Terrafugia takes bill of materials management to new heights with implementation of a PLM system to develop its street-legal airplane.
Founded in 2006 by award winning MIT-trained aeronautical engineers and MBAs – who also happen to be passionate private pilots – the aviation/automobile start-up company Terrafugia (ter-ra-FOO-gee-ah), is the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang of this century.
Taking advantage of new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations in the Light Sport Aircraft category, the founders of Terrafugia developed the Transition Roadable Aircraft to provide private and sports pilots the convenience of a dual-purpose vehicle for flight and road use.
The Transition addresses, head-on, the issues private and sport pilots face: cost, weather sensitivity, high overall door-to-door travel time, and a lack of mobility at destination. Its unique design allows the Transition to fold its wings and drive on any surface road with a modern personal airplane platform, as well as park in a standard parking space. Once at the airport, the wings extend and the aircraft is ready for take-off.
Maintaining Complete Production Documentation for FAA Requirements
The Transition Roadable Aircraft will be compliant with the FAA’s Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) standards, so all manufacturers of LSA are required to maintain complete Production Documentation,”including parts lists/Bill of Materials (BOMs). When the FAA officials accept new revisions of the standards, old production vehicles still need to demonstrate line item compliance to the standards in effect when that product shipped.
Initially, Terrafugia managed their product information in a paper-based manner, with automotive and aviation specifications contained in large manuals and BOMs tracked in Excel spreadsheets, without any association to each other. However, the company needed to track this detailed and dynamic data in a more controlled and efficient manner to ensure adherence to the LSA requirements.
“We consider it a best practice to have a digital BOM under change control,” states Douglas Quattrochi, vice president of operations, Terrafugia. “A Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) tool was therefore a very natural need for us.”
Intuitive, Configurable, Cost Effective PLM Solution
Terrafugia set out to find a PLM solution that could meet their needs for product information management, particularly BOM and change management capabilities, at the right price. The company evaluated three vendors and found that the Empower PLM solution from Omnify Software fit best.
“As a small company with very limited resources, we needed to make sure that the PLM solution we purchased was intuitive, immediately configurable to our needs, and an excellent value,” Quattrochi explains. “We found all of this with Omnify Empower PLM.”
Terrafugia’s product definition team found the Empower PLM interface to be straightforward, aesthetically pleasing, and easy to navigate. “We were able to configure the software to our needs based on the recommendations we received during our training, and we found a licensing solution that could be tailored to our budget and timeframe,” Quattrochi adds.
Producing Prototype BOMs is a Breeze
The robust BOM and revision management capabilities of Empower PLM allow the staff at Terrafugia to take managing parts list information one-step further. Employees now tracks old and new production vehicle information electronically and with associations in Empower PLM, facilitating compliance with the LSA requirements.
“We created a BOM for the current version of the LSA standards for new vehicles and are also able to track past revisions of vehicles pointing to past revisions of the standards,” Quattrochi states. “We use associations and documents to create a bi-directional cross reference between requirements and parts.”
The Empower PLM BOM Attribute feature also helps track the weight of each part to determine the weight of the entire vehicle/aircraft-a very important aspect of aircraft development. The BOM Attribute field is user defined and can help track important notes such as component weight. All Terrafugia vehicles are custom ordered therefore each build is a variant of a Parent BOM. The variant BOM lists all customer-configured items.
“We use BOM Attributes to store the weight of each component, giving us the ability to know exactly what each aircraft weighs,” Quattrochi says. “The ability to leverage this field gives us greater insight into the BOM and better design control.”
The Transition is still in pre-production.
“While we cannot make productivity comparisons, it is safe to assume that we simply could not have produced our prototype BOM with the tools we had before,” Quattrochi states.
Anna Dietrich, chief operating officer, Terrafugia, adds, “We are looking forward to growing with Omnify and integrating it with other requirements sets and production processes in the future.”