Custom Test Systems for the Aerospace / Defense Industry2019-02-12T10:29:30-04:00

Aerospace Test Systems | Defense Test Systems

Custom Test Equipment for the Aerospace / Defense Industry

  • Over 300 aero-def test solutions delivered

  • Platinum-level National Instruments Alliance Partner, putting us in the top 2% worldwide

You’re risk averse and your customers expect a high level of rigor because your products are mission-critical.

With hundreds (>300) of aero-def test solutions delivered, our aero-def expertise focuses on test system development (both manufacturing test & product/design validation) for mission-critical components and sub-systems.

How we can help: our capabilities & expertise

  • ITAR Registered

  • Manufacturing test system development

  • Product validation system development (including endurance/reliability/durability testers)

  • HIL (Hardware-In-the-Loop) modeling using real-time, FPGA, and Simulink models

  • Real-time control

  • PID control loop development

  • Signal acquisition – e.g. pressure, vibration, load, temperature, force, distance, strain

  • Signal conditioning circuit board design

  • Extensive automated test report generation

  • Test executives (see StepWise)

Want more proof points?  Check out these aero-def case studies:

Endurance Testing using NI PXI

Endurance Testing using NI PXI

An automated system permits faster validation, unattended test, an increase in throughput, and can free up resources for other tasks during the weeks long endurance test.

Client – A manufacturer of aircraft components in the mil-aero industry

Challenge

New product development drove the need for a new endurance test system for product validation. The old systems were not designed to test the newly designed part (aircraft actuators), and the company didn’t have the time or resources to reconfigure existing systems to perform the testing required.

Solution

The new PXI-based endurance test system provides automated electromechanical testing, full data recording, report generation and a diagnostic panel for intelligent debug. Viewpoint selected the NI equipment, while the test consoles, and other components were selected and fabricated by the customer.

Benefits

  • An automated system permits faster validation, unattended test, an increase in throughput, and can free up resources for other tasks during the weeks long endurance test.
  • Full data recording with a data viewer enables post analysis, which provides the ability to review and analyze raw signals captured during execution. Channel examples are actuator LVDT position, load, current, and encoder actuator position.
  • Summary report capability allows the customer to document the amount of testing completed against the full endurance test schedules.
  • A manual diagnostic operational panel provides the ability to verify particular DUT functionality or components without running an entire schedule.
  • Systems can be paused and restarted to allow for “scheduled maintenance” of the DUT such as inspections, lubrication, etc.

System Overview

The PXI-based endurance test system enables data collection, deterministic PID Loop Control, emergency shutdown and a diagnostic panel for manual test and debug operation. The system runs endurance test schedules, that are defined as a recipe for test execution. These schedules, which are customer-defined and DUT-specific, are designed to simulate the actual conditions the DUT would see in real world application as closely as possible. LabVIEW-RT was used for the deterministic looping for Closed Loop Control of Actuator Position and Load Control. LVDT demodulation was performed on a PXI FPGA card programmed with LabVIEW FPGA.

SOFTWARE FUNCTIONS
GUI
Summary Reports
Full Data Collection for Real-Time and Post Analysis
Deterministic PID Loop Control
E-Stop Management
Diagnostics Panel for Manual Test and Debug
Endurance Test Schedule Execution
Hydraulic Control Panel for Source & Load PSI Control
HARDWARE USED
PXI
Various PXI-based Data Acquisition Cards
PXI RT Controller
PXI FPGA Card
INTERFACES / PROTOCOLS
TCP/IP

Endurance Tester for Mission-Critical Mechanical Component using NI cRIO

Endurance Tester for Mission-Critical Mechanical Component using NI cRIO

Ability to run tests unattended and overnight reduces operator labor and compresses test schedules

Client – Major Aerospace Component Supplier / Manufacturer

Challenge

The client had an older VB & PLC-based test system in place already, but it was obsolete. A new endurance test system needed to be developed to validate prototyped components (in this case, aircraft & aerospace bearings). Many of the prototypes are one-off, so it was important that the test system not destroy the component.

Solution

A new endurance test system was developed to validate prototyped components. The test system can be configured for automatic shutdowns so as not to destroy the component under test in the event of unexpected performance of electro-mechanical subsystem components. The updated endurance tester supports product validation by allowing the product to run under various test conditions (e.g. speed, load, oil flow, temperature) and collecting data for analysis.

