Extended service life poses test challenges
Military and aerospace companies and organizations are facing three key trends: Militaries are extending the service life of their aircraft, maintenance and sustainment test equipment must be upgraded or replaced, and manufacturing test equipment held together with Band Aids over the years needs to be replaced.
Elaborating on these trends, Steve Sargeant, Major General, USAF (Ret.), and CEO, Marvin Test Solutions, said, “It’s not uncommon to find airplanes that traditionally would have been retired by the time the systems hit 20 to 22 years of age now in their fourth decade. Often times, the test equipment was fielded when the system was first fielded and has not been updated since then.” Such test systems, he said, are obsolete, cannot be cost-effectively upgraded, and cannot contend with the smart weapons and digital avionics that the aircraft now accommodates.
As for manufacturing test, he said, many cumbersome legacy test systems are manually driven, with operators reading instructions on paper (or working by rote memory) and setting switches and dials accordingly. Marvin Test Solutions, he said, can automate the process with a system that has a smaller footprint and higher throughput.
Such trends, he said in a recent phone conversation, have become clear in one-on-one conversations with customers and prospective customers and at industry events such as the 2014 Farnborough International Airshow.
In an interview last year (shortly after the company changed its name from Geotest-Marvin Test Systems), Sargeant said the company’s goal is “to make test easy.”1 That continues to be the goal this year, he said, despite the increasing complexity of the equipment under test. “We look at it from the maintainer or technician and engineer’s perspective,” he said. “How can we reduce their workload?” He cited as an example the company’s MTS-3060 SmartCan, which can emulate an AMRAAM (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile). “We have automated the steps that are required when you connect the SmartCan to a launcher,” he said. “Within a very short time, you can run all the tests, and if there is a problem, you’re notified right away. If the test is good, you’re notified when the test is complete, and you can move on to the next station.”
Marvin Test Solutions offerings extend from the flightline to the semiconductor production test floor. For the latter, Sargeant said, customers are looking for flexibility and affordability. MTS customers in this area, he said, tend to be small and medium semiconductor developers and producers that want an alternative to the very large and capable but also very expensive test systems that exist today on many factory floors. Small and medium producers, he said, are unlikely to cross the threshold of buying a large system and consequently could pay a lot to rent time on one. MTS, he said, offers a flexible and affordable alternative.
This interview was conducted in the runup to Autotest 2014 in September. Sargeant said a conflict would prevent him from attending but that MTS would continue to support the show. Indeed, MTS had a significant presence. Our December issue will highlight products and technologies from MTS as well as other Autotest participants.
Looking ahead, Sargeant said he expects to see government demanding more investment by its prospective suppliers to “ensure there is skin in the game on industry’s side. Companies can’t just wait for a purchase order but will actually have to have prototypes ready to demonstrate.” You can’t just walk into a meeting with a PowerPoint presentation, he said. You’ll need to demonstrate a solution, whether it’s hardware, software, or a turnkey system. He added that today customers often want to be part of the solution—by developing test-program software, for example.
“I think there are going to be opportunities with our aerospace customers to be able to show them early on that we’ve made the right kind of investments in the hardware and software arena,” he said. “Coupled with our domain expertise, we will be able to demonstrate that we can provide them with the capabilities they need to meet their requirements for their very demanding customers.”
Sargeant concluded by noting that it will be important to deliver what customers need today—without adding bells and whistles that will impose costs in terms of dollars or time to market. “Not many industries can afford to pay today for capabilities they might need in the future,” he said, adding that nevertheless customers want solutions they can modernize and expand as needs change. “We are loathe to deliver something that already has consumed all the capabilities available.”
Nelson, R., “Marvin Test Solutions Looks to Make Test Easy,” EE-Evaluation Engineering, October 2013, p. 40.