Aren’t you sick of Googling for parts, scrolling through long PDF datasheets, manually copy-pasting specs, struggling with keeping supply chain data up-to-date, etc.? Datasheets summarize the performance and other technical characteristics of a product (Wikipedia, 2018), and function to transfer knowledge between suppliers and potential buyers/users. Yet, datasheets in the space industry today are not built to do this efficiently.
Over the last year, we’ve learnt a few things about the state of the space supply chain: we have curated 5000+ space products, 700+ space suppliers, available through satsearch.co today. In this article, we summarize some of the key insights we’ve gained into how we can start closing the knowledge transfer gap between space engineers and suppliers, specifically addressing the the way we create, maintain, and disseminate datasheets.
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Adopting a standard for datasheets
A recent article by Edoardo Barbieri, illustrates how engineers working on the design of highly complex space systems are left facing endless hours hunting for the right specifications. The core problem is the lack of conformity in how data are reported by different suppliers of space systems, subsystems, and components. The engineer is lost in a sea of data, due to the absence of a set of standards and coherence, resulting in the loss of significant man-hours. These man-hours are precious and should be spent on solving core design and engineering challenges, instead of manually wading through long PDF documents to hunt for product information.
Adopting a standardized approach to describe products offered by suppliers can help engineers drastically reduce the time spent searching for the right specifications. Changing the way datasheets are generated by suppliers, by employing well-defined standards, is definitely a task worth undertaking.
Version control and tracking product updates
With the emergence of NewSpace, the industry has started to adopt more “agile” practices, enabling suppliers to adapt to market needs and cater to a wide array of exciting space missions. These rapid iterative changes have a “bull-whip effect” on engineers, who struggle to stay on top of upstream changing in the supply chain. For instance, this manifests as engineers having to work with older version of product datasheets, without any clear way to ascertain whether newer versions have been disseminated by the suppliers. In the worst case, this can lead to significant errors in the design process, due to incorrect specifications being employed.
Engineers are left to grapple with rudimentary methods to maintain archives of product datasheets (typically by storing PDF documents in folders). The engineer is reliant on a “passive information gathering system”, translating to inherent latency in knowledge transfer within the supply chain.
Delivering a solution that systematically tracks changings in product datasheets through version control will solve a massive headache faced by engineers and suppliers alike.
Heritage and on-orbit performance
How many datasheets have you seen out there that have any information on the mission heritage and on-orbit performance of a component or a sub-system? The space industry still struggles to achieve ‘complete and accurate information sharing’. We have discovered that the many suppliers do not provide heritage-related data for missions that have flown their hardware or their on-orbit experience.
Suppliers are possibly holding back this information as leverage, to motivate potential buyers to directly approach them for additional information and quotations. In an ideal world, standardize the manner in which heritage data is communicated to engineers will promote trust, reliability and efficiency within the supply chain. We believe that as the industry progresses towards a more open and competitive ecosystem, data pertaining to heritage, on-orbit performance, and reliability will be provided by suppliers as a means of driving decision-making by buyers earlier on in the design workflow.
Ease of import into the design process
Most engineers today have no automated way of importing specifications from datasheets into their engineering and procurement tools. As a result, most trade studies are incomplete, leading to suboptimal design choices. Some suppliers do share models today, like CAD models, for engineers to directly use in modeling efforts. However, we have catalogued over a hundred software engineering tools used in the space industry today that require engineers use to manually enter data from datasheets: a massive inefficiency in the design process. Creating a toolchain that can help suppliers broadcast datasheets in “importable” formats can help engineers work more efficiently and drive decision-making more robustly.
Our mission remains to consolidate the global space supply chain, fostering increased collaboration, state-of-the-art development, and transparency within the market. In future articles, we will share our approach towards achieving this mission, so stay tuned!