Viewpoint developed the software and selected the NI hardware (other hardware was selected by the client).

Benefits

  • Ability to run tests unattended and overnight eases operator labor and compresses test schedules

  • Data collection allows for offline engineering analysis

  • Automatic shutdowns reduce destruction of the prototype component under test

System Overview

The updated cRIO-based endurance tester incorporates configurable profiles, data logging, and automatic shutdown to allow for safer extended validation testing.  LabVIEW FPGA and LabVIEW RT were used together to interface with the test hardware sensors and controls.  LabVIEW as used create the HMI for the test system.

SOFTWARE FUNCTIONS
Closed loop control of bearing test oil flow
Axial load control
Driver for Emerson VFD
E-Stop and safety management (shutdowns based on alarm limits)
Data collection – temperature, pressure, flow, vibration, frequency
Operator/Diagnostic GUI for control of system
HARDWARE USED
NI CompactRIO (cRIO)
NI C Series Current Input Module
NI C Series Voltage Input Module
NI C Series Temperature Input Module
NI C Series Current Output Module
NI C Series Analog Input Module
NI C Series Sound and Vibration Input Module
NI C Series Digital Module
Emerson VFD (Variable Frequency Drive)
INTERFACES / PROTOCOLS
TCP/IP
TCP Modbus
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Product Validation using LabVIEW RT & LabVIEW FPGA – Electromechanical Actuator Test Stand

Product Validation using LabVIEW RT & LabVIEW FPGA – An electromechanical actuator test stand

Automated testing reduces operator man hours and increases production throughput.

Client – A manufacturer of actuators in the mil-aero industry.

Challenge

New Product Introduction (in this case a new controller and new actuators) drove the need for a new automated electromechanical test stand.

Solution

New NI PXI-based electromechanical test equipment provided automated testing, report generation, and SPC data generation.  The sequencing of the test procedure, reporting, and verifiable results were managed with the StepWise platform.

Benefits

  • Automated testing reduces operator man hours and increases production throughput.
  • Meets strict customer requirements regarding testing and data recording in a verifiable manner.
  • Automated Test Report Generation.
  • Collects data to support SPC (Statistical Process Control).
  • Ability to obtain the internal state of the controller FPGA via the LVDS communication link.

System Overview

Viewpoint developed the software and selected NI data acquisition and control hardware for the test stand.  There are several layers of software functionality.

HOST LABVIEW SOFTWARE LAYER
Test sequencer
Test steps (e.g. Frequency Response, Step Response, Dynamic Stiffness, Fault Response, Power Consumption)
Test Report Generator
GUI
REAL-TIME (RT) LABVIEW SOFTWARE LAYER
Data acquisition
1553 comms
Function generator
Error detection
ESTOP
LABVIEW FPGA SOFTWARE LAYER
Synch data from 3 sources (tester, UUT, external DAQ device)
Stream high-speed data to disk
Stream high-speed data to analog outputs for engineering use
Custom communication protocol used by UUT over LVDS lines
HARDWARE RECOMMENDED
NI PXIe
NI FlexRIO card with LVDS adapter module
Multiple NI R Series cards
High speed, high voltage, isolated analog input cards
INTERFACES / PROTOCOLS
MIL-STD 1553 bus
LVDS
Ethernet
Custom TCP/IP

*- images are conceptual only, not actual

Yes, I need an automated test system »

Product Validation & Production Test System – For complex Mission-critical sub-system

Product Validation & Production Test System – For complex Mission-critical sub-system

Client

Ensign-Bickford Aerospace & Defense

Upgrade reduces per unit test time by ~40% and improves reliability of software

Challenge

The customer needed to upgrade their existing test system.  Their old test system was very manual:

  • It did not provide ability for unattended operation
  • The thermal control had to be set manually
  • They wanted to do less manual review of the data

The client develops mission-critical products, so there’s a desire to reduce manual operations because they have to explain any anomalies, and manual operations are typically more error-prone.  They needed repeatable results that they could trust.

