Leading next-generation simulator design
March 13, 2015 started out as a typical day of back-to-back meetings for Hélène Houde, CAE’s Director of Global Strategic Sourcing. In the position just over a year, Hélène was settling nicely into her new role as leader of a worldwide team of procurement experts. Then her boss, Vice President of Sourcing Jean-Louis Moreau, walked into her office and handed her the biggest challenge of her career.
“I want you to take on a side project and create a team to completely rethink the 7000XR’s non-cockpit parts, processes and procurement. You’ll lead a multi-disciplinary team alongside Felice Salvadore from engineering and David Lapointe from continuous improvement,” said Jean-Louis. “There’s a lot riding on this project. Global competition is growing in the ‘sim’ market and material costs are rising, so we need to deliver an even better simulator more efficiently. One more thing, you have nine months to complete the project!”
“I must admit, the prospect of working with a blank sheet to redesign the 7000XR in a nine-month timeframe was motivating but also pretty intimidating,” recalls the experienced industrial engineer. “I would be leading a team of mechanical and electrical design engineers, which felt far removed from my manufacturing process and sourcing expertise. I didn’t really know how simulators were designed.”
Hélène adds with a smile: “But I was about to learn.”
CAE’s design-to-cost team
Hélène jumped into action and, today, looks back with pride at the dynamic Hardware Convergence team that came together to tackle this crucial challenge. The core design team consisted of 10 design engineers, partnered with 10 sourcing, manufacturing and quality professionals. About seven suppliers were also integrated into the team. Their external viewpoint would prove to be invaluable throughout the process.
The team was young, highly creative and determined to succeed. Their rallying cry? “Design to cost!”—an approach that had rarely been used before at CAE.
“CAE engineers had been used to designing simulators and leaving the cost considerations to be handled by the Global Strategic sourcing team,” explains Hélène. “Now we were bringing everyone together so that, from the outset, we designed the simulator using the best and most cost-effective technology and components available. Standardizing the simulator’s non-cockpit portion, so that only the cockpit would change depending on the type of aircraft being simulated, was another important objective.”
A lighter, greener, more cost-effective simulator
Hélène is very proud of the team’s achievements: “Designing to cost allowed us to do a deep dive into our requirements and uncover amazing opportunities for improvement. For example, the projectors we use are 75% lighter than they were a few years ago, so there was an opportunity to review the supporting structure for these projectors and make it much lighter.”
The turbo-charged team left no stone unturned in its quest to improve the simulator’s quality, costs and schedule. Mukund Patel and Nuwan Fernando, two young engineers completing CAE-sponsored Master’s degrees at Montreal’s École de technologie supérieure (ETS), leveraged their ETS experience to integrate the latest manufacturing techniques, including laser cutting and laser tube notching, into the simulator’s design.
As a result of everyone’s efforts, the ‘refreshed and greener’ CAE 7000XR is smaller, lighter and more energy and resource efficient. It is also more ergonomic, faster to manufacture, and easier to assemble and maintain. What’s more, all these improvements translate into a significantly reduced environmental footprint throughout the simulator’s lifecycle. The team also upgraded the simulator’s aesthetics, further enhancing the customer experience.
Communication and collaboration: The keys to success
In a fast-track project of this scope, how well a team communicates and collaborates determines the outcome. Daily scrums, listening carefully to each other, a cooperative spirit and lively team debates generated ingenious solutions and rapid decision-making. Team members’ empowerment, creativity and accountability were off the charts.
“We thought we would only be able to achieve a modest redesign in the nine-month timeframe we were given,” says Hélène. “What we ended up achieving was, at least according to our initial analysis, the impossible. We delivered a major step change!”
Almost nine months to the day after project start-up, the team had completely redesigned the CAE 7000XR, the new components were in stock, and manufacturing teams were busy building the redesigned simulator. Mission accomplished!
Hélène’s takeaway from this experience? “Not only do I better understand how a simulator is made,” grins Hélène, “I also now look at things differently. I’m always trying to figure out how we can improve on the status quo. It’s pretty cool!”