Perspectives: Micro Testing, Macro Research

By Robin Thompson | November 1, 2007
Send Feedback

Aviation test equipment is under the greatest scrutiny as specialists supported by the European Commission and the U.K. government seek to develop world class aerospace products.

Many major original equipment manufacturers are involved in the continued pursuit of test equipment excellence, together with universities and niche specialists, such as BCF Designs Ltd., of Cirencester, U.K., which is focused on data bus network and fuel system testers. BCF is playing a role through the participation of its business development manager, Alistair Sutherland, and company-funded university research in developing a new portfolio of aerospace test equipment. These efforts add to widespread research being funded by the U.K. Technology Strategy Board, the South East England Development Agency and the European Commission.

BCF is involved in many of the strategy groups seeking answers to tomorrow’s test equipment and health monitoring needs. Along with partner companies including Goodrich, BAE Systems and QinetiQ, their involvement encompasses areas such as Autonomous Systems, the Integrated Wing, More Electric Aircraft, Health and Prognostics and Through-Life Management.

Another grouping, the European Network of Excellence, which is financed by the European Commission, is seeking and harnessing thinking for the design and manufacture of micro and nano test products. The network’s stated objective: "to establish a collaborative team to provide European industry with support in the field of Design for Micro and Nano Manufacture, to ensure that problems affecting the manufacturing and reliability of products based on micro and nano technologies can be addressed before prototyping and production." It is hoped that prototype test products will be unveiled in 2008.

BCF participates in a service cluster called Micro HUMS, for Miniaturized Health and Usage Monitoring Systems. Within this cluster, micro-sized versions of equipment containing sensors and online test function capabilities and electronic self-test products, many bespoke, will be designed and developed. The role of this team embraces feasibility studies of embedded solutions in which continuous or periodic diagnostics or condition monitoring is required. Partners have collective access to an extensive data base and consultancy to achieve on-line test, fault tolerance and diagnostics, a design service for HUMS sensors, and a prototyping facility from which will emerge preproduction ideas in the next few years.

Another major area of investigation being pursued by the U.K. National Physical Laboratory, academia and industry is called "3D-Mintegration." Companies involved in this research include BCF, AstraZeneca, BAE Systems, GlaxoSmithKline and Unilever. The effort is described as "a radical project to develop new ways forward for the design, manufacture and test of complete 3D miniaturized/integrated ‘3D Mintegrated’ products."

"The miniaturization of form and function has been an enormously strong economic driver for the last 50 years," the group has stated. "Nowhere has this been seen more spectacularly than in the electronics industry. We are now starting to see the growth of a new economic driver based upon micro-engineering."

3D-Mintegrated products, with their buried structures and composite materials, pose tough questions, especially for those seeking this way forward in aerospace test equipment. Among its many challenges, the group must provide industry a focused vision and roadmaps for test and measurement, a range of development activities and a sense of the final deliverables.

Those deliverables are described as: "On and off line metrology and frameworks appropriate to supervise new processes, including links to design, and to accurately micro-scale, hidden, embedded and composite structures; the development of new standards appropriate to the evolving 3D-Mintegration activities; (and) the publication of practical industrial guidelines."

"This pursuit of effective micro technology presents significant propositions for both aerospace and a whole range of other industries from leisure to medicine," said Alistair Sutherland. "That government, the European Commission, major OEMs and universities have taken up these challenges augers well…. In this shrinking world, with huge manufacturing competition from developing nations, we are putting ourselves at the forefront of a technology that will see us in a leading position for a long time to come."

Receive the latest avionics news right to your inbox