Boeing-Adobe project offers real-world glimpses

Students in Brian Cameron’s IST 421 class have been getting glimpses of real-world issues faced by Boeing’s Rotorcraft Division, while the helicopter-maker is benefiting from students’ fresh eyes on a key part of its manufacturing process.

In the class, Advanced Enterprise Integration, Cameron links student teams with corporate partners of the college. The students, acting as consultants, get the experience of wrestling with actual integration problems faced by companies while the firms get new perspectives and, potentially, unanticipated answers to their questions.

Over the past year and a half, IST students have had a hand in helping Boeing’s Philadelphia-based Rotorcraft Division develop a method to deliver Model-Based Definition to downstream users.

Through tools from Adobe (also a partner in the IST 421 project), engineers now can send an annotated three-dimensional model of a component directly to the technicians crafting and installing those parts, explained Project Lead Chris Senesac. Gone is the costly and cumbersome process of going from a design model to an ungainly two-dimensional schematic accompanied by large amounts of documentation.

Remaining, though, is the issue of security in transferring those files to the factory floor, or to bidders vying to build a particular component. What about unauthorized file copying or industrial espionage? Tackling those issues is what students did during the fall semester.

According to Cameron, a professor of practice, this challenge was as close as it can get to what students will confront professionally. The problem was loosely defined, requirements weren’t specific, and the technology involved was unfamiliar. (In this case, students had to learn the capabilities of the Adobe software involved.)

As is typical, the IST faculty member said, class members moved from “deer-in-the-headlights” shock, to connecting the dots and finally to sincerely wanting more time because they’re truly engaged in the work.

“They do good work for us,” Senesac said. “I think it’s a win-win-win for all of us—a win for Penn State, Adobe and a win for Boeing.

“I think we help mature them through the virtual environment of running a meeting, running a project,” he continued. “We help steer them in the way things happen in the real world versus a textbook.”

“The collaboration between Boeing and Penn State is an excellent example of industry and education working together,” said Michael Londgren, Adobe business productivity director of product marketing. “Penn State students gain hands-on experience addressing challenges that Boeing engineers face daily.”

“By applying best-in-class solutions like Acrobat 9 Pro Extended,” Londgren went on, “students can devise strategies for improving 3-D collaboration across internal groups and with outside partners—and then share their findings with the teams at Boeing.”

Said senior Ryan Roof, “You can sit in the classroom day after day after day and not learn anything. But, actually going in and working through what you’re learning in class really helps add significance to what you’re learning.”

Ivan Choy, also a senior, said: “You jump into a project and have to understand the complexity of the issues and requirements. You have to take it step by step and learn their needs.”

“Most importantly, I think it’s figuring out what right questions to ask the sponsors,” he went on.

"The real-world experience that students get from using Acrobat 9 Pro Extended to explore 3-D collaboration challenges at Boeing is invaluable,” commented Adobe’s Londren. “In today's manufacturing environment, working with dispersed teams worldwide is the norm. Whether it is with coworkers, design partners, or suppliers, students need to learn how to meet the needs of all these groups and effectively communicate and collaborate with them at anytime and anyplace." Along with lessons learned, there also is a sense of excitement and of pride that comes with making a contribution.

“Whenever I see Boeing in the future,” said Roof, “It’s going to be: ‘Oh, I helped them transition from 2-D drawings to the 3-D template they use now to assemble their parts together.’”

Added senior Paul Romano, “Knowing that you added worth to a company or a client’s project to help them function better was something definitely exciting and motivating for all of us.” And that value-add is appreciated.

Commented Senesac of Boeing, “You have 10 creative minds…creatively thinking for you. They’re not working with all of the departmental ‘stove pipes’; they’re not working with departmental politics. They’re creatively thinking outside the box.”

Last Updated March 19, 2009