Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Dassault Systemes: Airship maker rises to the top with CAD, PLM

September 11, 2009
By André Voshart

THE COMPANY: Newmarket, Ont.-based 21st Century Airships, in business since 1988, designs helium-filled aircraft with distinct environmental advantages for use in geo-surveys, military surveillance and weather monitoring, and to support temporary infrastructure, such as cellular towers, during disasters.

THE CHALLENGE: Since its inception, 21st Century has researched and developed approximately 18 airship designs, incorporating different configurations and levels of technology. Its latest offering, recently tested in Alabama, demonstrates a new hull design and bio-fuel capability. Despite this innovation, the company spent 18 years creating its designs on paper, scaling them up and then building physical prototypes to uncover the small errors that became exaggerated when scaled. It was a slow process that required significant trial and error, time and materials.

THE STRATEGY: In 2006, 21st Century left its paper-based methods behind in favour of CAD. The company selected CATIA because it is the design standard throughout the aviation industry.

THE RESULTS: The transition to CATIA has enabled many efficiencies and improvements in the company’s processes. "The repeatability that comes with using CATIA is one of the key improvements we’ve seen," engineering director Tim Buss says. "Once we’ve designed the envelope (the airship’s outer shell) in CATIA and sectioned it up, we can repeat those same gores all the way around without error. Everything is an exact replica of the previous one. No flaws or errors are being perpetuated."


CATIA also allows designers to use their previous practical experience to ensure structural support is incorporated in the right places and to perfect a ship’s design before it is built, saving time and the cost of discarded materials. By leveraging CATIA’s ability to factor in component properties, designers can ensure balance and accurately predict positioning of systems and loads.

CATIA also has proven to provide the company a significant advantage when dealing with its partners. External suppliers provide engines, actuators and other components, and because many of the company’s suppliers also design with CATIA, 21st Century can pull its suppliers’ models for parts directly into its own designs. In fact, the company is merging with one of its manufacturing partners. Once the merger is complete, both companies will use CATIA to ease the transition from design to manufacture. They also are considering 3DVIA Composer, which generates fully associative product documentation directly from CATIA models, to produce assembly documentation.

"Efficiency has gone way up," Buss says. "We can handle a lot more projects at the same time and still keep track of everything. Using CATIA, we’ve improved efficiency by at least 60 percent, so we can take on more work with the same staff and improve our profitability."

"Leveraging CATIA has improved our efficiency and, in turn, our profitability," president Hokan Colting says. "We’re producing higher-quality airships more quickly and cost-effectively, which helps us bring this very ‘green’ form of transportation to even more markets."

• Browse back to the 2009 Software Case Study Guide Index for many more software applications.

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