Developing a Custom Test Cell Vibration Monitoring System Using CompactRIO

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"In the long run, TCVMS based on NI hardware and software could pay for itself in a matter of minutes if it helps prevent a high-value failure. "

- Tim Carlier, Integrated Test & Measurement

The Challenge:
Plagued with severe equipment vibration levels, a large-engine manufacturer spent a significant amount of money over two years repairing seven problematic test cells. Beyond the repair costs, the failures were beginning to create a bottleneck in production, which could have easily escalated and cost tens of thousands of dollars a day.

The Solution:
Developing a custom test cell vibration monitoring system (TCVMS) using NI CompactRIO hardware that helps an engine manufacturer monitor the health of its testing equipment to see if and when it begins to vibrate at dangerous levels.

Tim Carlier - Integrated Test & Measurement

ACS, a company that designs and builds some of the world’s leading engine and vehicle test facilities for its clients, sought out National Instruments Gold Alliance Partner Integrated Test & Measurement (ITM) for assistance with resolving its customer’s problem. We delivered a remedy that ACS engineering team leader Jason O’Brien called an “elegant solution” and one he says ACS now encourages its manufacturing clients to integrate into their test facilities.

Essentially, ITM worked with sister company SixDOF to develop a custom TCVMS that helps the engine manufacturer monitor the health of its testing equipment to see if and when it begins to vibrate at dangerous levels. The manufacturer can then make adjustments or schedule repairs before extensive harm is done to the dynamometer (a component in the test cell that gets coupled to an engine and is designed to absorb both horsepower and torque during testing) or the engines being tested.

The system is comparable to a car’s computer or engine control unit (ECU), which warns a driver when a potential engine failure looms. The ECU has diagnostics that are always running. Similarly, the team put a diagnostic tool in place in this case that will always be there and went the extra mile to make it as transparent as possible to the operator.

Engineers from SixDOF and ITM needed to find and fix the source of the vibration on the manufacturer’s test cells before integrating the TCVMS into the complex system. Using ITM’s iTestSystem software (iTS), they validated the finite element analysis models that helped pinpoint the root issue that was causing dynamometers to fail.

The team completed the engineering rework to fix the vibration issue, but since a single dynamometer rebuild often hits a six-figure price tag, ACS advised its customer to invest in an early warning system.

“A dynamometer can deteriorate in a single shift,” O’Brien said. “We’d rather spend a little up front and save a lot on the back end. At least operators now know when they have to shut things down before something drastic happens.”

SixDOF senior engineer Garth Wiley said the beauty of the TCVMS is that it was fitted specifically for the structural characteristics of the eight test cells in the engine plant.

“Since we had done all this research on these test cells, we knew a lot about them. That allowed us to set some vibration targets that are custom tailored,” Wiley said. “We know a certain type of vibration signature might relate to a potential issue relative to the dynamometer or another type of vibration might relate to a coupling beginning to fail. This system is more sophisticated than any typical vibration monitoring system widely used in the industry.”

The TCVMS uses two industrial triaxial accelerometers—one affixed to the engagement pedestal, which holds the engine, and another to the dynamometer itself. The accelerometers measure acceleration in three directions and feed that data to a CompactRIO controller programmed with NI LabVIEW software. The brain behind the system is ITM’s custom TCVMS software, which runs embedded on the CompactRIO controller. Order data and limit data is sent back to the controller to alert the operator if a limit is reached. Clients should know when the vibration is high in their test cells and understand where the vibration is being caused and what is causing it. In the long run, TCVMS could pay for itself in a matter of minutes if it helps prevent a high-value failure. Additionally, if it detects a dynamometer beginning to fail, there is a huge cost savings in being able to schedule a fix as opposed to waiting for it to fail and then experiencing a bottleneck in production.

Though on a much smaller scale, ITM’s monitoring solution for test cells ties closely back to one of the firm’s most successful business models—its industrial monitoring systems (which also use systems based on CompactRIO) in large paper mills and utility plants. We took our two core businesses—structural testing and industrial monitoring—and figured out how to combine them for this system.

Author Information:
Tim Carlier
Integrated Test & Measurement
227 Water St., Suite 300
Milford, OH 45150
Tel: (513) 248-8450

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