Solution

Viewpoint developed a new test system that utilized new hardware and software, augmented by existing low level hardware and firmware.  The test system was developed to perform both functional test for production and environmental testing, and was designed to handle up to 4 DUTs at once. The test system utilizes the StepWise test executive software with custom test steps, which allowed the client to create their own highly configurable test sequences.  The system was developed in two phases, with the second phase adding support for a FPGA expansion backplane (NI CompactRIO chassis) in order to provide future capability for bringing some of the microcontroller sequence activity into the NI space. In addition, the previous version had a mix of serial, TTL, and USB instrumentation, which was not as robust as Ethernet based instrumentation. Phase II involved upgrading to all Ethernet based instrumentation, and did away with the original test system’s many manual toggle switches that could be used instead of the programmable mode through the SW.

Benefits

  • ~40% test time reduction per unit
  • ~25% reduction in anomalies that needed to be justified
  • ~500 manhours saved in test execution

System Overview

Software Functions
Test sequencing
Test report generation
Data recording/logging
Error handling
Test GUI
Oscilloscope interface
Thermal chamber interface
Power supply interface
External custom hardware interface
I need an automated test system »

Hidden Factory Assessments Lead to Waste and Cost Reductions

Sharing Business and Test Data Enables Efficiency Improvements

 

Reduce Production Costs by Coordinating Business and Test Data

 

Client: A major manufacturer of aerospace components

Problem Scope

Many companies operate in a high-mix, low-volume manufacturing environment. In these situations, production of such parts is often complex, with long assembly and test procedures describing the process to make and verify the part. Discussions of automating any part of these processes are often dismissed because an automated test system is thought to be expensive, especially when each part is thought to need a unique test system.

Challenge

Our client wanted to improve their capability to manage the assembly procedures and get clarity on the status of any parts, whether partially or fully assembled. The existing situation had data manually-entered into a database form or even handwritten data that needed to be transcribed into a database. Often the database was local to the assembly cell. The chance for error was significant and the lag between data collection and updating the database was often days. When questions arose about the status of a particular unit, many hours could be spent in locating and evaluating the associated forms and paperwork.

The steps needed to achieve these goals were clear: automate the collection data on each part while being assembled so that those results would appear in a business-level database which would give a plant-wide view of the status of all the parts in progress.

Thus, this project needed to allow read/write access to sections of the Manufacturing Enterprise System (MES) database so that information about a part being assembled could be obtained automatically and results could be submitted to that MES database automatically.

Solution

We designed the PXI-based system based on the StepWise platform to automate the assembly and testing.  This platform enables two significant changes. These changes were made at each assembly cell by having the operator use a test PC and perhaps some measurement equipment as appropriate for the part(s) being assembled at that cell.

First, we replaced all the printed assembly procedures with electronic records so that any operator could review the latest version of the work instructions on a computer screen. This approach helped with version control, especially important since the client had various model revisions that came through the factor for rework, each with slightly different versions of assembly instructions.

Second, we displayed those electronically documented work procedures as steps in a test executive, allowing the results of each step in the assembly procedure to be captured electronically. When an assembly step was purely manual with no measurements, the fact that step was completed would be recorded, along with information such as the name of the operator performing the step, the duration that the step took, and so on. When a step required a measurement to be made, such as a functionality verification or a calibration result, the measurement would be collected. If the equipment making that measurement could be automated, we would collect that data automatically, and not require the operator to type the result into a computer form.

The outcome of this effort has enabled the client to get a snapshot of the status of parts in assembly, i.e., Works in Progress (WIP), quickly and accurately.

After these changes were made, many additional capabilities are now available with the advent of purpose-built queries into the appropriate MES database tables. The table below shows the overall efficiency gains achieved.

reduce-production-costs-tool-gain-chart

The key is the combination of the electronic test results obtained at the test equipment with information on work orders and manufacturing flow held in the various tables in the business MES database. This improvement happens even with manual or semi-automated test systems, and does not require a completely automated assembly and test system. Thus, the cost of the test system is much less than usually expected and, hence, the benefits are more easily cost-justified.

High-Speed Digital Record and Playback Solution

DRAP-hardware-options

High-Speed Digital Record and Playback Solution

 

At maximum throughput, the systems needed to consume during record and produce during playback about 800 MB/s/slot.

