Boeing Frontiers
October 2003
Volume 02, Issue 06
Top Stories Inside Quick Takes Site Tools
Tech Talk

Improving the improving process

A small product’s big potentialWhat do testing rocket engines, replacing hazardous chemicals in electronics fabrication, and determining passenger interest in faster airplanes have in common? All are examples of work that has benefited from a testing methodology called Design of Experiments that is much more efficient and reliable than traditional one-at-a-time testing.

The methodology, based on mathematical principles and involving the scientific process, is helping employees throughout Boeing make better decisions and improve products and processes in less time and with less money and waste.

DOE certainly isn't new. Sir Ronald Fisher, an English statistician, was the first to consider a methodology for it more than 80 years ago. He described how to structure tests and analyze data to obtain more reliable conclusions in the noisy and poorly controlled testing environment of agricultural research. Over the years, Fisher's concepts caught on as a more efficient way to help improve everything from growing corn to operating chemical processes and building cars.

Employees in the Applied Statistics group in the Phantom Works Mathematics and Computing Technology organization have taken the basic DOE concepts, integrated them with the latest thinking in mathematics and computing, and combined them with a working knowledge of problems and issues specific to aerospace. The result is a very efficient methodology for designing experiments and analyzing data at Boeing, regardless of whether the work is in design, fabrication, assembly, testing or administrative environments.

During the past several years, the group has applied DOE in many ways throughout Boeing. Applications have involved alternative component design evaluation for military programs, composite repair in commercial airplanes, RS-68 rocket engine testing, wind tunnel testing, and computer hardware and software design and testing. Other applications have involved market research for new programs including the 7E7, ergonomic and health studies, and evaluation of training methods and Web interfaces such as the Employee Timekeeping System. The group also has used DOE with computer simulations in many applications, including aerodynamic and structural design.

Roberto Altschul, manager of the Applied Statistics group, and Stephen Jones, a senior DOE statistician, believe the increased use of DOE within the company is fundamental to reducing the cost of testing while improving the quality of decisions.

“We're here to help apply DOE techniques to processes, testing, and decision making throughout Boeing,” Altschul said.

How it works

In one of many successful examples of Design of Experiments implementation, when the Commercial Airplanes New Product Development team was working to improve 747 lift characteristics during takeoffs and landings, they wanted to do a study to determine the best placement of chines, or vortex control devices, on the engine nacelles (streamlined enclosures that house the engines).

But the study needed to be cost-effective. The number of possible test combinations was enormous. For example, should chines be used at all? If so, should they be used on one nacelle or two? Should they be placed on one side of the nacelle or both? At what angle should they be placed? How far fore or aft should they be placed?

To try to evaluate all of the combinations in a wind tunnel would have been too costly and would have taken too much time to meet program requirements. Instead, Boeing called on the Design of Experiments team. Using DOE techniques, the team devised an experiment that not only cost a small fraction of what traditional methods would have cost, but also provided more informative insight. Using limited wind tunnel testing, the new research model provided estimates of lift for all chine combinations (including those not tested), and identified the best options for placement of the chines. Boeing proprietary interests preclude divulging further specifics on chine placement and resulting lift characteristics.

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