Monday, December 1, 2003
Each year, Aviation Maintenance’s editors choose outstanding products and services in various categories. During 2003, a number of interesting new developments occurred, from Approach Systems’s new method of wiring avionics installations to 3M’s innovative and less-wasteful paint preparation system.
Despite what appears to be rampant doom and gloom in aviation, there are plenty of exciting developments. And fortunately, there is no shortage of people with the gumption to try something new.
Not all of these will become instant successes. That depends a great deal on how the marketplace accepts these products and services. Sometimes, people tend to adhere to traditional ways of doing a job, even if the new method is vastly simpler and markedly more efficient. But, eventually good ideas win out and their benefits become apparent, as should be the case with the following products, services, and developments.
A Revolutionary Approach to Avionics Wiring
Imagine yourself alone in a strange city with no street signs, no map, and you have to find a specific building as quickly as possible. That’s what it’s like every time an avionics technician tries to work his or her way around under an average instrument panel. They don’t call them “rat’s nests” for nothing.
“I can bet with great confidence that most airplanes don’t have an accurate wiring diagram,” said Brian Braithwaite, vice president sales and marketing for Approach Systems. “So when a technician needs to do something, they have no idea what wires are what. It’s going to take a long time to make sure they’re working with the right ones.”
Braithwaite explained that Approach Systems’s founder had faced that very problem too many times as an avionics shop owner. It was just taking too long for his technicians to do their jobs and, along with that, all the necessary cutting and splicing left way too many chances for errors, which could take more hours to track down and fix. He knew there had to be a better way.
After two years of trial and error, the solution was found in the form of a rather simple, elegant system that replaces the hodgepodge of wires with sets of Milspec Tefzel avionics cables and a unique central hub.
Just how easy is it to install? About this easy: first the technician installs the Fast Stack Hub Mounting Tray, which holds the avionics hub and provides easy access for cable and avionics upgrades in the future. Next, the technician takes the appropriate ready-built cable and inserts one end in the Hub connector. Braithwaite said that all of Approach Systems’s Fast Stack cables and hubs are properly labeled for easy, trouble-free installation.
Now, the technician just plugs the other end of the cable into the specific avionic box. And since every cable comes prepared with leads for power, ground, and lighting, that part of the installation is a lot easier, too. Just follow the same steps for each avionics component in the stack. The hub handles all of the interconnection requirements, reducing the installation time and virtually eliminating wiring errors.
Compare that with the old way of cutting and splicing seemingly countless wires every time you add a different box into the typical avionics stack. “For example, when you install something really popular like a Garmin 430,” Braithwaite said, “you have to cut into almost everything else in there. With our system, there is no cutting or splicing required.”
He also said that avionics shops that use the Approach Systems Fast Stack mounting system report that they can do the wiring for a typical IFR stack in less than three hours. That compares to dozens of hours for the same installation done the traditional way.
But, you ask, how can Approach Systems create a system that works with the wide variety of avionics systems available? “When our hub was designed, we included what 100 percent of 80 percent would want,” he said. “You can connect 100 percent of the avionics equipment that 80 percent of the owners have in their airplanes. Even much of the older stuff.”
What does that other 20 percent do? According to Braithwaite, Approach Systems engineers have solutions to practically any installation situation, whether it’s using pigtail wiring or building a special cable. “We’re here to work with the avionics installer to solve any problem they have,” he said. “We just want aircraft and avionics shop owners to know that they do have a better option.”
Braithwaite also said that a lot of shops still think that the Fast Stack system is something only used in homebuilts, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, if it has panel-mounted avionics, the installation is a candidate for upgrading to the Fast Stack system. “So far our system is used in over 350 aircraft and we’ve been able to handle any situation that has come along,” he explained. “We’re in just about every type of general aviation aircraft from light jets on down. And our system is in a few new OEM aircraft types including being part of the type certificate on a new business jet that’s under development.”
