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Grad student receives INCOSE Stevens Award

Photo of Bill Bihlman
Bill Bihlman
PhD student Bill Bihlman received the 2019 Stevens Doctoral Award from the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE).

Bihlman received the award "for promising research in Systems Engineering and Integration". His research is titled "A systems methodology for additive manufacturing's impact on production networks". Bihlman is co-advised by Professors C. Robert Kenley and Gary Cheng

The award was presented during the Tuesday morning plenary session at the 2019 INCOSE International Symposium in Orlando, FL, on July 23.

"I'm quite thrilled - and surprised - by this award. It's an honor," said Bihlman. "I attribute my success to Professor Kenley's mentorship. He has been an advocate both intellectually and professionally, and it has been a real pleasure to collaborate."

"Mr. Bihlman's research will broaden the applicability of methods from MBSE and SOSE to configuration item design and to production and manufacturing," explained Kenley. "The proposed methodology will demonstrate how to use MBSE and SOSE methods to construct a predictive model that investigates the broad trade-offs between component design, manufacturing process design, and supply chain network effects. Other than the current work of Leon McGinnis at Georgia Tech and of the INCOSE Production and Logistics MBSE Challenge Team, this is one of the few research activities to apply systems engineering methodologies to production and manufacturing since the development of the Purdue Enterprise Reference Architecture, which used structured analysis and design techniques to advance computer integrated manufacturing in the 1990s."

Bihlman has over 20 years of experience in aerospace both as an engineer and as a management consultant. His PhD research involves modeling the adoption of additive manufacturing within aerospace. In particular, Bihlman is developing a methodology using a systems approach to predict the behavior of sub-tier suppliers, which will likely be adversely affected by this new paradigm.

The Stevens Doctoral Award is given to inspire and recognize innovative doctoral-level research related to the field of systems engineering and integration. This award includes a cash grant to the doctoral student along with a plaque and recognition at the Annual INCOSE Symposium. Students are awarded the grant based on their advancement of the state-of-the-knowledge in systems engineering and integration, and their potential for the advancement of the state-of-the-practice of systems engineering and integration within the next 5-10 years.

The INCOSE 2025 vision states, "In 2025 and beyond, systems engineering will be a key integrator role for collaborative enterprise engineering that span regions, cultures, organizations, disciplines, and life cycle phases. This will result in multi-disciplinary engineering workflows and data being integrated to support agile program planning, execution, and monitoring. The collaboration will extend across the supply chain so that customers, primes, subcontractors, and suppliers are integrated throughout all phases of development."

“A systems methodology for additive manufacturing's impact on production networks”

Additive manufacturing (AM) is emerging technology that could substantially disrupt the existing paradigm. Most of the research focuses on understanding the physical phenomena. Very little information has been published regarding the implications for the supply chain. This research focuses on aero gas turbine production network, which arguably has the highest barriers-of-entry for new technology of any industry.

The gas turbine is a complex machine that demands a sophisticated production ecosystem. Considerations such as financial risk, technology expertise, and access to market encourage a globally diverse supply base. A typical gas turbine Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) has over 2000 suppliers. A fundamental understanding of the supplier network is imperative to properly understand the industrialization of AM. The goal of this research is to determine how the quantity, structure, and capability of suppliers fundamentally shifts upon adopting AM parts by the OEMs.

The working hypotheses is that the Tier 3 suppliers – the small shops that number in the thousands and build-to-print detailed parts – will decrease in quantity. The beneficiaries will be the larger and more capable suppliers likely at the Tier 1 and 2 level, and perhaps the OEMs themselves. This is predicated upon several relevant examples, including GE Aircraft, GKN Aerospace and Arconic. The nuances in the AM process will favor firms with considerable capital and a sophisticated digital-production protocol associated with AM systems. Some experts, nevertheless, have speculated that AM will “democratize” the supply chain by enabling smaller suppliers. Meanwhile, this will also encourage new entrants as exemplified by Oerlikon’s recent investments.  

There are three steps involved in developing this methodology. The first step is to identify the parts within the gas turbine that would be candidates for AM replacement. This screening process involves elements of design – such as size, complexity and application – as well as the economics associated with batch serialized part production. The second step is to model the plant workflow. The objective is to quantify the impact upon the various work-steps for AM parts versus traditionally manufactured parts such as forgings, castings and extrusions. In particular, Discrete Event Simulation (DES) will be used to approximate the relative change in cost associated with the new design. The third and final step is to aggregate each of the plant outputs to ascertain the net effect on the production network. This will involve an Agent Based Model (ABM) subjected to various supply chain conditions. Parametric studies will be used to determine the 'best' or most likely supply chain structure. This in turn will be compared against actual behavior within the marketplace.