Test Cells still have the same mission as they did with the Wright Brothers: verifying engine performance prior to flight. How that mission gets accomplished however is very different today.
- The hand-loaded engine mount and cables/hoses have been replaced by automated coupling systems that join fuel and electrical connections.
- The engine adapter connections are intertwined with the Test Cell Control system through PLCs to maximize safety.
- The open area around the engine test system has been surrounded by complex acoustic enclosures, with extensive sound treatment for inlet and exhaust noise control.
- High volume/velocity air flows are critical to performance measurement.
- Computerized Data Acquisition and Control Systems must be constantly maintained and updated to handle the latest engines.
- Fuel System containment
- Safety and Training are now key elements of successful performance verification.
On one hand, you could argue from a safety and operational readiness standpoint that test cells should be your most appreciated asset, but, on the other you could say that Test Cells are the single biggest sunk cost for an MRO; they are pure overhead and a pain in the neck to maintain.
So how does today’s Director of Maintenance balance their shop mission and engine test cell requirements, and incorporate all the latest gadgets to handle the ever increasing complexity of engines all on a slashed budget? Terms like sunk costs, fixed assets, contribution, tooling charges, consumables, re-test, qualifications, etc., have turned the operation into a full-on business enterprise.
The challenges of Engine Test Cells for 2012 and beyond are balancing cost and schedule against capability, reliability and performance. The days of “the sky’s the limit”are past. Today’s MROs have to be both technically as well as business savvy.
The purpose of this post area is to discuss the challenges posed by the Test Cells of today and tomorrow in both generalities and in specific details. Please feel free to comment on our cover post or start your own thread regarding how you see the Challenges of Test Cells.