 

Client: A large company involved in C4ISR

Background

A large company involved in C4ISR was developing a system for a new high-speed digital sensor device. Viewpoint was contracted to build a test system used in design validation and ultimately endurance testing of the sensor. Since the sensor was a component of a larger system which was being developed at the same time, another test system was created to simulate the sensor by feeding signals into the system.

Challenge

Both the amount of data and the frequencies of the various digital signals were nearly at the limit of hardware capabilities. At maximum throughput, the systems needed to consume during record and produce during playback about 800 MB/s/slot. The FPGA clock on the FlexRIO had to run up to 300 MHz. The skew between triggers for data transmission needed to be less than 5 ns even between multiple FlexRIO cards even when the parallel data paths has inherent skews associated with the sensor. Finally, the systems needed to handle clocks that might be out-of-phase.

Achieving these requirements required significant engineering design in the face of multiple possible roadblocks, any one of which could have eliminated a successful outcome.

Furthermore, as usual, the development timeline was tight. In this case, it was a very tight 3 months.

Viewpoint’s Solution

To meet the timeline, we had to work in parallel across several fronts:

  • LabVIEW-based application development for both record and playback
  • LabVIEW FPGA development for marshalling data between the controller and DRAM
  • Custom FAM circuit board design and build
  • FlexRIO FPGA CLIP nodes and code for low-level data handling

Technical Highlights

This sensor had several parallel data paths of clock and data lines with clock speeds up to 300 MHz on each path requiring exacting design and build of a custom FlexRIO Adapter Module (FAM) and unique custom CLIP nodes for extending the FlexRIO FPGA capabilities. The FAM also had a special connector for interfacing to the customer’s hardware.

Additional NI hardware and software completed the system components.

LabVIEW Layers

The host application, written in LabVIEW, managed the configuration of the data acquisition and the control of the LabVIEW RT-based FlexRIO systems. The configuration primarily dealt with the number of sensor channels in use, skew settings between digital lines, and other parameters that dealt with the organization of the data passed between the sensor and the FlexRIO.

Two FlexRIO applications were written, one for record and one for playback. Each FlexRIO application was written in LabVIEW, and managed the configuration of the FlexRIO cards and the movement of data between the FlexRIO cards and the RAID drives. Note that Windows supported for the RAID driver. Between 10 and 32 DMA channels were used for streaming, depending on the number of sensor channels being used.

And, each FlexRIO application had an FPGA layer, written in LabVIEW FPGA enhanced with custom CLIP nodes. For the record application, we developed a custom DRAM FIFO on the FPGA to assist with the latencies on the PXIe bus. For the playback application, we were able to stream directly from DRAM.

FlexRIO Considerations

The FlexRIO and stock FAMs from NI were initially considered as candidates for this project. Clearly, working with commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components would be most effective. Three options were available at the project start which could accommodate the required clock frequencies, but none offered both the required channel counts and skew/routing limitations. Hence, we had to design a custom FAM. This decision, made before the start of the project, turned out to be wise in hindsight because the parallel development path resulted in some shifts of sensor requirements which could be accommodated with the custom FAM but might have led to a dead-end with a COTS FAM.

FlexRIO CLIP

In LabVIEW FPGA, a CLIP Node is a method to import custom FPGA IP (i.e., code) into a LabVIEW FPGA application. CLIP stands for Component-Level Intellectual Property. We needed to use special Socketed CLIP Nodes (i.e., VHDL that can access FPGA pins) for this project because we could expose additional features of the Xilinx Virtex-5 not exposed in LabVIEW FPGA by accessing Xilinx primitives. Some specific features were:

  • Faster FPGA clocking
  • Additional clocking options
  • Individual clock and skew control
  • Custom PLL de-jitter nodes

Essentially, the FPGA design had a majority of FPGA code developed in LabVIEW FPGA and we used CLIP Nodes for interfacing the signals between the FlexRIO and the FAM.

DRAP-case-study-image

FlexRIO Adapter Module

As mentioned earlier, we had to create a custom FAM because of the need to route high speed signals from customer-specific high density connectors while synchronizing signals across multiple data channels and FPGA modules to within one (300 MHz) clock cycle.