How does the FAA see this product? “There are no active components in the Hub so the FAA sees it as just flat wire,” Braithwaite said. “Our dealers and customers have received positive comments and approval from the [FAA] FSDOs and MIDOs they work with. To our knowledge, no aircraft has ever had a Form 337 denied because of our products. Based on the number of installations, if there was a denial, I think we would have heard something by now.”Approach Systems
3M Perfects Paint Prep
If you’ve ever done it, you’ll know why many people in the business look at painting as a necessary evil. It’s not the actual painting process that gets the bad rap, it’s all the work that goes on before and after the paint is applied that people see as a huge pain in the neck.
While you can’t do anything about the time it takes to properly prepare a surface for painting, 3M Aerospace has introduced a new product that slashes the time and cost required to clean spray guns.
3M inventors have developed a system that eliminates cup cleanup by replacing metal paint cups with plastic cups and disposable liners. “If you think about it, the typical one-quart paint cup takes a quart of solvent to clean properly,” said Larry Ptasienski, MRO marketing manager for 3M Aerospace. “With our system it takes just two or three ounces of solvent to clean the gun, so a user can potentially cut their solvent use by 70 percent or more.” That’s good for the bottom line and the environment.With the 3M system, the paint is mixed in the disposable liner, which is connected to a filter and mounted to the spray gun. As the paint is dispensed, the liner collapses, allowing the operator to spray at any angle. When the job is done, instead of wasting time cleaning the metal cup, the painter simply tosses the plastic liner and filter in the disposal bin.
“Another huge improvement is in the efficiency of paint usage,” Ptasienski said. “Now you’re able to use practically all of the paint in the cup, where with the typical system you may leave two or three ounces of paint in the cup each time because the sprayer can’t siphon it out. At around $400 a gallon, that gets to be expensive waste.” Ptasienski added that because of the unique, airless design of the 3M cup/liner, the gun is able to draw out all but the smallest amount of paint.
But that’s not the only way the 3M system cuts down on paint waste and expenses. Say you’re doing some touch-up or stripe work. Instead of trying to mix just a tiny amount, the technician can mix a full cup, spray the area, then cap off the cup/liner and save the paint in the plastic cup for another job.
Because the 3M plastic cups cost so much less than their metal counterparts, it’s no big deal to have a dozen on the shelf premixed and ready to go. Properly sealed, the 3M cup/liners meet any paint manufacturer’s storage requirements. With regards to cost, Ptasienski said the average shop would invest around $300 to get set up with the 3M Paint Preparation System. With solvents alone running around $150 a barrel and some shops paying upwards of $400 for proper disposal of used solvents, the cost advantages of the 3M system are as clear as black stripes on a white tail.
Operationally, the 3M system offers a number of benefits. Because it is a closed system, painters are free to spray at any angle without worrying about paint spilling out of the cup. Also, Ptasienski explained, the plastic cup is much lighter than the metal ones so it puts a lot less strain on the painter’s arm and wrist. And a more comfortable gun leads to a happy painter and a better paint job.
Lower cost, better quality, and happier painters. What more could you want?3M Aerospace
Honeywell’s Small Aux Power Package
With the introduction of its revolutionary new RE50 miniature auxiliary power unit (APU), Honeywell has taken a gigantic leap in providing the comfort and conveniences enjoyed by mid- to high-end jet operators to owners of light turboprops, small business jets, and even some helicopters.
“With the RE50, light aircraft operators will have an independent source of power for environmental, air-conditioning, and pre-flight tasks without running main engines or relying on ground carts,” explained Roger Wolfe, vice president and general manager, Honeywell Airframe Systems. “The RE50 incorporates innovative technologies to meet requirements defined in our ‘Voice of the Customer’ survey of 700 light aircraft operators.”
Creating a capable APU measuring only 20 by 12 by 12 inces and weighing just around 55 pounds (uninstalled) required the use of some breakthrough technology. While Honeywell is keeping the precise inner workings of this diminutive creation under tight wraps, the company did say that two of the technological drivers are the elimination of the gearbox and the use of the company’s patented airfoil bearings, making the RE50 the first oil-free, gearless unit to come to market.
