New Air Force initiative adds value to AEDC

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Nicknamed the "Student," William Sealy (W.S.) Gossett invented a technique in the early 1900s that helped him study the "quality of beer and raw materials for its production, which led him to reflections on statistics and calculating the unknown parameters."

With the leadership of Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC) Commander Col. Art Huber and other AEDC and Aerospace Testing Alliance (ATA) management, AEDC engineers are being trained to follow a similar technique of Gossett's called Design of Experiments (DOE).

A class of 18 practitioners with all different engineering backgrounds took three, one-week DOE training courses this summer that, as of Sept. 12, have certified them as fully trained in the DOE technique. Selected AEDC and ATA leaders have also taken shorter courses to become more familiar with the technique.

"Colonel Huber even has a copy of the textbook in his office that is used in the three-week courses because he values this particular effort as an important effort and has in fact taken some training in this technique as well," Bill Peters, leader of the DOE implementation team said.

Now that there are certified DOE practitioners, Peters, says it is time for them to now apply this technique to 'real life' AEDC applications.

"This year our focus has been on training," Peters said. "Now, we are looking for a wide variety of projects to use this technique at AEDC ranging from applications like instrumentation calibrations in PMEL, maintenance scheduling options software test certification, screening investment options, and instrumentation and control systems validation in the test facilities."

In aerospace testing, test customers bring a test matrix with the variables they want tested. The way tests are typically run right now, Peters said, is through a process called OFAT (one factor at a time).

"When you do OFAT testing, it takes a long time to test all the variables," he said. "Applying DOE provides the opportunity to potentially reduce the test matrix and hence the time and cost required."

AEDC has agreed to demonstrate how DOE works and implement to the customers, if they so choose.

"Through our implementation projects we can demonstrate the value of DOE to our customers," Peters explained. "We are hoping that over time this technique will become an everyday facet of test and evaluation."

According to Peters, the commander wanted to initiate a way to revitalize AEDC's technical work force. The DOE effort is one of four efforts of the flagship project to re-enable, re-engage and enhance the technical work force.

What exactly is DOE?

"DOE represents a way of intelligently designing a test matrix for experimentation in any type of facility imaginable," Peters explained. "The design of experiments technique is something that is employed widely in a lot of different fields. For example, the medical field uses it for evaluating new drugs."

Peters reveals the value of DOE is two-fold.

"First of all it gives you a statistical basis for making a decision whether something is good or bad," he continued. "The second thing DOE gives is power--power of the decision and how valid that decision is."

The concept of DOE at AEDC is to help reduce the amount of testing because it's more focused towards designing an optimized test matrix. Through this test matrix, DOE gives engineers a prescribed method for getting the best results.

"Our leadership at AEDC believes that DOE will help the Air Force in testing and development of new aircraft," Peters explained. "For example, when you consider the whole process of building an aircraft--it takes a lot of years and it takes a lot of tests over a lifetime of that development. DOE could significantly reduce the amount of testing and therefore shorten the amount of time to develop an aircraft."

With this effort, the commander, AEDC and ATA leadership and management can make DOE a tool of the everyday people.

Peters said there are plans in the works to partner with UTSI to provide a course on the DOE technique for graduate students. AEDC employees who are currently pursuing graduate degrees are also encouraged to take DOE courses.