Aras Innovator Touches Down in Airbus’ PLM Backbone

Airbus recently signed a deal to deploy the Aras Innovator platform across the global enterprise, to support a variety of engineering business processes for up to 30,000-plus users.

PLM flexibility is key to supporting Airbus’ highly customized global engineering processes for its fleet of aircraft. Image Courtesy of Airbus

Aras, once a little known, quirky take on open source PLM, appears to be carving out a spot in the big leagues, landing yet another large enterprise deal — this time with aerospace giant Airbus.

Airbus recently signed a deal to deploy the Aras Innovator platform across the global enterprise, to support a variety of engineering business processes for up to 30,000-plus users. Airbus, a veteran PLM user, employs multiple PLM and design tool platforms, including Dassault Systemes’ CATIA for digital mockups and ENOVIA as the MCAD vault in addition to PTC’s Windchill, which is used to manage and control product data. PTC Windchill is also the cornerstone for the PHENIX (PLM Harmonized Enhanced Innovation Excellence) initiative, an effort to standardize the PLM landscape across the various Airbus divisions.

PLM flexibility is key to supporting Airbus' highly customized global engineering processes for its fleet of aircraft. Image Courtesy of Airbus PLM flexibility is key to supporting Airbus’ highly customized global engineering processes for its fleet of aircraft. Image Courtesy of Airbus

Rather than serve as a replacement for any of the legs of its PLM backbone, Aras is a complementary technology that will augment existing PLM solutions and support niche applications that apply to specific business processes, according to Henrik Weimer, senior manager in Airbus’ IT for engineering organization. While many industry watchers are raising eyebrows over the deal, reading into it that Aras might eventually replace the stalwart PLM systems, Weimer maintains that it’s simply not the case.

“Aras is another layer on top of the PLM backbone, but there are other parts as well,” he explains.

Aras Innovator will become a complementary piece of Airbus's multi-platform PLM backbone. Image Courtesy of Aras  Aras Innovator will become a complementary piece of Airbus’s multi-platform PLM backbone. Image Courtesy of Aras

While Aras has had a home in pockets of the organization, Airbus got serious about the PLM platform for a number of reasons, among them: its open architecture, its agility for building solutions due to its interactive GUI, and the key criteria — better visibility into total cost of ownership compared to traditional PLM. Airbus has over 2,000 applications in its PLM portfolio and a variety of different platforms to support, which makes for a very complex environment, heavy on customizations.

As part of its unique subscription model, Aras covers all of the work and cost involved in migrating customizations to a new release—a feature that has a huge impact on TCO for PLM, Weimer says. “Upgrading all our customizations can be a very significant cost for us, but because Aras includes it in the subscription, all customizations are carried forward to the next release … and Aras carries the risk and cost of the upgrade,” he says.

What makes that promise possible is the underlying technology in the Aras Innovator platform, notes Marc Lind, Aras senior vice president of marketing. “With our platform, you are modeling as opposed to writing compiled custom code,” he explains. “What that means is that the platform underneath can be upgraded while maintaining the integrity of the models — not just out of the box features, but customizations as well.”

Aras Innovator’s first use case was for a Test Information Management system used across the structural test pyramid in a multi-site operation. For this application, which involves 500 users, Aras helps manage the structure tests, including requirements and test specifications. There are currently three other Aras applications in the pipeline and there will be others going forward, Weimer says.

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Beth Stackpole

Beth Stackpole is a contributing editor to Digital Engineering. Send e-mail about this article to [email protected].

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