And, according to Honeywell representatives, pilots and passengers won’t be the only ones who will enjoy the RE50’s low-maintenance technologies. The unit will be designed for three to five years on-wing, maintenance-free operation. Once the unit reaches the end of its operational life, the plan is to offer an economical support agreement so operators can cost-effectively exchange the unit for a new one. Maintaining the RE50 APU will be a plug-and-play operation, a technician’s dream come true.
Honeywell announced that full-scale development is proceeding, with plans for the RE50 to enter into service within 30 months. The company also said that the RE50 is just the beginning of a new family of products. The current plan is for the base design to evolve to include units configured to offer inflight operation and models for air-cycle systems. No pricing or availability on specific aircraft types has been announced.Honeywell Airframe Systems
Zetec Handheld NDT Tools
Zetec has introduced a new family of handheld products that will help technicians do faster and more accurate non-destructive testing evaluations of today’s rapidly aging aircraft fleet.
Highlighting the new product line is the handheld MIZ-21SR tester that combines advanced eddy current and both resonance and sondicator bond testing technology in one smart multimode instrument. The unit also features a built-in mode to measure conductivity and coating thickness across a broad frequency range, from 60 to 480 kHz. According to the company, the MIZ-21SR has high-gain input stages combined with noise-suppressing synchronous demodulation circuitry resulting in the best signal-to-noise ratio in the industry.
When operated in the eddy current mode, the MIZ-21SR uses enhanced testing technology to detect surface and subsurface fatigue cracking, corrosion, and heat damage. It can also determine material type. When used as a bond tester, it has the ability to detect impact damage, disbonds, delaminations, and other structural anomalies in honeycomb, composites, and other materials.
Weighing just 3.5 pounds and with robust features including a high-quality 240- by 320-pixel LCD screen and a durable aluminum case with additional EMI shielding to protect it from dust and moisture, the MIZ-21SR is designed for both indoor and outdoor use. To maximize its portability, the new unit uses long-life rechargeable NiMH batteries providing up to 12 hours of continuous operation.
�The MIZ-21SR also has a PC serial interface that makes it easy to store and recall test configurations, as well as send screen captures to a PC. For added flexibility, it also supports a wide variety of probes. Now one instrument offers the flexibility to effectively test with either low-cost single-coil probes or highly specialized, multicoil probes.
To meet the needs of operators that want a single-purpose portable unit for fast and efficient specialized testing, Zetec has also introduced the S-21R Bond Tester and the MIZ-21B Eddy Current Test Instrument. Prices for the MIZ-family of handheld testers start at around $7,000.
One of the many probe types that can be connected to the MIZ-21SR is the new Zetec ZS-4 High-Speed Scanner. Using eddy current technology, this lightweight handheld allows a technician to quickly and thoroughly inspect small-diameter holes including boltholes and fasteners for cracks and holes even in hard-to-reach locations.
At rotation speeds of 1000 or 2000 rpm, a state-of-the-art rotating transformer couples the eddy current signals for an improved operating life over conventional slip rings. The ZS-4 also features a unique mechanical drive mechanism that automatically turns the probe for the operator, eliminating hand fatigue and creating more accurate and consistent readings, especially when doing large numbers of hole tests.
