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Airbus Commits to “Sizeable Investment” in CATIA Upgrades Too Late to Stop $6 Billion Loss from Poor CAD Interoperability Management
By Randall S. Newton
CADCAMnet has learned that EADS, the parent company of Airbus, has committed to a “sizeable investment” with Dassault Systèmes to correct problems rising from the use of incompatible versions of CATIA and non-DS software used in the design of the A380 super jumbo airliner. But the investment comes too late to stop what Airbus says will be $6.1 billion in lost operating profit due to postponing the shipping date for the first A380 jet for a second time, for an additional year. The first A380 is now scheduled to ship in the second half of 2007.
Bloomberg News reported September 29 - Bloomberg
that the use of two different versions of CATIA 3D CAD software—versions that are incompatible at the file level—is at the root of significant delays on the Airbus A380 project. Losses are expected to rise, as several airlines waiting to take delivery are now considering cancelling their orders.
“There are real issues inside Airbus regarding revisions to drawings” at the heart of the problem, said a source inside Dassault with knowledge of the situation. “They are not able to do accurate visualizations and digital mock-ups, which led directly to the wiring harness change issues” reported by Bloomberg News.
In response to the growing crisis—and before it became public knowledge—Airbus committed to what the Dassault source calls a “sizeable investment” in additional software, implementation, and training during the second quarter of 2006. “They are moving aggressively” toward the use of “one consistent data model worldwide.”
From the original Bloomberg News report:
Software used to manage the design and manufacture of the 555-seat A380 at Airbus’s Hamburg engineering center isn’t fully compatible with that used at company headquarters in Toulouse, France, say current and former Airbus executives, including Charles Champion, who headed the A380 program until September. … That’s why hundreds of small changes to electrical wiring in the A380 snowballed into at least a year’s delay [now two years] in delivering the world’s biggest passenger aircraft. … “They didn’t have uniform design tools throughout the system and that’s biting them badly,” says Hans Weber, CEO of Tecop International Inc., a San Diego-based aviation consulting firm. “These problems go to the very heart of Airbus being able to perform technically, and also financially.”
An internal Airbus memo obtained by Bloomberg News says that Airbus has begun putting into place “electrical engineering IT tools” common to the French and German teams and that the engineers in Hamburg, Germany are being trained in the software’s use. This confirms CADCAMnet’s internal Dassault source regarding a new commitment to Dassault engineering software.
The incompatible software products are CATIA V4 and CATIA V5; there is also considerable use of PTC CAD products scattered throughout various Airbus offices. It is no secret that these two versions of CATIA are incompatible at the file format level, and it is nothing new for a CAD software company to update a file format in such a way that compatibility between versions breaks down. Autodesk changes AutoCAD’s DWG format with every two or three annual releases. Bentley is still guiding customers through the transition between MicroStation V7 and V8 formats, even though MicroStation V8 first came out in 2001.
Unless the latest extension prompts some airlines to cancel orders, Airbus has 159 firm orders on hand from 16 customers for the 555-seat A380. Industry reports prior to recent announcements have pegged A380 development costs at $13.5 billion. The delays are angering customers, and are assumed by industry observers to be the reason behind the sacking of Gustav Humberts, former Airbus top executive, and EADS co-CEO Noel Forgeard. The latter is under investigation because he exercised stock options to make a profit of 2.5 million euros just weeks before ordering an internal investigation into the A380 delays.
Airbus is not a single entity, but represents the pooled resources of aerospace firms in France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Airbus was originally formed to be a European competitor to Boeing.
Part of the problem lies in lack of a single software design standard in use on the project, an issue rooted in corporate history. CATIA V5 was not a shipping product when the first A380 design work began. When the EADS board of directors gave the green light for building the A380, they were giddy with recent wins over Boeing that had lifted them to near market parity, and they authorized an aggressive design schedule. There was no time to examine design tools or methods, so each regional contributor to the project continued using the tools on hand, which were both CATIA V4 and CADDS 5 from PTC. The Airbus divisions using CATIA V5 on the project were assigned roles later in the process.