Researchers from Cranfield University and Marshall Aerospace have developed a computer-based cost-estimating system named DREAM that is said to significantly increase the accuracy, risk management and speed of estimating and managing aircraft modification projects.
The project, led by Dr. Ip-Shing Fan, Department of Enterprise Integration, Cranfield University, began in 1998 with funding under the UK EPSRC Innovative Manufacturing Aerospace programme.
DREAM (Defining knowledge models for reconfiguration and modification processes in aerospace) is developing an aircraft modification knowledge model that will capture the time, cost and uncertainty characteristics of aircraft modification work.
It will enable future cost estimates to be prepared more quickly, accurately and with less manpower and lower risk than at present.
With the increasing costs of new aircraft development programs, the aircraft modification business is increasingly attractive and as a result is growing rapidly.
Modifications can cover compliance with regulations, operational improvements, enhanced reliability and extended life.
They can also be applied to new aircraft to change its operational role – for example, converting a civilian passenger aircraft to a military airborne early-warning system platform. In some cases, the full extent of the modifications cannot be determined exactly until the subject aircraft has been disassembled.
The aircraft modification business is very diverse, complex and highly competitive. Accurate cost estimates are vital to enable companies to submit commercially acceptable tenders, but currently require a great deal of experienced manpower.
The project completed applied research before developing a cost estimating process and the associated cost information model for aircraft modification.
These were incorporated in an enterprise information system that could be used by the estimators and engineers from the appropriate departments to build up an estimate concurrently.
This unified information model and estimation process reportedly improves the accuracy of the estimates as all the participants in the estimation use the same structure to break down the work in the project.
The integrated approach also ensures that data from previous estimates and production programs can be used to guide the new estimates.
‘We are very pleased with the results of this co-operation with Cranfield University,’ said Bob Ward, Engineering Director, Marshall Aerospace. ‘We are confident that DREAM will increase our competitive edge in this market.’
Following successful testing, the system will be brought online later this year.