Qualification testing is an integral part of the development and purchase of new defence equipment. MOD DCB reporter Paul Elliott spoke to Brendan Wall, Sales Director of testing and certification company TRaC Global, about the importance of testing and the role it plays in the procurement process.
Testing is required to confirm that a particular piece of equipment meets the necessary national and international standards and legislation and helps manufacturers and suppliers to maintain credibility with their customers. Safety of equipment is of paramount importance, particularly in defence, and that’s where testing comes into play. Failing the testing process can be a costly business for developers but it is preventable. Engaging with testing early on in the design process can not only save you money but actually help you win contracts.
In addition to testing the functionality of the product or system, there are many different types of tests, and arguably two main areas in defence: Environmental Testing, which is mechanical engineering based; and Electromagnetic Compatibility Testing (EMC), which is electronic engineering based.
Environmental Testing examines the ability of a product to withstand the environment within which it has to operate, be stored or be transported. Environments such as deserts or arctic waters are harsh and can have an adverse effect on military kit so it is important to ensure that equipment won’t fail in such conditions as the consequences could be dire should this occur.
EMC Testing aims to ensure that when a product or system is deployed it does not generate electronic noise (which could cause an issue for other electronic equipment) and ensures it is going to work correctly in the environment. An everyday example of this would be holding a mobile phone near a stereo speaker and hearing an interference noise – this is just an inconvenience, but in a military or aerospace setting a piece of equipment such as a rugged PC should not interfere with radio communicating equipment. For example, if a soldier comes under fire, they need to be able to ensure that their radio message gets through so they get the support they need.
Passing the EMC tests can be a real design challenge as the electronics on vehicles can be complex. For example, there are electronic counter measures on vehicles that are intentionally trying to disrupt IEDs, and obviously cause a lot of interference. The rest of the equipment on a military vehicle has to be resilient to these electronic counter measures.
TRaC Global is a UKAS-accredited testing and certification company that helps its clients achieve product compliance. TRaC provides the assessment route for product manufacturers and designers to ensure they fulfil their legal and contractual obligations and demonstrate full compliance with the requirements of countries around the world. The company has six labs in the UK, three of which specialise in defence and aerospace testing, and the company offers both Environmental and EMC Testing services.
Brendan Wall, TRaC Global’s Sales Director, said: “Let’s say a ship, vehicle or aircraft has hundreds of electrical systems on it – they have got to live in perfect harmony. If you connect two devices together they shouldn’t interfere with each other – they should work. Behind that there’s a lot of engineering to get it right. So you design it for functionality and for compliance with the environment it’s going into. Testing establishes if it’s going to interfere with other bits of kit or if it’s going to be electrically noisy. If it’s a piece of stealth equipment it can’t be giving off an electronic signature that can be picked up by opposing forces. It’s important to determine if equipment will be reliable.
“It’s also to do with the mechanical environment: equipment going to hot places, dusty places, sandy places, or equipment on a vehicle that is experiencing lots of vibration. You can imagine if you lift the bonnet off your car with the engine running there’s lots of things vibrating, getting hot, getting cold – you have to ask if its components will survive that. So we test equipment because when the Forces need the kit to work, it must work every time. Unreliable equipment can cost lives.”
Every time the Ministry of Defence procures a new vehicle it has very harsh requirements that it must survive. Ultimately testers are trying to replicate real operating environments, which could be anywhere on the globe. This is done using EMC and environmental chambers where various environments can be replicated to subject equipment to heat, cold, dust and a lot of electrical interference in order to see if that piece of equipment can survive.
Accreditation is important. Organisations offering testing services should be accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) to an international standard for test laboratories, and in the defence world the UKAS accreditation is the general required level of assurance. If the tester is UKAS-accredited then customers can be comfortable that the test report they get in the end is credible.
Although testing plays an important role in the procurement of equipment it usually happens right at the tail end of the process. It’s a high-pressure point because it’s one of the last obstacles for developers before getting their product to market.
Mr Wall continued: “Invariably the programme is running late so the customer is up against tight deadlines and if there’s a failure at that point it’s quite a stressful situation for them, their customer and us. So we’re increasingly getting more involved on day one of projects to give support, advice and technical expertise.
“Designing in compliance gets them through testing first time. The end is an expensive place to fail a test; you don’t want to learn the month or week before product launch that there’s a problem.”
Encouraging designers to think about product compliance and qualification from day one could help avoid the dreaded scenario of designing a product that fails testing. It makes perfect sense for testers to work closely with design teams at an early stage in product development cycles to build in the attributes that will steer the product away from the compliance and approvals pitfalls. In theory, an approach such as this will help equipment achieve first-time success when a project reaches the testing, approvals and certification phase.
The message about getting testing involved early in the design process is one that Brendan Wall believes is highly important. He stressed: “Early stage qualification is the key message. Testing might be regarded as fairly commoditised – after all there are a number of test labs – but actually many products still fail testing and that sets them back.
“They are under tremendous pressure to deliver and if you’ve got things like an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) then that equipment is needed right here, right now in the field. It’s not like some of the bigger programmes that might take six or seven years of development where there’s a bit of slack; if it’s a UOR people need the equipment quickly and they need it to be safe and reliable.”
Early integration of testing can have further benefits in addition to passing the testing process first time. For defence companies developing military equipment, the inclusion of the expertise of testing professionals at the bid stage could be significant in winning contracts. At the bid stage, bidders have to demonstrate how they will comply with requirements, and working with testers at this stage can furnish added technical knowledge to support the bid and demonstrate exactly how requirements will be complied with. A credible solution in a bid that scores well when it comes to the assessment stage could be the difference between winning a contract and narrowly missing out.
Testing is vital to the development and procurement of reliable, and often urgently required, defence equipment. Safety of equipment is always paramount and is the driving force behind the testing process. Working with testers early in the design stage can help avoid failure when testing for certification as well as the economic consequences of such failure. It can also help develop contract-winning solutions with overall benefits for both the business and the end users. Testing is nothing to be scared of; if anything it should be embraced and integrated early into the process of making kit better, safer and more cost-effective.
For more information, visit: www.tracglobal.com