Jonathan Newell visits TUV SUD to find out about the advantages of outsourcing mechanical reliability testing of new products.
Putting products through vibration and shock testing is an essential part of the development process to ensure that they have the ability to withstand the rigours of their operational environment and can meet long term reliability expectations.
However, the equipment used for such testing requires expertise to operate it, the capital cost of shock and vibration tables is high and there is often a requirement to make structural adjustments to existing facilities to accommodate them.
Unless on-going vibration stress screening is going to be performed, there is arguably much more sense in using outsourced services, rather than buying and setting up equipment to use in-house. There are a number of companies operating such services, one of which is TUV SUD Product Services in Segensworth, where I met Craig Foster for a tour of its vibration and climatic testing facilities.
Mobile phones to military vehicles
The wide range of equipment available at TUV SUD reflects the diversity of the industries that it serves. Although at 70-80% of its business, defence and aerospace contracts represent the bulk of the work flowing through the company, there is also a lot of work on product verification for consumer goods, telecommunications products such as mobile phones and medical equipment.
The test specifications for military and commercial goods are very different, with much of the consumer range having pre-defined specifications based on the IEC 60068 standard, which makes the testing requirements very predictable.
For aerospace and defence, the scope of testing tends to be much wider and following different sets of criteria, such as the DO-160 standard from the RTCA (Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics), which specifies environmental testing requirements including shock, vibration, icing and others.
Testing often involves larger sub-systems such as landing gear or refuelling probes and can involve complex fixturing to ensure the mounting of the sub-system on the vibration table represents the conditions and load vectors which would be seen in normal service.
The case for outsourcing
For many organisations, the cost of shock and vibration testing equipment and the control systems that run it plus the need to employ or train staff to operate it and understand the results is in itself a significant barrier to performing in house testing. In addition, UKAS accreditation would need to be awarded in many circumstances for the results of the testing to be valid.
A clear advantage of using an organisation like TUV SUD is that it offers the complete package, with a fully equipped testing laboratory and qualified staff who can carry out a full suite of testing and issue a UKAS report at the end of it. One point of contact at the company looks after the whole process from receiving the test specifications to providing the results at the end of the project.
Whilst many of TUV SUD’s clients provide standard test specifications or ones that have been created using a vibration profile of real-world environmental conditions, there is often a need for the consultancy team to become involved in analysis, adjustments of specifications and making recommendations at the early stages of product development to prevent problems emerging later. TUV SUD was involved in the early development stages of the Airbus A320 landing gear and the Thrust SSC world land speed record contender.
By using specialist test facilities and a pool of expert knowledge as a service, manufacturers from all industries are able to have their own climatic and vibration test laboratory at their fingertips.