In June of 2018, the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Engineering released the Department of Defense Digital Engineering Strategy. This publication highlights the need for digital representations of systems and components and the use of digital artifacts as a technical means of communication in advancing the state of engineering practices that support lifecycle activities.
DoD defines digital engineering as “an integrated digital approach that uses authoritative sources of system data and models as a continuum across disciplines to support lifecycle activities from concept through disposal.” Technical data, specifically model-based and digital thread-enabled, are a foundational requirement for additive manufacturing, mixed reality, digital surrogate, and other disruptive technologies on the forefront of DoD research and development. By incorporating technological innovations, DoD looks to transform the way it designs, develops, delivers, operates, and sustains its systems.
Up to this point, the focus has been on model-based systems engineering, product design, and manufacturing. However, the introduction of digital engineering will have a disruptive impact across the entire lifecycle. Leveraging digital thread and model-based definition technologies are key to bringing the DoD digital engineering vision to downstream lifecycle processes, including provisioning, operations, sustainment, and disposal.
DoD’s strategy is built on five foundational elements deemed necessary for a digital engineering ecosystem to thrive:
- Formalize the development, integration, and use of models to inform enterprise and program decision-making
- Provide an enduring, authoritative source of truth
- Incorporate technological innovation to improve the engineering practice
- Establish a supporting infrastructure and environment to perform activities, collaborate, and communicate across stakeholders
- Transform the culture and workforce to adopt and support digital engineering across the lifecycle
The Current State of Affairs
For decades, the acquisition community has all but ignored pleas for the government to aggressively assert its rights to technical data for the product model they are not only entitled to have but, in many cases, paid to create. It appears that the data defining a weapon system are something that the original equipment manufacturer doesn’t want to sell, the program executive office doesn’t want to acquire, or the design manager doesn’t care about. This has resulted in an environment at odds with integration and has suppressed competitive acquisition of spares and associated materiel throughout the lifecycle.
As the demand for shorter lead time increases and the adoption of disruptive technologies like additive manufacturing that rely on the product model increase, the effect of the acquisition community’s neglect will unfortunately multiply. Today, product data is “nice to have,” but tomorrow, it will be a fundamental requirement whose lack will limit the ability of the sustainment enterprise to keep the warfighter in battle.
The Need Grows
Additive manufacturing is not possible without the product data developed during design. Not just the geometry, this new capability requires material properties, process specifications, and environmental expectations. The same can be said for digital surrogate, mixed reality (augmented and virtual reality), and artificial intelligence applications. These technologies are expected to save the enterprise billions in the coming years, and their sole common thread is their reliance on access to complete, machine-readable, model-based technical data.
What Can Be Done?
To ensure that the enterprise has access to model-based, digital thread-enabled technical data, stakeholders across DoD must make changes to policy, practice, research, development, and deployment:
- Improve DoD systems and data infrastructure to share technical information at the same level as financial or logistics information. These systems must support platform acquisition and sustainment through outcome-oriented data strategies.
- Promote the development and enhancement of computer-aided applications.
- Support the development of a model-based environment built on a common product model definition.
- Enable a digital thread across an enterprise that includes the entire lifecycle, not just design and acquisition.
- Enable engineering informatics and knowledge management to archive and integrate corporate memory into advanced digital engineering tools.
- Foster a model-based environment capable of supporting advanced manufacturing technologies, especially additive manufacturing.
There is a paradigm shift from design-build-test to a model-analyze-build methodology that digital engineering has enabled. Industry experts such as LMI are involved in the development and implementation of technologies that provide the foundation of digital engineering. Bringing this critical experience into the evaluation, selection, and implementation of the appropriate digital engineering technology to meet the business needs of DoD is imperative to the success of this new strategy.