'Digital Thread' levels playing field

New methods enable new engineers to get started faster

F-35 Fighter and Digital Engineering

An artist’s concept of an F-35 pierces through an augmented reality sky, demonstrating the next frontier of engineering. RI&S engineers are working on their own next-generation engineering, employing new concepts to collaborate in new ways.

One of the hardest parts of starting a new job is getting up to speed – especially in engineering, where new employees are often thrown into an ongoing project alongside colleagues who have been working on it for months or even years. But as Steve Eicher, a recent graduate of University of California Los Angeles, and new engineer at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business, has discovered, new methods are making that transition much easier.

Digital engineering has leveled the playing field by providing everyone on a project the same information at every point in the process – a “single source of truth” that provides the entire team with a complete, on-demand reference guide. It also plays to the strengths of new engineers who are just entering the workforce – a generation of natural innovators who are eager to develop disruptive technology.

"It's new, fun and fulfilling," Eicher said.

New RI&S engineers are discovering that digital engineering can show them how one small design change can affect cost and schedule many years into the future. Through the use of a “digital thread,” RI&S is moving toward connecting multiple pieces of a system’s lifecycle: design, testing, manufacturing and operations.

“Digital engineering is changing the way we work, dramatically,” said Joe Campagna, senior manager, Protected Communication Systems for RI&S. “The new ecosystem we’re building is collaborative and really allows engineers to do engineering.”

Digital engineering is also ideal for experimentation. Through the use of digital twins – accurate virtual versions of real-world systems – engineers can test out their ideas without worry that they’ll damage physical equipment or cause some other costly setback. They make small changes and immediately understand what kind of effect it could have on a part of a product or the cost of a component. It also allows for increased opportunities to customize products, and, through data analysis, finding new solutions for problems.

“The process keeps me on my toes constantly,” said Eicher, a systems engineer with mission engineering at RI&S. “A lot of the solutions we’re working on could have many different approaches so we keep experimenting and continue looking at new ways we can do things better.”

Digital engineering can present even more opportunities to for early engineers to learn key skills from more senior employees, thanks to the developing ability to get right to work on a project.

“On some programs, we’re beginning to automate a lot of the ‘busy work,’ which then allows engineers from across the business to jump right in and start solving the big problems,” said Pete Vitt, chief engineer for the Future Advanced Systems and Technology program at RI&S .

Engineers entering the workforce are typically predisposed to new technology and using input to make educated decisions – two key tenets of digital engineering. RI&S is actively investing in the next generation of engineers to bring these life and educational skills to the company.

“If someone wants to advance, learn new technology, and become a better-rounded engineer, the opportunity has never been more accessible than it is now,” said Madison Dye, a systems engineer at RI&S.

And the benefits of exploring digital engineering offer new possibilities for the future.

“To maximize the effort of the next generation, you’ll want to minimize the culture shock they might experience,” said Mason Groomes, a recent graduate of University of Alabama and a systems engineer with the mission systems architecting team at RI&S. “When methods and solutions work the way they expect them to look, you’ll get a lot more out of employees.”

Published On: 05/03/2021