Disruptive approaches to automated take a look at tools
In 2019, automated test and air data loading technology will be disrupted with the introduction of never-before-seen technological concepts, including the world’s first robotic tester for cockpit control panels.
Manufacturers of aircraft system and component tests, as well as airborne data loaders, also bring disruptive new technological concepts that make testing and evaluating aircraft systems and components much easier.
Interviews with Astronics, ATEQ, CCX, Lufthansa Technik and Teledyne Controls provide insights into the global development and expansion of automated test and data loading technologies in the air.
A robot for testing aircraft cockpit controls
Lufthansa Technik is reducing one to two working hours by introducing a new robot that is able to carry out cockpit control panel tests. Lufthansa engineers are currently optimizing the robot and the project team leader has not indicated whether they will be offering it for sale in stores or whether they will be used exclusively for engineers in the Lufthansa maintenance hangar in Hamburg, Germany.
Lufthansa Technik officially branded the project as Robot Controlled Cockpit Electronics Testing (ROCCET).
One of the main human labor testing tasks that the robot assists in automating is the physical thresholds for the brightness of LED displays.
“In view of the rapidly growing market for collaborative robots, we first looked for use cases to reduce the manual workload by using a cooperating robot. When these efforts did not result in a fully collaborative robot, we went one step further and fully automated the entire test process, ”said Florian Sell, Lufthansa Technik project manager for ROCCET.
According to Sell, the time-consuming process of checking all of the LED lights and switches in a cockpit panel can take an hour or two. The cockpit fairings are removed from the aircraft and the maintenance workers then have to check each switch individually. If no bug is found, the hour that could have been used to identify an actual bug is punctually lost.
“The time-consuming inspection of all LED lights and switches in a cockpit panel usually took even a trained employee one to two hours. After ROCCET has taken on this task, the human employee can concentrate fully on the core elements of his work, namely finding and correcting errors in the cockpit panel, ”said Sell.
The robot is also able to provide the same specific measurement data according to internationally acceptable airworthiness standards that modern software tablet-based programs used by technicians can capture. The automated test function also integrates sensors that can be used to measure the forces that occur when switches are activated in flight and whether a switch or other control panel control needs to be replaced.
“The automated test process is currently in the integration phase and will replace the manual test process step by step. Initially, it will be used for the cockpit control of the Airbus A320 and A350 as well as for the Boeing 787. In the future, its use can be extended to other cockpit and cabin controls for all types of aircraft, ”he said.
Digital touchscreen interfaces
New test devices from Astronics, ATEQ, CCX and Teledyne Controls are proof of the trend among vendors who prefer easy-to-understand digital touchscreen interfaces that combine the functions of separate testers into tablet-controlled functions.
Chris Bartlett, President of CCX, said the new T-RX radio and pulse tester from the Canadian test equipment supplier was designed for the next generation of aircraft technicians. The T-RX has a 10-inch touchscreen and uses proprietary applications to run more than 100 different tests ranging from transponder frequency sensitivity to encoding and decoding ARINC 429 tags.
The tester has an internal antenna and can record data wirelessly and transmit it to the internally used servers and electronic work order systems of a maintenance workshop. According to Bartlett, CCX wanted to make the new tester for the graphical user interfaces of Android and Apple smartphones and tablets easy to understand and replicate.
“While there are optional wired interfaces, more than 90 percent of the time you don’t have to hardwire yourself,” said Bartlett.
TR-X is aircraft independent, although Bartlett said certain avionics manufacturers have nuances and technicians need to be familiar with the different radio frequencies that are also used by different manufacturers.
Aircraft test data and results are available through cloud storage and CCX is currently working on a new programmable application interface to improve this process as well. In fact, they want individual maintenance facilities to be able to transfer the data collected by the TR-X into the software programs they are already using for storage or customer-facing activities so that they don’t have to be replicated using a proprietary CCX device.
“We hear from MROs that they are not interested in logging into another application if they already have one to store. So it is very interesting for them to transfer the data collected by TR-X into apps that they are already using, ”said Bartlett.
A next generation airborne data loader uses the same digital touchscreen interface approach as the TR-X in the form of Teledyne Controls’ new PMAT XS (Portable Maintenance Access Terminal). Craig Aitken, senior director of business development at Teledyne Controls, said the new airborne data loader was developed using the avionics full-duplex Ethernet and ARINC 615-4 and 615A-3 standards for high-speed data uploading.
“We added Wi-Fi and cellular, and we made the menu icons look just like modern smartphones and tablets,” said Craig Aitken, senior business development director at Teledyne Controls.
The PMAT XS mobile operating system also includes the use of ARINC 835 digital signatures to secure the software pieces as they are loaded into the various interchangeable units on an aircraft. A trusted platform module in the software stack can store digital keys and burn them into a computer chip in the loader, which is responsible for keeping the software free from errors or damaged files.
“It uses a public key infrastructure certificate,” Aitken said.
“When the bootloader starts, it checks its digital signature with the data stored on the trusted platform module. If the two match, they move on with the boat, and if they don’t, it stops, ”he said.
Not completely wireless
At the end of the wire fault detection of the spectrum of automated test devices, the use of the digital touchscreen surface will also be taken over by the Astronics test systems department. The new ATS-6100 cable fault combines the use of low power, high voltage and spread spectrum time domain reflectometer technology in one box.
Brian Price, executive vice president of Astronics Test Systems, said the digital touchscreen interface and Windows Mobile operating system help reduce the time it takes to learn to use the ATS-6100. The new wire fault detector can detect breaks, shorts, impedance discontinuities, and cracks or friction in aircraft cabling.
“We refer to the ATS-6100 as a single-ended application because the other end of the cable no longer needs to be terminated for testing,” said Price.
Once connected to one end of the cabling, the tester generates a signal to expose the discontinuities along the entire cable path. Traditionally, wire fault checks have been performed where a mechanic disconnects the opposite end of the cable, which can be potentially harmful and even create a false fault status if the wrong connector is removed. To remove that step of searching a network of wires at the other end of the cable, the ATS-6100 controls all of the output of the signal to completely isolate the location of a fault.
While new designs of test equipment include digital touchscreen interfaces and wireless transmission and acquisition of aircraft data, cable and cable connections to aircraft systems will continue to be required in the future.
Patrick Brousseau, who heads the North American division of aviation test equipment maker ATEQ, said his company was the first to launch a wireless Windows tablet-based touchscreen air test set in 2014. This air data test kit, the ADSE-650, is used to test altimeters, airspeed indicators, pressure sensors, and other instruments that require a physical connection to provide an error indication.
These types of tests won’t be wireless anytime soon, Brousseau said, but will be optimized for size, weight, and performance.
“What I’m really seeing now is the urge to downsize. This data was massive 20 years ago. Some of the older instruments weighed 80 to 90 pounds and had to be rolled around on the floor to set up. Our newest wireless unit weighs 13 pounds. The market there will continue to grow in the future, ”said Brousseau.
“These systems will still rely on a pressure gauge, and there is always a need for redundancy in aviation, even in the most advanced airliners there will be no ability to do transducer-type pressure tests in the near future,” he said .