New capability to make customer testing run smoother

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Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC) engineers are always looking for ways to improve or upgrade the center's capabilities and services. 

One focus has been on serving the center's customers in the best and most efficient way during testing.

"This new capability primarily would improve customer service and ultimately customer satisfaction," Rusty Zarecor, PDPAS [Propulsion Data Processing and Analysis System] system manager, said. "This would, in turn, hopefully give AEDC return test customers."

The idea of having a remote monitoring capability has been just that until a small group of engineers pulled together to make it a reality.

"The real reason for customers wanting a remote monitoring capability is there may be a limited number of experts on any given test article and there is multiple testing facilities all over the nation," Cameron Liner, system engineer in the Engine Test Facility (ETF), said. "The customer may have something at AEDC, some other Air Force base or maybe at his own local test stand, so the problem lies in getting the experts where they need to be."

Richard Walker, project manager, said GE is one of the customers who will benefit from this capability.

"A large benefit to GE is that the same people [their analysis and control experts] supporting AEDC testing can also support other testing at GE - they don't have to hire and train extra people dedicated to AEDC support," he said.

Liner said the initial plan is to only use this capability in the ETF test cells but would eventually span to the other test areas in the future.

"While we are installing it to go into ETF, the main focus is to design an AEDC capability with minimal effort to duplicate the system in another area," Liner said. "The first test targeted to use this capability is the F136 which is scheduled for May."

According to Liner, the remote capability will not cost anything.

"There is minimal design change," Liner said. "The test cells themselves will have no change. There will be slight changes to the data system by adding another exit point for the data.

"We will also be digitizing our video. Currently all our video is analog, but we will be adding a standards-based encoder so it will turn the data into IP traffic so we can send it through the Internet."

According to Liner, several of AEDC's customers have asked if they can see the test at their home site. This capability would keep the crucial crew at home and only send the necessary crew members to the actual test site.

"In the past, we built what we call a stove pipe system where a customer wants this capability so we're going to take whatever their data format is and change our system to be able to send that data format back to them," he explained. "So what ends up happening is let's say we have three customers, we might build the same thing three times in three different ways."

Liner said the group took the requirements that were given to them and went a step further.

"Several of us got together and looked at that requirement and came to the conclusion we could meet it, with a few contingencies," he explained.

Those contingencies are based on several factors. The system will be used for monitoring purposes only in order for experts at remote sites to augment critical local staff, AEDC will define the data format for real-time parameters in order to define a common AEDC interface and a single audio and video stream will be delivered to the remote site where the customer is responsible for protection and distribution.

According to Liner, all critical decisions will still be made at AEDC. This prevents remote customers from stopping a test performed at AEDC from their location.

"The project we are working on right now is to deliver both real-time and processed data to remote sites as well as a listen-only intercom loop for the test conductor," Liner explained. "We are also providing a single video feed from the test cell that the customer would be able to view. This video would then be transmitted to the experts back home for them to review."

In order to streamline the video, a secure internet connection has to be available and any information must be encrypted - all these elements will be designed into the system.

"We've gone to great lengths to make sure that this information will be encrypted at a level where we feel safe transmitting it over the internet," Liner explained.

According to Liner, there has been real feeling of excitement each time this capability has been briefed to Arnold management and customers.

"Customers are excited about the possibilities from a cost and schedule perspective, AEDC is excited to offer a new capability to all our customers and those who have been involved over the years are excited to see an idea with roots back in the 1980s finally be made real," Liner said. "The final system has been named the Arnold Remote Link Information System (ARLIS)."