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Airbus: flight simulation for safety tests

The 28 testing stations at the Airbus factory all have similar equipment – and with all of them, dependability is essential.

An aircraft cannot simply pull over and wait for a tow truck if it encounters a problem. Safety and reliability are therefore an absolute priority. Before an A320 can take off for its maiden flight from the runway at the Airbus factory in Hamburg-Finkenwerder, a variety of tests and simulations need to be successfully performed. And the powerful servers and other hardware components in enclosures must be cooled to ensure they do not overheat and fail. After experiencing problems, in particular during the warm summer months, Airbus decided to equip its enclosures with Blue e+ chillers from Rittal.

High-performance servers for simulation

“Depending on its exact configuration, we may have to perform around 400 hours of tests on a single A320,” explains Volker Jacobs, Head of Ground Testing for the Fourth Final Assembly Line for the A320. He and his team are responsible for verifying all manoeuvres and procedures that take place both in-flight and on the ground. All functions that are required to ensure safety must be totally dependable. The three servers needed to execute the sophisticated simulation programs are connected to the aircraft’s sensors and actuators via input and output modules. Bundles of cables as thick as a human arm weave their way from the hardware enclosure to the interior of the fuselage. These allow measurement of, for example, engine rpm or the capture of other important operational parameters. The servers are also used to generate and monitor output signals. “Together, the hardware components create a lot of heat and need to be actively cooled,” emphasises Jacobs.

“We switch the Blue e+ chillers on in the morning, and they then run with total reliability.”

Volker Jacobs, Head of Ground Testing, Airbus

Dependability is essential

The 28 testing stations at the Airbus factory all have similar equipment – and with all of them, dependability is essential. “If the cooling systems for the simulation computers were to fail, we wouldn’t be able to conduct our tests,” Jacobs points out. After encountering issues with overheating, especially during summer, Airbus decided to install Blue e+ chillers from Rittal in the server enclosures. These devices provide the sensitive components with robust protection against thermal stresses. This is vital to guaranteeing tests can be performed for a minimum of five days a week with two-shift operation. The chillers are continuously monitored, and a warning light alerts staff should one of them fail.

Retrofits to production plants in China and the US

The senior managers at Airbus were also impressed by how user-friendly the Blue e+ cooling units are. All their functions can be set via two buttons on the control panel. Moreover, the screen displays plain-text status and error messages. “We have the quality we need, and the support we get from Rittal is very good,” states Jacobs in summary. Airbus’s positive experience with the products has prompted the company to retrofit the new Blue e+ at its identical testing facilities in the US and China.