Developing Airplane Systems Faster and with Higher Quality through Model-Based Engineering

The ecoDemonstrator program was a follow-on to the Boeing Quiet Technology Demonstrator program. Through that earlier program in the early 2000s, Boeing and Rolls Royce developed the quieter engines that became a competitive advantage for the 787 Dreamliner.

When Boeing began developing the Air Data Reference Function for the 777X, our engineers had the opportunity to work faster, reaching higher first-time quality through model-based engineering. The ADRF is a key avionics function, processing signals from pressure and temperature probes and computing aircraft state parameters like airspeed and altitude. Early integrated testing of the model in the simulator helped to verify and correct the system’s interfaces and behavior, long before such testing could be achieved on the design through conventional development.

Model-based systems engineering and development (MBSE/MBD) is one of the focus areas for Boeing’s research in Europe. The development of systems, comprising different engineering disciplines and stakeholders is traditionally facilitated by document-based communication. The ever increasing complexity of systems and demand for shorter development cycles and lower costs require a more efficient and less error-prone communication and development approach.

Boeing’s European research—with presence in Spain, Germany, the UK, and several other locations across Europe—has been strategically placed in an area which is not only an extensive source of knowledge and advanced technology, but also provides important locational advantages to develop solutions in areas such as materials and manufacturing, data-driven airline services, and, as in this example, avionics model-based systems engineering. Most of this work is done within the framework of research consortia consisting of European research, industrial and academic institutions. It leverages the access to talent, extensive supplier base and other high-tech and commercial opportunities of Europe.

Model-based systems engineering intends to centralize all information about the system in a model, often called the “single source of truth.” The model supports the system’s entire life cycle from requirements documentation to validation and verification exercises to maintenance and training purposes, just to mention some. Stakeholders like decision makers and suppliers as well as the development teams can access the model at different views and levels of detail, to access data according to their needs while consistency of the information is guaranteed.

The approach requires a sophisticated common modeling environment, including tools, good practices and industry standards that are currently investigated by applying MBSE methods on a smaller scale during the development of selected avionics systems.

The expertise gathered and the tools developed by working on dedicated systems are transitioned to the programs and applied to other systems, moving to a truly model-centric, highly efficient and agile development culture.

The ADRF project for the 777X proved that a MBSE approach improves quality and communication, de-risks the program and significantly reduces development cost and time. Requirements could be validated at a very early stage in the program, avoiding ambiguities, erroneous information and other specification flaws.

Advanced cooperative technology development with European industry leaders and the proximity to European suppliers further facilitate reductions of development cost and time. This increases first-time quality and opportunities to explore and incorporate MBSE standards developed by European industry and academia.

By Eduardo Carrillo de Albornoz-Braojos, Bastian Figlar, Ramon Gomez and Grzegorz Kawiecki, Boeing Research & Technology, Europe

What is model-based systems engineering?

Traditional systems engineering stored data in static documents; MBSE recasts the data as a set of object models, then creates relationships between the individual objects within the model.

MBSE's digitized architecture makes real-time updates accessible by all users and enables virtual system integration and test, reducing development costs as well as the risk of design problems.