Northrop Grumman Completes 3D Product Model for Next-Generation Aircraft Carrier

January 21, 2010

In both the automotive and aerospace industries, engineers have used product models to better visualize designs and plan their manufacturing accordingly.

But Northrop Grumman Corp. took it to a far larger scale recently by using 3-D CAD software to develop a detailed design for the Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) Navy aircraft carrier. Just how vast is the scale? Consider that the ship is broken down into over 400 different design zones and constitutes more than 3 million parts.

According to Michael Shawcross, vice president of aircraft carrier construction programs at Northrop Grumman, the CVN 78 is the Navy's first aircraft carrier to be completely designed using a 3-D product model.

In November, Northrop Grumman completed the detailed design phase of the 3-D product model using CATIA from Dassault Systemes. The CVN 78's product model includes the definition of the ship's geometry and technical definition of the ship's parts, including the procurement, planning and manufacturing data.

"It helps us to forecast parts earlier in the design process," says Shawcross. "When you develop a design for multiple disciplines, involving hundreds of systems being designed into the same space, you have to sequence all of those and have a hierarchy of priority. Doing it in a product model, the computer lines it all up."

The software helped to identify areas of overlap, where, for example, piping layout might have interfered with maintenance criteria.

While the CVN 78 will continue to evolve, says Shawcross, it is now at the stage where the initial design data is complete and the entire carrier exists in a virtual environment. As a result, construction teams in its Newport News, Va., shipyard can virtually walk through the carrier's spaces before actually starting the physical build.

The CVN 78, which is the first ship of its class, is scheduled to be delivered to the Navy in 2015.