NLign Analytics “Structural Lifecycle Digital Environment” Enables Model-Driven Product Quality
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NLign Analytics “Structural Lifecycle Digital Environment” Enables Model-Driven Product Quality

Key takeaways:

Today’s Market Drivers and the Need for Change

Over the past several decades, there has been significant growth in the use of enterprise software systems for supply chain management (SCM), quality management systems (QMS), product lifecycle management (PLM), manufacturing execution systems(MES), enterprise resource planning(ERP), and maintenance, repair, and operations(MRO). However, despite these advances in digital information management technologies, the digital connection from the engineering design and manufacturing domains to in-service operations and the impact on the lifecycle quality assessment of “as-built” versus “as operated” systems has been relatively minimal in many industries. It is still common to see inefficient manual and document-based processes used to assess the in-service structural status of complex parts and systems used in mission-critical applications for military aircraft, ships, missile systems, land vehicles, and energy production facilities. Where quality assessment software tools are in use, they are often used within organizational silos where the data is not captured in a form that provides useful information to enable quick and effective decision-making.

Additionally, there are a significant number of out-of-date legacy systems currently in use. These systems lack the state of the art analytics for real-time operational data and cannot provide engineering, manufacturing, and operations personnel with the information they need to collaborate in order to make part design modifications and/or manufacturing rework decisions.1

Engineers also need accurate 3D visualization of the system in the “as-built” and “as operating” states. This allows defects leading to operational failures to be readily identified, communicated visually for collaboration with quality engineering teams, and then quickly corrected via permanent design upgrades or even temporary in-field modifications or fixes.

The U.S. DoD has recognized the urgent need for change from document-centric processes to a digital, model-driven approach due to systems sustainment cost issues and international competitive factors (i.e., warfighting superiority and operational flexibility). The DoD estimates that $256B was spent in FY2020 for military system sustainment operations with the U.S. Air Force accounting for approximately $65B of that total. 2 Despite these levels of spending on operations sustainment, of the approximately 5,400 aircraft in the Air Force fleet, the percentage that are able to fly at any given time has decreased steadily each year since fiscal year 2012, when 77.9 percent of aircraft were deemed flyable. By fiscal 2018, that airworthiness metric had plunged to 69.97 percent, according to statistics obtained by Air Force Times via the Freedom of Information Act.3

In the 2021 Department of Defense budget request document revised on May 13, 2020,4 the DoD highlights the focus on weapons systems readiness. The studies examined the strengths and weaknesses of past and current Defense Readiness Reporting Systems to determine the shortfalls of the current readiness reporting framework and to identify the areas for
improvement. They assessed and reviewed new analytical technologies that may help the Department more effectively and efficiently gather, analyze, and visualize readiness data.

As stated in this document, “In order to successfully measure the readiness of warfighting force elements, the Defense Department must:

To specifically address these major challenges stated above, groups within the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy as well as major A&D prime contractors to DoD, have been adopting NLign Analytics technology and incorporating a 3D model-driven product quality approach into their long-established but typically much more document-based Material Review Board (MRB) processes and associated manual best practices for Structural Lifecycle Management (SLM).

An example of where the model-driven product quality approach using NLign technology has already been successfully employed is in the Air Force Aircraft Structural Integrity Program (ASIP) as applied to the A-10 close air support aircraft upgrade (see Figure 1).

Figure 1—NLign Analytics Enabled the DoD Digital Engineering Strategy in the A-10 Program
(Courtesy of NLign Analytics and U.S. DoD)

Similar asset readiness and predictive maintenance challenges and associated cost-saving opportunities also exist in the commercial airline and commercial air freight industries. According to Oliver Wyman, “Total MRO spend is expected to rise to $116 billion by 2029, up from $81.9 billion in 2019. Aside from the growth in the commercial fleet, the increase will be driven by more expensive maintenance visits and technology enhancements. The annual average growth rate for the MRO market will be 3.5 percent over the decade. More of this growth will take place between 2024 and 2029 when MRO spend will grow $19 billion versus $15 billion between 2019 and the start of 2024.”5

The NLign Analytics Technology: A Driver of Business Value

NLign Analytics has been in the business of creating engineering software solutions to identify and predict the structural integrity of large-scale systems for almost 15 years. The NLign Analytics technology was initially developed in conjunction with applied research projects in the U.S. Air Force and has since evolved into an integrated suite of commercial software applications that includes six U.S. technology patents.

So, what is special about NLign that is not found in other quality software tools or enterprise software applications such as PLM, QMS, ERP, MRO, and MES systems? The key foundational elements of the NLign Structural Lifecycle Digital Environment are:

Figure 2—NLign Environment for Model-Driven Product Quality Analysis
(Courtesy of NLign Analytics)

NLign Analytics Technology Adoption: Key Customer Success

Current major customers of the NLign Analytics software technology and services include:

Several major customers and aircraft programs have been using NLign Technology long enough to be able to measure and publicly disclose real-world business impact metrics in moving from manual, document-based processes such as the A&D MRB process into a model-driven process leveraging the NLign Structural Lifecycle Digital Environment:


CIMdata believes that the availability of next-generation model-based quality analysis technologies such as the NLign Structural Lifecycle Digital Environment fills a major gap in the intersection of the current suite of commercial software tools and product innovation platforms provided by the major enterprise software solution providers such as Altair, ANSYS, Dassault Systèmes, Hexagon, Infor, PTC, Oracle, SAP, and Siemens Digital Industries Software.

As such, we expect that when NLign is used in combination with PLM, QMS, ERP, MRO, and MES systems, this integration can be a major step forward for industry in achieving one key aspect of the digital thread for structural integrity and system quality across the entire product lifecycle. The use of 3D virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR) environments combined with advanced data analytics and AI/ML (machine learning) technologies to create and continuously enhance digital twins will accrue significant business benefits to end-users of weapons systems such as the U.S. Department of Defense deploys and maintains as well as to the companies that design and manufacture such complex weapons systems. More importantly, these digital technologies are now beginning to mature to the level where adoption should not be limited only to high-value assets such as those found in the aerospace and defense industry.

From CIMdata’s perspective, NLign is currently providing a high impact set of 3D model-based product quality and reliability applications that can have significant business impact and ROI across a wide range of industries and product lifecycle applications. We look forward to monitoring their business success, future technology enhancements, and the more widespread adoption of this valuable technology across a range of industries over the next several years. For more information about NLign Analytics and its solutions please see

About CIMdata

CIMdata, an independent worldwide firm, provides strategic management consulting to maximize an enterprise’s ability to design and deliver innovative products and services through the application of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). CIMdata provides world-class knowledge, expertise, and best-practice methods on PLM. CIMdata also offers research, subscription services, publications, and education through international conferences.

To learn more about CIMdata’s services, visit our website at

or contact CIMdata at: 3909 Research Park Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48108, USA.

Tel: +1 734.668.9922.
Fax: +1 734.668.1957;

or at Oogststraat 20, 6004 CV Weert, The Netherlands.
Tel: +31 (0) 495.533.666.

1 Research for this commentary was partially supported by NLign Analytics.

2 Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) / Chief Financial Officer. Operation and Maintenance Overview Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Estimates. March 2019.

3 Losey, Stephen. Aircraft mission-capable rates hit new low in Air Force, despite efforts to improve. AirForceTimes. July 2019.

4 Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) / Chief Financial Officer. United States Department of Defense. Fiscal Year2021 Budget Request. February 2020. Revised May 13, 2020.

5 Wyman, Oliver. Global Fleet & MRO Market Forecast 2019–2029 Commentary.


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