To further enhance ease of use, the unit features a red LED display on both sides of the scanner to quickly warn users of alarm conditions. A two-function button on the scanner provides remote control of balance and hold functions when the ZS-4 is attached to the MIZ-21A, MIZ-21B, or MIZ-21SR. Prices for the Zetec ZS-4, High-Speed Scanner begin around $4,000.Zetec
Remote Visual Inspection:
Machida’s Low-Cost Autofocus Videoscope
If you’ve ever suffered from eyestrain after hours of borescope inspections, Machida has introduced a product you’re going to love: a new video fiberscope with full autofocus capabilities. No more hassling with video adaptors and added connections. “This new unit eliminates all the difficulties operators had with adding cameras to their borescopes,” explained Jitu Patel, vice president of Machida’s Industrial Division. “We removed the eyepiece and built a high quality color video camera into the body. It’s a one-piece unit.”By eliminating the need to look through a tiny eyepiece or struggle with a camera adapter, Patel said Machida has taken big strides in simplifying and improving borescope inspections. “It’s a lot easier to use. Just plug it in and start your inspection,” he said. “And since the ‘scope automatically adjusts for focus and lighting, the operator is assured of the best possible image even after hours of inspections.” Patel said that the camera’s autofocus range goes from one-quarter inch to infinity. The reason Machida limited it to one-quarter inch is to help the technician know when the camera tip is getting close to the object being inspected. “It helps keep technicians from damaging the camera tip on vanes and blades,” he said. “ When the picture gets out of focus, the technician knows to back off a little bit.”
As you would expect, the new videoscope system features the same high-quality optics as Machida’s other ‘scopes. “In fact,” Patel continued,� “the images are even better because there is no degradation of image quality due to adaptors or additional camera lenses.
What about cost? Patel said the new unit will cost about 15 percent more than a standard fiberscope of equal length. Speaking of lengths, the new ‘scope comes in a variety of sizes and diameters to meet any inspection need.
Avexus Adopting P&WC’s Inspection Workbench
In an effort not to reinvent the wheel, MRO software developer Avexus has signed a deal with Pratt & Whitney Canada to replicate P&WC’s in-house SAP-based engine inspection/overhaul software so that all MROs can use it.
“Over a period of years, P&WC developed a software ‘workbench’ that allows them to service their engines in a very efficient manner,” said Bob Thibodeau, Avexus’s vice president of engineering. “Basically, it combines a series of inspection and overhaul tools with their own up-to-date internal engine data. The result is that whenever a new service bulletin is issued by P&WC, it is automatically incorporated into the workbench application. This ensures that technicians who service P&WC engines are always working with the very latest servicing information and within the most recent guidelines.” This workbench also contains the complete engine configuration and maintenance data for all P&WC engines currently in service. All told, the P&WC workbench is a time-saving software application for MROs.
When word of P&WC’s custom-built workbench spread to third party Designated Overhaul Facilities (DOFs) that work on Pratt & Whitney Canada engines, they understandably wanted their own copy of the program. “However, Pratt & Whitney Canada has no interest in becoming a software vendor,” Thibodeau said. “This is why [P&WC] partnered with us, so that we can generalize and distribute this workbench application for them.” The P&WC workbench will be sold by Avexus both as part of the company’s Impresa MRO software suite and as a stand-alone product.
“Avexus has a long history of helping aviation MRO service providers streamline their operations,” explained Gilbert Gaudette, P&WC’s vice president of Service Centres. “The excellent reputation Avexus has earned in this market will certainly help drive momentum for our joint development of a solution for the MRO market.”
As vice president of management information services for Dallas Airmotive (which is a P&WC DOF), Randy Ingram was already deploying Impresa at 16 MRO sites before news of the Avexus/P&WC deal broke. He’s hoping that Avexus will add the workbench as part of its ongoing upgrade support for Impresa. “By adding the P&WC workbench to our Impresa suite, we would definitely improve our ability to service Pratt & Whitney Canada engines, and to do so as efficiently as possible,” Ingram said. “I expect the workbench’s updating capabilities would also help improve communications between us and P&WC, and speed up the implementation of new service bulletins in our system.”
Besides the benefits to P&WC DOFs, the Avexus/P&WC deal may help the entire MRO industry. The reason? If other MROs with similar custom-built applications take note of this deal, they too may partner with other software providers, and make their own proprietary MRO applications public. Such a result would be a win-win situation for software vendors and MROs alike, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt the aerospace industry to see such software improvements arrive on the shop floor.Avexus
PAMA’s Excellent Olympics
For three years, the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association has succeeded in getting the aviation maintenance industry to support and participate in the PAMA Aviation Maintenance Olympics (PAMO). The events began three years ago at the annual Aviation Services and Suppliers SuperShow as individual events. The subsequent two events inaugurated the team competitions, which bring together mechanics from all over aviation to vie for top honors in maintenance-related events.
