In order to be useful for the design of the 777, the CATIA system had to be scaled-up, which was in itself a major engineering effort. Just some numbers help to illustrate the task at hand. Total storage capacity for the overall system reached 3.5 terabytes (the equivalent of 2,500,000 million 3.5-inch high-density disks). As many as 238 teams, including up to 40 engineers, were involved in the design, development and manufacturing of the 777. All engineers needed access to all of the computer data. A paperless design meant that instead of waiting for drawings, any engineer working on any part or subassembly could call up all connected parts and subassemblies on any library of the 7,000 workstations that were scattered across 17 time zones. In order to make this possible, Boeing laid dedicated data lines across the Pacific Ocean. About 20 percent of the fuselage structure was being designed and developed by a consortium of Japanese partners including Fuji, Kawasaki and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Their engineers had to be logged into the worldwide 777-workstation network (Petroski, 1996).

Via an electronic pre-assembly program, interference between parts and systems was continuously identified. To be sure that the newly developed CAD-system was itself reliable, an integrated prototyping strategy was developed. As soon as possible, physical prototypes of aircraft subsystems were developed that allowed checking the design rules that rolled out of the CATIA system. In addition, Boeing developed a simulated mechanic, CATIA-man, who could be manipulated to crawl around inside the assembled digital plane to check manoeuvrability during construction and maintenance operations. As a consequence, the keyword for the design revolution we witness at present is improved communications.

These improved communications, and the ‘virtual’ and ‘physical’ visualisations that accompany them because of the three-dimensional parametric character of most new design technologies (just think about CATIA-man), are ideal vehicles to help reduce both the ambiguity and the uncertainty that underlay all new product development trajectories. This is possible because of the potentially ‘rich’ character of the information that becomes available via the use of the 3D technologies, thus benefiting the reduction of information as well as interpretation asymmetries. Moreover, as argued earlier, these technologies can be at the centre of the development and management of fast experimentation strategies that result in highly effective cycles of design-build-test-redesign that are crucial in fitting product form to its context of use (Debackere, 1998; Loch and Terwiesch, 1998; Thomke, 1997). This, of course, brings us to the need to define the new design environment that fits today’s highly competitive innovation imperatives.

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Design Management
VIZO Workshop

“Design makes the Difference”
Brussels, Belgium - 29/30 November 2002

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