At these high-speeds, the FAM needed careful buffering and impedance matching both on the signals as well internal components on the FAM PCB. At the start of the design, we utilized Mentor Graphics HyperLynx High Speed DDR signaling Simulation software to minimize signal reflections prior to building actual hardware. This step saved countless hours in spinning physical hardware designs.

We designed the FAM to allow channel routing and access to additional clock and trigger pins on the Xilinx chip and PXIe backplane.

Results

The choice to base these digital record and playback systems on NI hardware and software was critical to completing this project. The open architecture in both hardware (custom FAM) and software (CLIP Nodes) enabled us to include some very creative extensions to the base toolset without which the project would not have succeeded in the allotted pressured schedule and on a predetermined budget. We were able to stretch the capabilities of the hardware and software very close to their maximum specifications by combining COTS and custom much more cost effectively than a purely custom design.

Check out DRAP »

Decreasing Test Time for Aircraft Landing Gear

Decreasing Test Time for Aircraft Landing Gear

Endurance Testing for Aircraft Nose Landing Gear Steering

Client: A major manufacturer of aircraft landing systems

Challenge

A major manufacturer of aircraft landing equipment needed to develop a means of endurance and fatigue testing new designs for aircraft steering. The actuators involved in steering the nose landing gear (NLG) required precise and reliable control through thousands of steering cycles.

Control loops needed to be closed at faster than 1 ms.

Prior systems were handled manually without real-time control and monitoring.

 Solution

Our customer designed and built a test rig to provide the hydraulics and environmental conditions for the endurance testing on the NLG. Viewpoint Systems supplied the electronic data acquisition and control hardware coupled with real-time software to provide the required fast control loops. The configuration and execution of the 1000s of steering cycles were managed by the same data acquisition and control system through a set of configuration screens that allowed specification of turn rates, min/max angles, drive and resistive torque settings, and so on.

  • The various PID control loop configurations were also configurable along with gain scheduling required under different operating conditions.
  • The environmental conditions were supported by controlling a temperature chamber through ramp and soak settings occurring during the steering tests.
  • Measurements on the steering performance were collected from commanded setpoints, sensor readings, and controller outputs during the entire test run.
  • Alarm and fault conditions, such as force exceedance, were monitored continuously during operation so that the system could safely run unattended.

The entire system underwent an extremely rigorous acceptance testing procedure to verify proper and safe operation.

SOFTWARE FUNCTIONS
Arbitrary Load and Position Profiles
Flight Position Control
Load Position/Force Control
Endurance/Flight Schedule Execution
Deterministic RT for DAQ and PID Control
HARDWARE
PXI/SCXI Hybrid RT Chassis
Discrete Pump Skid Interface
Custom Control Panel/Console
INTERFACES
Ethernet TCP/IP
SCXI

Results

Prior to deployment of our system, setup of a test was much more manual and operators needed to be around to monitor operation.

With our new system, complete endurance testing could be specified and executed with minimal supervision. Furthermore, the tight integration of real-time control and coordinated data collection made report creation much simpler than before.

The rigorous acceptance test gave trustworthiness to the data and allowed the design engineers to validate performance more quickly than the prior semi-automatic and manual methods of operation.

Setup of tests has been improved from prior operations. The endurance testing itself operated over a huge number of cycles lasting weeks to months between scheduled lubrication and maintenance.

The deployed system measures performance during the entire testing, even between the scheduled downtime.

If you need a custom test system for your mission-critical aero-def component,  reach out here.

Yes, I need a custom test system for my mission-critical part »

Want to learn how to make your assembly and test process a competitive advantage?  Check out this webinar »

Designs need to be extensively validated, and manufactured products require comprehensive testing. In contrast to aero-def products from the early 2000s, an increasing number of products now use embedded controllers. Such products require interfacing to electronic components in order to test the combined mechanical and electrical performance of the entire system. Products often need the test system to simulate the surrounding subsystems and/or environment in order to assess performance in as realistic a situation as possible. These simulations are usually handled by either Hardware-In-the-Loop (HIL) or Software-In-the-Loop (SIL) subsystems. Depending on the levels of allowed latency and jitter levels, the HIL simulation may run on either or both of an FPGA or an RTOS that supports hardware I/O. The SIL simulation will almost always need an RTOS.

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