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Dymola modelling and simulation tools are improving productivity at West Midlands-based aerospace control systems and test rig company RTC Electronics.

RTC is saving time on site commissioning its test rigs by a factor of five and has gained flexibility in workforce by reducing the need for experienced engineers needed on site.

The company is now able to grow its business and start expanding into new markets.

Nick French, RTC Electronics managing director, said: ‘Every test rig we design is different.

‘We have tight deadlines, which in the aerospace industry are often first flight dates that are set in stone.

‘The work we do is at the sharp end of the project timeline, which means that if any other company in the project supply line experiences delays the impact is pushed onto our time on site.

‘And it’s this that has been our company’s limiting factor in offering us the chance to grow.

‘Before Dymola, we had to rely on the experience of our engineers on site to make the necessary changes to the rig.

‘It’s very difficult work as our arrival on site is the first time we have been able run any tests and it is therefore only at this point that we are able to see the effects of hydraulic, mechanical and electronic control systems all interacting together.

‘When on site we also can’t test the rig for peak loads on components and the systems in case you break the rig itself – so you can’t under or over test the components.

‘We have tight deadlines and we need experienced staff, which is a limited resource,’ he added.

Another key problem that RTC faced was how to simulate more than one system on a rig.

French continued: ‘We could only see one system at a time.

‘We spend time on site trying to commission hydraulic, electronic control and mechanical systems.

‘We had to look at problems ourselves without knowing up front how the rig would behave and react before getting on site.

‘Every rig is peculiar and it has always been a nightmare – and it’s often the control systems that get the blame for a complete solution not performing as expected,’ he added.

The company has adopted Dymola multi-domain engineering modelling and simulation tools.

RTC started exploring the potential of using new skills and knowledge to create commercial advantage back in 2009 through the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), which is run by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB).

The KTP programme helps create partnerships between business and academic institutions such as universities, enabling access to skills and expertise to help the business develop.

Working with the KTP, RTC identified the potential of modelling, simulation and the use of real-time hardware-in-the-loop technologies.

Dymola was selected as the tool of choice for modelling and simulation.

Tom Horsfall, KTP associate and University of Warwick employee, said: ‘We recently had a client who wanted to model drive trains.

‘With Dymola we did it within three hours – not only is this fast, we have never been able to do it before.

‘The same is true with our test rigs.

‘We can see the effects across all systems; hydro-mechanical and electronics and controls,’ he added.

The move to modelling and simulation across multiple systems has had many effects.

All systems are modelled at the same time so engineers pick up issues earlier.

The company can test all components to their limits before the rigs are even built at physical component and system level.

This not only saves time on site up to a factor of five times, according to Nick French, but also means that RTC can de-skill the commissioning process, which previously always required very experienced engineers to be on site.

French said: ‘We can sort out and solve any problems before even getting to site, whereas before we would have to wait until we arrived on site before we could find out any problems, which introduces another delay.

‘Smoothing out the commissioning process, we can now take on more work and grow the business with more flexibility in the staff.

‘In a controlled environment it is easier to modify parameters, easy to make changes.

‘You can do anything with the model that you can’t do on the rig without the fear of breaking it.

‘We can prove the full functionality of the rig before we go on site with all the software debugged and the hardware tested in the simulated model.

‘We can also put the extremes into the model with different fault conditions in to see how the rig would perform,’ he added.

The aerospace industry is naturally risk averse.

The Dymola simulation and modelling system helps remove the risk factor and RTC can model aircraft hardware systems before the physical test rig is even built, as well as get feedback on position loading without being connected to test rig, for example.

The company has reduced development times, modification times and with the extensive use of HIL (hardware in the loop) and SIL (software in the loop), reduced on-site times for commissioning.

Nick French said: ‘We would often be blamed for anything going wrong on site because people invariably try and blame the control system.

‘With modelling, problems can be pre-empted across systems so we can see any problems before even arriving on site,’ he added.

Dymola is part of the Dassault Systemes software range and is distributed in the UK and Europe by Claytex.

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