The outer limits of tough product testing

Tags: manufacturing

ITT pushes its products beyond their expected operating limits to make sure they are truly engineered for life.

If you are ever in the vicinity of Salisbury Plain in the United Kingdom, you might witness one of the stranger sights you are going to see in your lifetime: water purification units falling from the sky.

To ensure they can be deployed by the “air drop” method, the British military sends up a plane with Stella Meta SGU units and supporting equipment – all made by ITT's Aquious business – and then sends these 900-pound packages plummeting to the ground with parachutes.

“This is how these pumps are delivered to military units on the front lines, so we need to test their survivability under real-world conditions,” says Chris Howorth, market development manager for Aquious.

Amazingly, these air drops are one of the milder forms of product testing for Stella Meta’s water purification units. As the primary customer, the British military also subjects them to electromagnetic explosions; exposure to nuclear, biological and chemical contaminants; and rough terrain testing in which they are bounced about mercilessly. The tests are designed to guarantee that the units will work when they reach their deployment destination and that the water they produce is safe to drink.

“Anything that can be done to our pumps by users, we’ve already done it – and worse – in testing,” says Howorth.

Where the rubber meets the road
For ITT to be able to stand behind its “Engineered for Life” promise, it has to push its products beyond their expected operating limits. Throughout the company, engineers, designers and product managers are gleefully devising tests that challenge their products’ endurance, reliability and ability to perform under pressure.

After months and even years of paper equations and computer simulations, testing is where the rubber meets the road.

“We put our imaging tubes on a rail and slam them into a stationary wall with a force of 500 to 1,000 times gravity – just like automakers do with crash-test dummies,” says Lisa Highberger, manager of product quality assurance for ITT Night Vision. “We are trying to recreate the actual forces they will experience if they are mounted on a rifle.”

The night vision tubes are also tested in sand, fog and 95 percent humidity. To check seal integrity, they are submerged in water tanks that apply the same pounds-per-inch pressure the goggles would encounter at 66-foot depths. To recreate the extreme temperature shifts that might be experienced on plane-mounted missions, they are quickly shifted from minus-52-degree Celsius chills to 85-degree Celsius heat blasts. The goal is to “shock” the goggle and make sure the window won’t crack.

“The thing about ITT goggles is that when they get them in the field, they work,” says Highberger. “Soldiers actually look to see if it’s an ITT goggle, because they know it will stand up to anything.”

Tough testers: Teenagers
ITT’s Jabsco marine pump business can make the same promise, thanks to its innovative use of a team of true torture artists – teenage boys. The company tests its pumps in the lab, but each year it also donates a selection of products to the London Sailing Project, a charitable trust which teaches young boys life lessons through sailing.

“We supply product in exchange for feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of our product,” says Tim Greenslade, sales manager for Jabsco. “There’s nothing like inexperienced, scared 12- to 13-year-old boys to test the durability of a manual bilge pump.”

Product testing is a form of “voice of the customer” feedback. Jabsco developed sturdier clamp rings and brackets after seeing young sailors manhandle the bilge pumps. Its KONI shock absorber and Friction Products Division brake pad businesses both have staff drivers who serve as stand-in customers. On the test tracks, they recreate the driving styles of Formula One racers, late-braking teenagers, off-road adventurers and slow-driving seniors.

And, Night Vision’s tests are based on requirements outlined by its government and military customers, but the company always “goes outside the bounds of the customer tests to make sure we never have a problem with customer failure,” says Highberger. “There’s no way to recreate everything our products will encounter in the real world, but we get pretty close.”

Field test
A/CD’s battlefield radios are truly battle-tested. First, the company puts the radios through drop tests, humidity tests, loose cargo tests, temperature tests – from minus-55 to 75 degrees C – and quarterly production reliability tests. Then, military customers use field tests to re-enact different battlefield conditions – from urban skirmishes to desert combat – and gauge the radios’ ability to work in all types of weather and through all types of interference. In all, 30 percent of the cycle time to produce a radio is spent on testing.

Big tests
How do you test pumps with flows so strong – 300,000 gallons per minute – that they are capable of filling an Olympic-size pool in two minutes? You build the largest pump test facility in North America. The AC Pump/Flygt test sump in Pewaukee, Wis., holds 440,000 gallons of water, making it possible for the companies to test massive pumps with up to 42-inch suction inlets.

Space tests
Testing takes on added importance when your product is part of a satellite that will be orbiting hundreds of miles above the earth, making repairs impossible. To ensure its optical components for the NextView satellite can survive a violent launch and the harshness of space, ITT Space Systems Division (SSD) conducts tests to simulate the extreme vibrations and temperatures its mirrors and other components will encounter.

The vibration tests include random vibration and modal surveys, while the temperature testing includes thermal cycling to withstand the rigors of space temperature extremes. In addition, SSD conducts zero-gravity tests where components are suspended with specialized support equipment and NASTRAN analysis is used to analyze its behavior and validate results.

NextView provides imagery for military and civil users, and SSD’s components serve as the satellite’s eyes. By conducting stringent “eye tests” on the ground, SSD is ensuring 100 percent mission success in space.

Road test
Potholes and hairpin turns. Wet roads and high speeds. Two of ITT’s automotive businesses use their own unique technology, test tracks and expert drivers to gauge a product’s performance before it hits the street.

Friction Products Division has test tracks in Germany, Spain and France where it gauges the stopping power of its brake products in all conditions. The company also conducts virtual test drives on brake-system dynamometers that simulate all manner of driving and climate conditions, from icy alpine ascents to sweltering racing circuits.

KONI wants to know how much driving abuse its shock absorbers can absorb. Recently, it tested a new electronically adjustable shock system in drag racers traveling 200 miles per hour, and invited 60 members of the international press and 40 distributors to test the company’s new FSD shock absorbers at the Zandvoort racetrack in Holland.

Driving a total of 16 cars – eight with FSD and eight without – they were able to experience the new shock design in a safe environment and we were able to listen to the voice of the customer by involving these people in the debut of a new product,” says Henk Kromhout, director of sales and marketing, KONI Group.

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