Polaris: A Pathfinder for Digital Transformation

Lockheed Martin is pushing the bounds of its digital engineering prowess with Polaris. Named after the North Star, Polaris is a company-funded Skunk Works® program that is using the X-59 design as a baseline to collect metrics and best practices to guide future transformation initiatives. 

To do this, the Polaris team is demonstrating the digital thread, a communication framework that moves information seamlessly from design through sustainment, on a separate, modified X-59 design suited for the digital environment. Throughout the course of this project, the team is collaborating with a supplier in the same digital environment, executing Full-Size Determinant Assembly (FSDA) and ultimately demonstrating advanced manufacturing capability by robotically assembling a second article separate from the X-59 airframe. FSDA uses precise digital engineering to produce precision parts that avoid the costly process of hand-fitting parts together during assembly.

The small, diverse team has already made significant progress by implementing an external facing, standalone network. The network has been extended to outside organizations to use the digital thread to collaborate with an external vendor securely. This important accomplishment enables the program and supplier team to share a single database for all artifacts, including computer-aided designs, systems engineering and program planning data.

By working together in the same, real-time environment under a single source of truth, both the Polaris team and the supplier have the same access to design updates, task statuses and feedback. Polaris is taking collaboration with a major supplier beyond emails and meetings, paving the way for more effective partnership.

The Polaris prototype is one element of a larger multi-year investment called Project StarDrive. StarDrive is reengineering the culture, processes and tools needed to operate in a fully integrated digital work environment. Watch the video below to get a glimpse of the team in action:

Tracking Success for Polaris

The virtual nature of the digital thread has proven especially critical for allowing the team to proceed with minimal delays in the current COVID-19 environment. In fact, the program completed its critical design review in late August and remains well positioned to stay on track with planned milestones.

Metrics are a crucial piece of the Polaris team’s mission. “Change for the sake of change is not an acceptable answer,” said Jeffrey Scheinost, Polaris Chief Engineer. “Specific metrics are being used to bid for future work more effectively, including the metrics surrounding FSDA.”

The metrics provided by Polaris will ensure that the future deployment of FSDA processes will continue to lower the total cost of fabrication, not just shift costs from assembly to part fabrication.

“The most exciting part about Polaris is that we have the opportunity to influence our culture for the better while positioning ourselves to move even faster on the next program,” said Casey Grubb, Polaris Program Manager. “We’ve hit issues, and we’ve had challenges, but every solution that the team finds is a bug worked out. The lessons learned and the metrics we collect on this program directly impact our ability to design, build and deliver capability to our customers faster than ever.”