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G Systems and Recaro engineers developed a fully customizable control module to interface with a universal life-cycle test fixture for Recaro Aircraft Seating. Each life-cycle test requires specific setup conditions and different instruments and actuators for simulating a lifetime of wear and tear on aircraft seats. G Systems provided Recaro a fully scalable hardware and software solution to meet the needs of their multiple and diverse test requirements.

“I am pleased with how reliable and user friendly the system is – especially the fact that it runs tests 24/7 even if the PC shuts down. Working with G Systems has been a pleasure.” – Dan Byma, Laboratory Supervisor, Recaro Aircraft Seating


The Challenge

Recaro Aircraft Seating, a leading global aircraft seat manufacturer, needed a structural life cycle test solution that was user friendly, flexible, and easily configurable. Recaro has many different life-cycle tests using a variety of test instruments and measurement sensors. Because of the variations, Recaro wanted a universal test platform to control all of its life-cycle testing and data acquisition in a single system. The control software needed to run continuously and reliably for weeks at a time and provide real-time monitoring and data display capability. The software needed to be operable by technicians and engineers. Easy maintenance was also imperative.

 

To meet these requirements, G Systems create dashboard to easily monitor the tests, which included cycle count, loading profile, and other parameters. This dashboard included   complete headless running for local storage and noncritical host communication. It also included nested looping with ability to resume a test where it left off.

 

The Solution

Recaro engineers identified the system requirements. Based on these requirements, G Systems designed and built a universal control test platform using National Instruments CompactRIO data acquisition modules. The CompactRIO industrial computer and data acquisition platform provides the analog input, analog output, digital input, and digital output required for the actuators and control sensors (pneumatic cylinders, photocells, load cells, string potentiometers, etc…). A real-time software control system and hardware platform provided for deterministic testing and the long-term stability needed for life-cycle testing. A separate PC host application provided the configuration interface and monitoring for the real-time application.

 

The key to the Recaro test system is a custom script tool, which allows the operator to configure inputs and outputs through a graphical user interface (GUI). The test station can be set up for multiple test conditions using multiple sensors and test limits.

 

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Figure 1: System Diagram

 

System Overview

Recaro Aircraft Seating designed and built a custom aircraft seat test fixture that ensures their seats have been tested to meet and exceed the requirements of their customers. Currently, Recaro operates four test stations. Each test station consists of three primary parts:

 

  1. 1. Test Fixture
  2. 2. Test Control Module
  3. 3. Host PC

 

The control module includes the CompactRIO computer and data acquisition modules as well as an air manifold that provides air pressure for up to eight two-way pneumatic cylinders that provide the test forces. The data acquisition modules include modules for strain measurement along with analog input and output modules and digital input and output modules. The control module allocates the electrical resources for life-cycle tests, providing the analog and digital signals necessary for the different instruments. Whether the test is a simple push/pull or a multi-axis test, the hardware requires no changes, just a different connector set up.

 

A channel configuration table is used to assign logical names to each resource and to define scales for each channel. Where PID control is required (such as for maintaining a steady pressure or load), a PID tuning interface is available to determine the tuning constants necessary for a stable, accurate, and safe test.

 

The host PC connects to the control module box through Ethernet on a private network. The PC provides the configuration interface and monitors the real- time application.

 

The airplane seat test configuration begins with the seat under test set up. The seat is positioned in the fixture to allow the pneumatic cylinder to apply a force to the seat, for example the seat back. The test control module includes a pressure sensor alarm to warn if the pressure exceeds the test limits. Other tests could be configured for tray table or arm rest life testing, for instance.

 

Sensors are then placed around the seat for data collection. A photoelectric cell is used as a proximity switch to set the limit as to how far the seat back should be pushed.

 

The movement of the seat back is measured by a string potentiometer. The strain upon the seat is measured by a load cell mounted in line with the pneumatic air cylinder.

 

The system can be configured for a constant strain or pressure using a PID feedback control loop. A ramp sequence can be developed to control the rate that the desired output is applied.

 

A graphical user interface (GUI) is provided for setting all the PID control parameters. This feature provides the operator the ability to test and tune the PID constants.     

 

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Figure 2: Test Control Module

 

Software Interface

The main purpose of the host application is to provide configuration for the sequence and PID testing. The sequence editor provides a simple interface to edit custom sequences.

 

G Systems developed the sequencer to allow for expandability by leveraging National Instruments’ LabVIEW Object-Oriented Programming (LVOOP). The architecture, designed by G Systems, allows G Systems to easy add new step types to the software in the future. The core list of step types includes:   

  • Alarms
  • Static Push/Pull
  • PID Loading (including ramping)
  • Email
  • Null/Tare
  • User Prompts
  • Loop Configuration

 

SeqEditor

Figure 3: Arbitrary example of complex looping using the G Systems Sequencer

 

Email and user prompts were a popular recent addition. The software provides email notification when an error occurs or on the completion of a step.  User prompts were essential to combine tests that previously required the operator to perform an action such as “tighten bolts after 10,000 cycles”. The test paused and waited for the operator to perform the required action then continue where it left off.  Previously if there was a user defined step they would have to create multiple tests or run the test multiple times.

 

Looping was also part of the recent upgrade. In the example shown above the test has three loops.  The inner two loops demonstrate a complex loading where each load has a different count but needs to be repeated over and over as defined by the outer loop.  This presented a unique challenge due to the requirement that the test continue where it left off before. Consider it failed a limit halfway through. Once the limit failure was addressed, the test should continue counting where it left off.

 

 

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Figure 4:. Sample Web Dashboard

 

Another major upgrade G Systems added to the system was a web dashboard. From this web interface, the operators can view the current loaded profile on a graph or table from the comfort of their desk without having to walk to the test lab. An authorized user could also pause or abort the test from the same web interface.

 

 

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Figure 5: Application Flow Chart

 

RT Main

The application running on the deterministic operating system provides a robust application that can run for weeks on end without glitch. The application monitors for commands from the host application and publishes data to the web Dashboard using NI Web Services. We used the latest NI 9035 cRIO controller to provide headless operation. The larger 4GB storage for local data storage, as well as the option for industrial 32GB SD storage enabled this. 

 

The dual Ethernet option allowed for seamless network coverage to communicate to a private network (host application) as well as communication to the company intranet using Web Services.

 

Conclusion

The Recaro-specified test system supplied by G Systems has allowed Recaro Aircraft Seating to complete aircraft seat life tests more rapidly, more economically, and with improved test reliability. Previous to implementing this new test platform, all tests had to be outsourced to an independent test lab, which was time consuming and expensive.

 

Recaro now runs testing in-house providing engineering and design departments with faster engineering feedback and a much more cost-effective test solution. Tests can be performed reliably for weeks at a time and then the platforms can be quickly re-configured for different seat models. G Systems’ configurable software allows each station to run multiple test routines on multiple seat models - all controlled through a graphical user interface that is designed to maximize test station flexibility.

 

Using LVOOP significantly reduced the complexity when executing each sequence and step. 

 

About G Systems

G Systems is a leading integrator of test and measurement automation solutions for the aerospace/defense, energy, medical, semiconductor, and telecom industries. With more than 25 years of experience and a proven methodology for design and process, G Systems is known for consistently delivering high-quality hardware, software, and data management systems.

 

Visit our aerospace industry page to learn more about G Systems capabilities and examples of our work for aerospace applications. 

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