Product Focus: Automatic Test Equipment: Next Generation

By Charlotte Adams | August 1, 2003
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Boeing’s ATS 182 automatic test equipment (ATE) – designed to use in acceptance testing and troubleshooting Boeing-built avionics systems on B737 Classic and next-generation (NG) aircraft, 747s, 757s and 767s–is running out of time. Introduced in 1982, employed by Boeing in factory test and support centers, and sold to many airlines, this ATE system is becoming more difficult to support. Like an old car, it won’t chug along forever.

B777 operators face an ATE dilemma, as well. Because the ATS 195–which Boeing designed for its proprietary triple-seven avionics–was not sold to airlines, carriers whose 777s are coming out of warranty and who don’t want to write their own test program sets (TPSs) will lack manufacturer-supplied test capability for Boeing-built 777 avionics. Boeing intends to support the ATS 182 for the next few years, and possibly longer, but not indefinitely. The answer to both problems, according to the airframer, is the NxGen ATS, which eventually will cover all Boeing-proprietary avionics on "7-Series" aircraft, plus a few vendor-supplied systems covered by the ATS 182. Boeing could start delivering the NxGen ATS in the first quarter of 2004, reaching "full capability across the model range" by the end of next year, says Jack Trunnell, director of maintenance support engineering with Boeing Commercial Aviation Services. The company already has two preproduction testers in checkout to verify performance according to specs.

Boeing has licensed Teradyne–an ATE supplier in the defense, semiconductor, electronics and other markets–to produce, market and support the NxGen ATS. The impetus behind the NxGen is to reduce costs for airlines and maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities (MROs), consolidating the ATE required to support Boeing aircraft, according to Chuck Pothier, Teradyne’s product manager for the Spectrum 9000 and NxGen lines. Boeing plans to leverage Teradyne’s worldwide support network, says Trunnell.

The NxGen ATS is a modular, scalable (up and down), open-architecture tester that is "tolerant to obsolescence," according to Boeing. The system’s use of Interchangeable Virtual Instruments (IVI) drivers will provide a layer between the test programs and the hardware, allowing instruments to be swapped out without rewriting application code.

Based on Teradyne’s Spectrum 9000 tester, the hardware uses standard formats, such as VXI, PXI and MXI. The three, 19-inch-wide, 6-foot-tall bays incorporate not only Teradyne, but third-party instrument vendors. Teradyne’s TestStudio software is the foundation of the new environment for the rehosted ATS 195 TPSs, says Pothier.

Growth Option

The NxGen ATS will be able to host other avionics manufacturers’ TPSs, as well. Boeing has approached major avionics firms about the suitability of its architecture to support non-Boeing avionics, and the response has been positive, Trunnell says. The NxGen will incorporate inputs from third-party avionics vendors, he says, "So we think it’s the tester for the future."

Boeing has asked Teradyne to look at migrating TPSs supporting Boeing’s third-party avionics vendors from ATEC 6 to the NxGen, Pothier adds. Teradyne already supports commercial factory test for avionics manufacturers such as Honeywell, Smiths Aerospace and Rockwell Collins. Boeing officials say some airlines are interested in this growth option because it would give them a quicker return on their ATE investment. It would be up to airline and MRO customers, however, to ask Teradyne to write a TPS for a non-Boeing product.

Boeing will transfer most of the about 260 ATS 182 TPSs to the new hardware, with few major TPS software or hardware revisions. An "adapter-to-adapter interface" allows the legacy 182 programs to be run directly on the new station, according to Trunnell. But approximately 31 ATS 195 TPSs must be rehosted on the new tester because the ATS 195 hardware adapter format is not compatible with the new system. Porting the ATS 195 TPSs over to the NxGen system involves changing the TPS software and hardware.

"The 182 is not being produced today, so anybody who needs test capability for those legacy 737s through 767s needs to purchase the NxGen," says Pothier. "Triple-seven customers are key because, right now, they don’t have an organic test capability for Boeing boxes to utilize in house." Boeing is trying to "fill the void" created when the ATS 195 was not released to the market, he says.

Nineteen airlines purchased the ATS 182, including Air Canada, American, ANA, British Airways, Delta Air Lines, JAL, Northwest, Qantas, United and others. Non-airline customers include Toshiba in Japan, to support B767 airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft, and GAMECO, an MRO in China.

NxGen vs. ATEC

How will the NxGen ATS stack up against the widely proliferated ATEC line of test equipment produced by European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. (EADS) Test & Services unit? Boeing says the NxGen will be the better solution for its airplanes. "It doesn’t result in the equivalency issue for Boeing-proprietary avionics," Trunnell says. "The equivalency issue is paramount," Pothier stresses. "A lot of airlines and OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) don’t have the engineering capability to develop and prove equivalency." Equivalency is the government-mandated requirement–for users of third-party TPSs–to show that the tester is running a TPS equivalent to the "organic solution" used in the test process recommended in the manufacturer’s component maintenance manual.

Although there is a perceived cost premium associated with using unique testers developed by OEMs, third-party TPSs involve considerable costs, as well. Boeing cites the expense of developing the TPSs, establishing equivalency and incorporating manufacturer requirement changes during the life of the TPS.

EADS Test & Services demonstrated its solution to Boeing in advance of the NxGen solicitation, and "would have been happy to get a request for proposal," an EADS official says. From a purely technical perspective the EADS solution is competitive, he says, but "from a company policy level, EADS Test & Services is sometimes seen more as an Airbus company [Airbus is another EADS subsidiary] than as an independent test provider." EADS Test & Services is an "independent unit," and its ATE equipment supports a range of avionics providers, the official says.