Six teams traveled to Las Vegas in May to compete in this year’s PAMA Olympics. While PAMA has not attracted a large number of airline members, the organization deserves a lot of credit for bringing all types of mechanics to compete in the Olympics. Mechanics came from airlines, business aircraft maintenance shops, general aviation shops, and there was even an all-female team that was assembled at the last minute and that did pretty well, considering there was no time for team practice.
This year’s winners were the mechanics from Delta TechOps–Ed Ryan, Doug Bartolett, and Henry Mercado–beating finalist team Midcoast Aviation for the gold medal. The final task was a surprise safety-wiring contest, where the job had to be completed by the three-member team in the shortest time but with only one set of tools.
Participants in the PAMA Olympics all agree that the events are an excellent challenge and well worth the effort in preparation and practice. All the the events are open to individual contestants as well, and there is a TechnAthlete prize for the top individual, plus a prize for the best-dressed PAMO team.
PAMA’s efforts, especially those of the volunteers and prize sponsor Snap-On, have made the PAMA Olympics an important annual event that recognizes and honors the contribution made by aviation mechanics.PAMA
Raytheon: Full Steam Ahead
It’s been a decade and a half since Beech Aircraft (now Raytheon) first stunned the aviation world with a fly-by of an 85-percent-scale prototype of its then-futuristic all-composite Starship at an NBAA show. At the time, no one imagined that the Starship program would cost so much and deliver so little, just 50 or so completed airplanes that took much longer to certify and a reported but never confirmed $500 million to certify. The Starship story seemed to come to an ignominious end this year when Raytheon announced that it planned to destroy the remaining Starship fleet, including buying those still operating in order to send them to the graveyard.
Raytheon executives changed their mind about destroying all of the Starships, fortunately, and some will find a home in museums, a fitting end to the pioneering airplane.
Meanwhile, Raytheon engineers took all this hard-won composites production knowledge and put it to good use. The company has already delivered more than 100 Premier I light jets, and the Hawker Horizon continues in development. Both airplanes feature Raytheon’s first post-Starship foray back into composites, fuselages made entirely of composite materials, with metal wings and tail surfaces.
Unlike the Starship, which was laid-up almost completely by laborious hand, the Premier and Horizon fuselages are filament-wound by a machine that places fibers in precise, efficient, labor-saving patterns. The filament-wound fuselages feature thinner cabin walls than typical metal fuselages, providing more interior room without adding outside area and the drag that goes with wider-diameter fuselages.
The Premiers are just starting Raytheon’s plunge into delivering fleets of composite-fuselaged airplanes into the aviation aftermarket. Once the Horizon comes on line, it won’t be long before learning how to maintain such structures becomes something that more and more mechanics are going to have to learn about.
That Raytheon didn’t give up after the Starship disaster and saw the benefits of composites is a remarkable story, one that deserves recognition.Raytheon Aircraft
A Brilliant New Fastener
It’s small and simple, but Textron’s new rivetless nutplate is proof that innovation in aviation is alive and well.
Nut plates are found all over airplanes, and until now, to install one, a mechanic or assembler had to drill two holes, deburr the holes, insert rivets, drive the rivets, then the nut plate was ready to use. For the most part, access to the other side of the piece was required.
Alternatives such as Rivnuts work for non-structural areas, but when one-sided installation of a threaded screw or bolt is required, only a nut plate will do.
Textron Fastening Systems’s new Rivetless Nut Plate is a slick new product that finally makes it possible to install a nut plate just about anywhere. The Rivetless Nut Plate can be used in sheetmetal as thin as 0.062 inches, and Textron makes a special installation tool that takes about two seconds to use.
One feature makes the Rivetless Nut Plate even more useful: the floating nut is field-replaceable.Textron Fastening Systems