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Grad student wants to streamline technical communication across the aerospace industry

By conducting intensive interviews, she breaks down barriers between collaborators who don't speak the same technical language
February 27, 2018

Andrea Cartile completed her first bachelor’s degree at Concordia, a BSc in Biology, in 2012. She then earned a BEng in Mechanical Engineering.

Now, she’s working on her third degree from the university: an MASc in Quality Systems Engineering, offered through the Concordia Institute for Information Systems Engineering (CIISE). The program emphasizes experiential learning through hands-on industry apprenticeships.

Cartile is supervised by professor Catharine Marsden and her research is funded by the NSERC Chair in Aerospace Design Engineering (NCADE), and an NSERC Engage Grant.

Her work has involved observing the aerospace industry and conducting intensive interviews to figure out what barriers exist between different people working on the same product who aren’t speaking the same technical language.

Hands-on training provided an exceptional overview of aviation

How do these specific images (above and below) relate to your research at Concordia?

A large portion of my research process was spent learning about aircraft and aircraft design in industry. These photos show the kind of experiential learning I have been fortunate enough to partake in as part of my graduate studies.

The first photo was taken at the École Nationale d'Aérotechnique (below) during a 312-hour Aircraft Systems Familiarization training. It was a part of the NCADE undergraduate apprenticeship program jointly funded by NSERC and the NCADE industrial partners.

This hands-on training provided both an exceptional overview of aviation and an indispensable foundation for understanding aircraft systems. It also provided the opportunity to become a teaching assistant for AERO 201: Introduction to Flight and Aerospace Systems’ hands-on labs.

The second photo (top) was taken at the Abbotsford Airshow in British Columbia. I was a volunteer at the Cascade Aerospace C-130 Hercules static display in August 2017.

To figure out how people in the aerospace industry can work around communications barriers, Andrea Cartile spent time learning first-hand about aircraft and aircraft design.

These experiences were instrumental in helping me choose a research topic and develop an ever-increasing appreciation of the complexity of the aviation industry.

What is the hoped-for result of your project?

My research problem involves three main variables: the aircraft modification industry, product lifecycle management (PLM) and PLM-specific language.

Standardization of technical jargon, commonly referred to as ontology in the software sector, is a well-documented issue. It is, however, not often discussed in terms of person-to-person interaction in a small-to-medium enterprise setting, where a single large PLM software and process solution, aimed toward unifying this language, may not be present.

I argue that different PLM methods (such as Lean, PMBOK, etc.) use different language to describe the product lifecycle, which contributes to communication barriers. This is particularly cumbersome for complex product development, such as aircraft modification, which is the case study context of this work.

I am proposing a technique called “process mapping” as a useful tool to help overcome this communication barrier.

What impact could you see it having on people's lives?

While many fields struggle to agree on common language, the aerospace sector is notorious for acronyms and semantic interpretation of words. For example, how many ways can you interpret the word “product”?

In my research on PLM, I think identifying the problem and proposing a solution may help in both day-to-day communication and company-wide process development.

What are some of the major challenges you face in your research? What are some of the key areas where your work could be applied?

I think the aerospace industry would take several lifetimes to learn completely. Just learning enough to identify this issue took a lot of work.

The intent of this work is to generate constructive discussion around how to use PLM methods as constructive, unifying tools in companies that won’t see a meaningful return from investing in big PLM software solutions.

The aircraft modification industry is the case study I’m using for my thesis, but I think the conversation can extend far beyond this sector. Aircraft modification is a fascinating and highly complex topic, and I hope this research is well-rooted enough in the industry to be of value.

What person, experience or moment in time first inspired you to study this subject and get involved in the field?

I am in this field because it’s brand new to me and extremely challenging. While in my last year of my BSc in Biology, I decided I no longer wanted to pursue veterinary sciences. Instead, I decided to do a second undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering to learn more about how stuff works.

I got involved with the Concrete Toboggan Team during my first year of engineering, which led to three years in the Concordia chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers.

It was through SAE that I met my MA.Sc. supervisor, Dr. Catharine Marsden, associate professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science and senior chairholder of the NSERC Chair in Aerospace Design Engineering.

Aerospace sounded like a great idea because I knew virtually nothing about it.

How can interested STEM students get involved in this line of research? What advice would you give them?

Montreal is the third largest aerospace hub in the world. Getting into the industry from engineering studies is likely most accessible through work terms during the engineering degree.

Taking an internship, through Co-op, Industrial Experience (INEX), or CIADI, is key to getting a foot in the door, and co-curricular involvement is a huge advantage in what can be a competitive internship market.

For industry-geared graduate studies, choose a supervisor with whom you get along well, who is very involved with their students, who has spent time working in industry, and who understands the value of an experiential learning platform.

What do you like best about being at Concordia?

Concordia has the most incredible sense of community, comradery, and team spirit, making it a phenomenal place to acquire the skills needed for a successful career. There is an extremely wide range of faculty expertise, and there are state-of-the-art technical facilities.

As a result, students are well rounded and well prepared for both industry and research. I am grateful to be able to study at this institution, and hope to stay for a long time.

Are there any partners, agencies or other funding/support attached to your research?

I would like to thank the following for their indispensable and continued support:

Learn more about Concordia’s Institute for Information Systems Engineering,
Department of Mechanical, Industrial & Aerospace Engineering.

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