In the United States some airlines with mixed fleets use ATEC testers to service both Boeing and Airbus aircraft. ATEC systems have been purchased by Northwest, United, and Delta, according to EADS. And EADS TPSs are being used in the industry to test Boeing-built aircraft systems . Many airlines also own the ATS 182. Delta, for example, owns the Boeing tester and plans to obtain the NxGen system, says Basil Papayoti, director of sales and marketing for Delta TechOps.

Air France Industries (AFI)–an airline-owned MRO with more than 100 customers worldwide–tries to handle most avionics components on benches such as ATEC. These are not linked with an aircraft type, although some models are more dedicated to next-generation aircraft, says Bruno Delile, senior vice president of AFI’s Materials and Service Directorate. "We think it makes more sense to use benches that might be utilized for several aircraft types," Delile says. AFI operates four ATEC 6000s and plans to buy two more next year. As of last year, AFI also owned eight ATEC 5000s, three Rockwell Collins testers, and various other OEM-specific test benches.

AFI invests in TPSs for particular avionics systems, based on the volume of work a system is expected to generate through the shops, according to Franck Becker, AFI’s avionics component-general manager. On the B777, AFI is doing in-house Level 1 testing of Boeing-proprietary systems such as the warning electronics unit and flap/slat electronics unit. Where AFI performs B777 Level 1 diagnostics, Boeing’s UK facility is used for repair work. But AFI’s B777 support also depends on component evolution, so the MRO’s position may change as the market develops. AFI does not consider equivalency a major issue because developers of test programs have to prove that they meet the manufacturer’s specifications.

LabView 7 Express

National Instruments (NI) recently released LabView 7 Express, a major upgrade to this widely used graphical software development tool, designed to simplify the creation of measurement and automation programs and to extend the product to platforms ranging from embedded field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) to personal digital assistants (PDAs).

The release reduces test code development time by simplifying and automating repetitive, low-level tasks, such as instrument configuration, test setup and data acquisition, says Tim Brooks, president of B&B Technologies, Albuquerque, an aerospace and military component testing firm.

The LabView 7 Express module for developing applications to run on popular FPGAs (programmable chips) will be attractive to the avionics test market, Brooks predicts. Engineers can define hardware logic in LabView and download the application to an NI reconfigurable input/output (I/O) board, for projects such as developing custom signal switching, digital I/O and timing capability.

The new PDA module also is promising for data acquisition, monitoring and visualization. General Aviation Modifications Inc., in Ada, Okla., for example, is using the device to view engine data and track inventory.

EADS TPSs for Boeing-Built Avionics



Flap control unit
Yaw damper module


Yaw damper module



Cabin system control panel
Passenger AD/cabin interphone unit

Flight Controls


Flap slat electronic unit


Stabilizer trim and rudder ratio module


Flap slat electronic unit
Flap slat position module
Rudder ratio changer module
Spoiler control module
Stabilizer and aileron lockout module

Indicating/Recording Systems


Warning electronic unit


Surface position digitizer

Source: EADS

B777 TPSs Porting to NxGen Tester*

  • Ambient noise sensor (ANS)
  • ARINC signal gateway card (ASG)
  • Cabin area control panel (CACP)
  • Cabin attendant handset (CAH)
  • Cabin control panel (CCP)
  • Cabin system management unit (CSMU)
  • Cargo system controller (CSC) (-10)
  • Cargo system controller (CSC) (-1)
  • Emergency passenger assist. system (EPAS)
  • Environmental control system misc. card (ECSMC)
  • Flap/slat electronics unit (FSEU)
  • Hydraulic interface module (HYDIM)
  • Master brightness controller (MBC)
  • Master dim & test module (MDTM)
  • Master dim & test (MDT)
  • Overhead electronics unit (OEU)
  • Overhead panel bus controller (OPBC)
  • Overhead panel card file (OPCF)
  • Overhead panel interface card (OPIC)
  • Panel data concentrator unit (PDCU)
  • Passenger address/cabin interphone unit (PA/CI)
  • Power supply/linear monitor (PS/LM)
  • Power supply/preregulator (PS/PR)
  • Quad speaker drive module (QSDM)
  • Radio tuning panel (RTP)
  • Simplified overhead electronics unit (SOEU)
  • Simplified zone management unit (SZMU)
  • Speaker drive module (SDM)
  • Warning electronics unit (WEU)
  • Water quantity summation unit (WQSU) (-1)
  • Water quantity summation unit (WQSU) (-2)

*Preliminary list. Source: Teradyne

Test Equipment Companies

Aero Express Inc.

Aero Info Inc

Aeroflex Test Solutions

Agilent Technologies


Air Transport Avionics Ltd




BAE Systems Missions Solutions

Ballard Technology


BCF Designs Ltd


California Instruments

Command Electronics Inc.

Condor Engineering


Data Device Corp

Demo Systems LLC

DIT-MCO International

Dow-Key Microwave

EADS Test & Services





Goodrich Aerospace-JcAIR Test Systems


Ideal Aerosmith


L-3 Communications

Lockheed Martin

Merlin Engineering

National Hybrid

National Instruments


North Atlantic Industries

Racal Instruments

Rada Electronic Industries

RTX Systems

SBS Technologies

Spirent Federal Systems


Tech S.A.T



Testek Inc



VXI Technology

Western Avionics


Yeovil Electronic Developments

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