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When do Smart Manufacturers Design and Test a New Product? Before it is Built.

By Andre Demers
Product Marketing Manager
Apr 23rd 2019
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Here’s a scenario that might resonate with manufacturers: Your company needs to test a new autopilot system for a B767. During this test, you will need to measure the system’s performance on how it climbs from 10,000 feet to 40,000 feet and not overshoot its target by more than 1%. The test will have to be run at least ten times. Of course, each test will have slightly different conditions with regard to wind, time of day, temperature, etc.

In the real world, this test will require hours and hours of testing, tons of fuel, and a crew. This – of course – means that testing will cost money.

A lot of money.

So what is the alternative? Simulation.

Today, simulations are quickly finding bigger and deeper footprints in the research, manufacturing, and development sectors. By employing simulation scenarios while designing new systems or subsystems, manufacturers are quickly and easily able to design, validate, and test at a fraction of the cost.

In the example above, with a simulation, you can run the B767 test in faster than real-time, as many times as you want, under any conditions you like, and there is no cost associated to it except for building the test case. If you tried to do the same number of tests in a real aircraft, it would be extremely challenging (not to mention expensive!). If, for example, you wanted to perform the test with a front wind of 10 knots, then 20 knots, then 100 knots, how would you replicate the exact same weather conditions in reality for each test flight? Simulation, however, brings you the ability to test under all these conditions in a constant environment and as many times as you need.

Manufacturers and Simulation

Manufacturers face a number of challenges that can be overcome using simulated environments. Traditionally, when designing a very precise or complex part, component, or subsystem, manufacturers are often concerned about keeping overhead low and preserving margins. By using simulated environments, these manufacturers (or OEMs, in many cases) can greatly mitigate their risk by testing, validating, and re-testing components on a wide variety of virtual platforms in real-time.

“Testing on an actual aircraft means thousands of dollars. You can save a significant amount of time and money by simulating,”

Testing virtual sensors on virtual vehicles in a virtual world, for example, is becoming increasingly beneficial to aeronautic and aerospace manufacturers. NGC Aerospace, a Canadian aerospace company, recently developed a collision avoidance subsystem for a commercial drone and found simulation to be invaluable.

“Testing on an actual aircraft means thousands of dollars. You can save a significant amount of time and money by simulating,” - David Neveu, Project Manager at NGC Aerospace Design and manufacturing companies traditionally user their own solutions to test systems, subsystems and components. Often, manufacturers will solicit simulation solutions to test a design or product after it has been produced.

But by this time, it might be already too late if the product has a deficiency or flaw.

Simulation testing using robust applications – such as Presagis solutions – can support a V-cycle development model in order for manufacturers to create and simulate realistic, synthetic environments in real-time before manufacturing has begun. Modular and adaptable tools and solutions can also be used for hardware-in-the-loop (HWIL) simulations and provide a platform with complex environments, realistic scenarios, and precise sensor controls.

Launched in 2018, the LX300 is the result of diligent, efficient, and methodical work. The companies that accomplished this accelerated time to market expertly leveraged their experience as well as UAV CRAFT – a groundbreaking unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) simulation and sensor platform.

What is Hardware-in-the-Loop (HWIL)?

Hardware-in-the-Loop – sometimes called HIL or HWIL – is a simulation approach that incorporates hardware interfaces with software. Typically, hardware components will emulate a subsystem or portion of the system/device/vehicle being modeled. Although the Hardware-in-the-Loop approach is often used to test complex, embedded systems such as aerospace components, using a hardware-in-the-loop approach is much more straightforward than that.

HWIL testing is a process in which real signals from a controller (such as a radar, IR sensor, or autopilot system) are connected to a test system that simulates reality, tricking the controller into thinking it is in the assembled product in a real environment. Manufacturers can then easily run through thousands of possible scenarios to test the controller without the cost and time associated with actual physical tests.

Today, HWIL is widely used in aerospace and autonomous vehicles to help mitigate the time and cost of performing real, physical tests.

Simulation: Then and Now

If the advantages of simulation are so clear in terms of flexibility, cost, repeatability, and reliability, then why isn’t every manufacturer doing it?

The answer lies in perception. Many manufacturers still believe that real, physical tests are more efficient and accurate. Compounding this perception is that, historically, simulated testing was very expensive and complex to accomplish. In the past, manufacturers made significant investments and didn’t achieve simulations with the accuracy and quality they were expecting. Understandably, this left many of them skeptical.

