Although it will not affect the 787 program directly for now, Teamcenter should help the manufacturer support the 777, 747 and 737 more quickly and at lower cost.

"The goal is for users to have access to the right information at the right time and to enable collaboration," explains Tim Nichols, MD-aerospace and defense global marketing for Siemens PLM. "Teamcenter connects people and processes with knowledge." The complete application includes advanced tools such as 3D visualization, supplier management and collaborative product data management.

Siemens has been working with Boeing for more than 25 years and its tools have been used by the top 15 aerospace firms. For example, Teamcenter was used by Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Co. to develop Russia's new Superjet 100.

Airbus parent EADS has selected PTC's Windchill to harmonize PLM across its business units. Here also the aim is reducing time to market and increasing product quality. The selection is part of an initiative launched in 2007 to harmonize PLM methods, processes and tools among all EADS business units.

PLM has evolved along with customer requirements, explains Richard Prince, PTC director-vertical market strategy for aerospace and defense. "In the late 20th century, product data management focused on managing engineering data. Now, PLM goes from an engineering perspective to an enterprise perspective." This requires associating engineering data with both upstream tools such as graphics software and downstream applications in engineering to improve configuration management. "In the old days, different functions were managed in silos with manual and paper handoffs," he says. "Now there is a single repository for the truth."

He ticks off the benefits. Automation means quicker development, reduced time to market, less manual work and even better security. In military work, global enterprises must control what information leaves home countries and PLM can control information more tightly. Prince says Windchill should reduce the risk of delay and help control cost for Airbus customers.

At present, the EADS-PTC deal is a multiyear, multiphase agreement in which value must be proven before succeeding phases are approved. The intent is to deploy Windchill to EADS suppliers, but this decision has not been made yet. Prince says PTC also has solutions for repair and service of commercial aircraft. "This is possible down the road, and would affect airlines."

The PLM approach is gathering strength down the supply chain as well. Heroux Devtek, which makes landing gear for commercial jets, has implemented ENOVIA SmarTeam PLM from Dassault Systems successfully. Creating increasingly safe and progressive designs is paramount in the manufacturing of landing gear, according to Heroux Devtek Engineering VP Nagi Homsy. "We have achieved maximum efficiency with ENOVIA," he says. "The more we can get manufacturing involved early in the process, the better the design is going to be, and that is always our primary concern."