Commercial supersonic transport may soon become available again, thanks to Boom Technology—a Colorado-based aerospace startup working to develop a Mach 2.2 airliner called Overture, which is scheduled to take flight in 2023.
In order for Overture to become a reality, the team must first complete a viable prototype. Right now, Boom is moving full speed ahead to develop the XB-1—a subscale model of the Overture, which shares the same technological composites and features.
The XB-1 is a massive project, with around 150 employees working together to design and manufacture the craft.
More than 3,700 parts will need to be manufactured and assembled, with fabrication occurring in-house and through third-party suppliers.
Challenge: performance issue documentation
At this stage of the project, it’s critical to identify and resolve performance issues in a timely manner. Faulty parts need to be entered as records into a non-conformance report (NCR); each record needs to be closed before the aircraft can be completed.
“We will not fly this aircraft if there are any open records,” says Ryan Bocook, Boom’s manufacturing engineer lead and app creator. “They all have to be closed before we can fly.”
Right now, there are around 50 open records—a figure that may balloon into thousands by the end of the project. If the team is not careful about closing open NCRs, they will pile up thereby delaying the launch.
Bocook, an industry veteran, was well aware of this pitfall at the beginning of the project. He knew that relying on a traditional paper-based inspection process would not work in this type of fast-paced environment.
Instead, the team decided that building a custom app would be the best way to manage its workflow.
“There are a lot of off-the-shelf manufacturing quality management solutions like TIPQA, but they are all fairly complex and time-consuming,” adds Bocook. “They are also very expensive, with some leading platforms costing tens of thousands of dollars annually. We are trying to run a nimble operation and needed to be able to change things on the fly and customize our app as we go along.”
Solution: AppSheet’s no-code platform
Bocook wanted something that could interface directly with his data in Google Sheets, which is what led him to AppSheet.
“I liked that I could go under the hood and piece together together a relatively simple platform on my own, making it more complex as I learn how to use it,” says Bocook. “I found the user community to be very informative.”
Bocook also liked the fact that AppSheet allows his team to control user access, ensuring that only authorized individuals can enter data into specific fields.
“We wanted to set it up so that anyone in our company could log in, create a record and say ‘I have a problem.’ However, we didn’t want everyone to be able to say how to handle that problem. AppSheet’s ability for us to set permissions was huge.”
Bocook hit the ground running with AppSheet, and successfully built a functioning app in just one week’s time—as opposed to waiting several months or longer if he had decided to outsource the project to a third-party development agency.
Bocook built an app that his team could use to create, manage and close NCRs.
The app includes a main dashboard, with different pages for open and closed NCRs.
Each NCR is assigned a unique number and an “owner” who is in charge of seeing it through to completion. The app also contains additional fields including correlating systems, NCR descriptions, process order data, engineering disposition, signature sign offs, and more.
In the app, employees can attach pictures to NCRs. Plus, the app includes a “tag you’re it” feature which notifies employees when approvals are needed. When someone is tagged, he or she receives an email explaining the problem and outlining the next steps that need to be taken.
“The email chain will fire out an email to the originator and tagged team members whenever a message goes out,” Bocook says. “Whoever is in the NCR Owner ‘tag you’re it box’—we call it the hot potato—is the person who owns that record for that time being.”
So far, the project is working out as planned. The team has avoided many of the complications that come with a paper-based management system and is on track to complete the prototype on schedule.
The NCR management process has been completely digitized thanks to AppSheet, resulting in a much safer and more efficient operation.
“We’ve all experienced the challenges of dealing with paper management systems,” Bocook says. “Not only do you waste a lot of time running around chasing paper, but you can lose items or think an item is closed when it hasn’t been addressed. With AppSheet, you can attach a formal analysis to an NCR to officially close it with no guesswork. It’s much nicer than stapling a PDF together.”
According to Bocook, the team has embraced the idea of using AppSheet and was able to get started with minimal training.