What many of these manufacturers are unaware of is how far the technology has come in recent years. The quality and fidelity of simulation have evolved so dramatically that many manufacturers don’t even know what is possible to accomplish using simulation. Virtual tests can now accomplish as much as the real ones, but do them faster, more repeatedly, overnight, without safety constraints, and more robustly. Simulation can accomplish everything that real testing can, and at a reasonable cost.

With flight test costs that could reach upward of $10k per hour, it would only take a few tests to justify the investment in a simulation lab.

The Dwindling Cost of Simulation

Is simulation getting less expensive?

In a word, yes.

In terms of hardware required to run simulations, prices are one third of what they were 10 years ago. Not to mention that the footprint and physical size of the hardware has been greatly reduced as well. Going further, organizations are able to further mitigate costs by running simulations in the cloud.

On the software side, although prices are similar to what they were a decade ago, there are still massive savings to be had. Because of the improvements in the software’s quality and its readily available plug-and-play tools, users are looking at development in terms of weeks and months instead of years to get a real simulation with the proper fidelity. Because manufacturers can now execute simulations in weeks or months instead of years, there are immediate savings – and that is an advantage that did not exist a decade ago.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

The most important advantage of simulation in manufacturing can be summed up in one word: repeatability.

Testing is all about trial and error. Comparing Test A with Test B, then against Test C, then Test D and so on, all the while keeping the exact same context in place. Take our earlier example of the B767 climbing to 40k feet: in an actual flight test, it would be impossible to conduct 10 tests under the exact same atmospheric conditions. In simulation testing, the flight test could be repeated 5000 times, each test under the same atmospheric conditions as the previous one . This consistency not only allows one to make accurate comparisons, but allows designers and manufacturers improve their product/system/algorithm through repeated execution under identical conditions. They are able to change or swap software or hardware, then run the exact same test again and again until they obtain the desired results.

At that point, manufacturers can start introducing perturbations, noise, and other variables in order to test the robustness of their components or systems. For example, how does it perform at night? In the rain? Under high winds? Or perhaps all of the above? Finally, not only is this repeatability easy to accomplish in a simulation, but the cost of repeating a test does not entail any additional expenses.

Testing virtual sensors on virtual vehicles in a virtual world is becoming increasingly beneficial to aeronautic and aerospace manufacturers. However, the benefits are anything but virtual.

Going Forward

Simulation will never replace flight tests – nor is it meant to.

Anything that uses sensors such as drones, autonomous vehicles, radar, navigation systems and so on, can greatly benefit from simulation testing.

The biggest boom in simulation currently underway is on the sensor itself. This is true of every type of sensor, whether it be Lidar, Leddar, IR, etc. In addition, because sensors are now much cheaper, smaller, and more integrated with their included software, it makes them much easier to add to a system -- thereby improving it.

But sensor simulation is only half the equation. Another area that is seeing huge leaps forward is the navigation side of things. Engineering autonomy (such as navigation, autopilot, controllers, sensors, etc.) is still in the midst of a rapid growth. For example, you can now buy COTS components that will come already equipped with an autopilot system that is integrated with inertial systems, GPS, etc. That component can then easily be added to your system and it is already packaged – some even come with plug-and-play capabilities so that you can fly your new hardware right away.

How Presagis Can Help Manufacturers

Presagis understands the costs and requirements demanded of manufacturers engaged in the task of innovating, designing, and prototyping new products or subsystems and provides extremely flexible tools that can help create databases, flight models, avionics systems, sensors, and virtual environments.

Every Presagis product – including our Ondulus sensor family – are physics-based and have been designed with quality of integration in mind. Because our company’s strength is software APIs, all of our products are modular, extendable, and capable of plug-and-play with a system. Our products are also very adaptable to the other products our customers are already using. The ability to integrate Presagis products with other research and prototyping solutions (such as Ansys, Mathworks, etc.) can not only reduce risk, but decrease time to market by providing virtual, simulated environments for real-time component testing – before manufacturing.

“By using [Presagis products] for the flight model testing, our company kept adding components into the flight envelope from the conceptual phase to real development. We were then able to refine all of these components through simulation to advance our development,” said Enrick Laflamme, co-founder of Laflamme Aero.

Our CRAFT open simulator (HELI CRAFT and UAV CRAFT) solutions go one step further and combine all of our tools into a fully-configurable simulator platform that can be quickly and easily adapted to your product, system, or sub-system. From sensor products and avionics, to validation and human factor development, the CRAFT solutions are already being used for research, design, and testing all across the world.

Learn More About Presagis

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