Curbing Aircraft Manufacturing Waste and Error with PLM Software Implementation

PLM for Aircraft Support and Sustainment Phase IIIA-B

Organizations that operate large vehicle fleets receive, organize, and disseminate enormous quantities of maintenance-related data. With vehicles dispersed across numerous sites and with multiple models requiring their own supply chains for replacement parts and components, fleet operators need robust data management systems to maintain inventories, deploy scarce labor, and limit waste and delay. The U.S. Navy possesses over 3,700 operational aircraft,[1] many of them older platforms whose need for repair has increased with age. Pressed with demands for greater readiness and mission availability while the challenge of maintaining its fleet grows, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) began implementing Teamcenter, a project lifecycle management (PLM) system to increase the capacity and resource efficiency of its supply and repair operations.

PLM software gives engineers a unified framework through which to manage product design, production, and after-sales service. Teamcenter, a PLM software solution offered by NCMS member Siemens, allows NAVAIR to manage and distribute data to in-house manufacturers and external suppliers and to monitor and exert greater control over its supply chain. Supported by the NCMS project team, NAVAIR piloted the adoption of Teamcenter in manufacturing and maintenance activities related to two aircraft, the F/A-18 and the V-22. The project demonstrated the practicality of multi-site collaboration through Teamcenter for NAVAIR while at the same time providing object lessons on how PLM adoption can improve supply chain functionality and eliminate manual error in the manufacturing process.


NAVAIR’s introduction of Teamcenter not only yields immediate benefits in terms of process improvements and coordination with its external suppliers—it provides a demonstration of the benefits industries can realize with PLM whenever there are time and cost savings to be realized through smarter collaboration and automation.

According to Industry Week, PLM is a vital tool for helping small and medium manufacturers maintain compliance with regulatory standards such as ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances).[2] A white paper by NCMS member Dassault reported that a Tier 1 automotive supplier’s implementation of a compliance-enabled PLM solution led to time savings of 40 to 95 percent across different functional roles, along with three-year cost savings of over $20 million.[3]

NCMS member PTC highlights the importance of PLM for achieving cycle-time reduction.[4] Originating in consumer industries, in which streamlined product development is necessary for companies to respond to new tastes and trends, the concept centers on minimizing the length of product development. This allows designers to not only deliver products quickly, but to make decisions late in the development process, when data about requirements, consumer preferences, and market characteristics are most up to date.

Prior to the adoption of Teamcenter, the Navy’s Fleet Readiness Centers have had to scrap parts after discovering they were manufactured to the wrong revision. One major cause was the use of manually inserted, out-of-date discs in numerical control machines, a type of automated machine tool. By connecting the NAVAIR data directly to machines on the shop floor, Teamcenter not only reduced waste in the Navy’s supply chain but eliminated a type of human error across the manufacturing process. As an additional safeguard, a managed Distributed Numeric Controller (DNC) ensured that only the appropriate programs from the PLM system were sent to each machine, centralizing data dissemination and replacing the time- and manpower-intensive process of physically transferring data to individual machines.


The PLM for Aircraft Sustainment and Support project began with a focus on organizing and configuration managing the vast quantities of data that the Department of Defense (DoD) continually receives related to maintenance and lifecycle sustainment. The workflow of NAVAIR’s Manufacturing Model Management System (3MS) was recreated in Teamcenter; this framework was then populated with DoD data to provide in-house manufacturers with the verified data packages needed for producing necessary components. Data was then distributed across physical locations, enabling digital multi-site collabora­tion, using the F/A-18 gun blast diffuser as a test case.

Though these were enormous initial step toward realizing PLM’s benefits for the DoD, they only scratched the surface in terms of implementing a software environment encompassing its vast inventory of operational equipment spread across the globe.

The latest phase of the project as of September 2017 significantly expanded the use of Teamcenter beyond its initial F/A-18 component focus, incorporating the V-22 aircraft into the Teamcenter PLM configuration management process. It was at this point that Teamcenter became used not only by engineers but by manufacturers, and data was transferred directly to numerical control machine tools on the shop floor.

Project Partners

  • S. Navy (FRC East)
  • S. Navy (FRC Southwest)
  • S. Navy (FRC Southeast)
  • Siemens PLM
  • National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS)

[1] “Status of the Navy,” Department of the Navy, October 3, 2017,

[2] “5 Reasons for Small to Mid-Size Manufacturers to Adopt PLM,” IndustryWeek, August 23, 2011,

[3] “Go Beyond Compliance for Profitability and Environmental Sustainability: Seamless PLM with Compliance Provides True Eco-Design” (Dassault Systèmes,

[4] Kathleen Mitford, “PTC Pinpoint: Reducing Cycle Time” (PTC, n.d.),

Download full tech brief