Gaining a competitive advantage – Testing products in simulated environments : case WärtsiläAuthor Arto Sampo
Taking good products and turning them into world beaters is becoming increasingly demanding as customers’ expectations with regards quality, dependability, economical performance and costs show no bounds. User experiences, modern computer simulations and other analysis tools are integral parts of efficient product design, but in some cases they do not suffice to take the product to the next level. In such cases testing real products in virtually real conditions has become a key resource in gaining the extra competitive edge required.
Implementing testing of real products is fairly straightforward when the product is relatively small and its operational conditions close to the norm. Once the product size increases and the operational conditions are more challenging, the situation quickly becomes quite the opposite.
One only has to imagine the difficulties associated with the testing of satellites, space ships or submarines in real-life conditions to understand that in those cases it is almost impossible, or at least extremely costly to conduct the necessary testing in real-life conditions.
The testing of new technologies is often left for maiden voyages and customer projects, which comes with unwanted added commercial risks. Laboratories that can test real products under realistic conditions have, therefore, become a key tool in expediting product or technology development. Such laboratories facilitate learning about the product and its behaviour and speed up the product technology development cycle.
Propulsion device test centre simulates real seagoing loads
Wärsilä Ltd’s recently implemented propulsion device test centre in Tuusula, southern Finland is a good example of a product testing facility that facilitates significant technology leaps in product development. See picture on previous spread. The centre allows real propulsion devices to be tested in virtually real seagoing and harbour conditions, while also allowing for the effects of icy conditions to be taken into consideration. The project was implemented by Wärsilä in cooperation with the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Elomatic Ltd, which delivered the test bench of the centre on an EPCM basis.
The effectiveness of new technological solutions can be tested at the centre, after which they can be transferred directly to end products. This significantly speeds up the development of product performance and the identification of new possibilities. The test centre is a world first and allows the development of more effective and efficient propulsion devices for the global Marine industry.
The testing laboratory is a rather impressive sight. It has to accommodate products for testing that weigh up to 20 tonnes, are 4 metres high and produce almost 3 MW power output. Add to that the creation of seagoing and icy conditions and the extent of the centre becomes clear.
Relatively long testing times
While on the test bench the product can be exposed to the exact fluctuating loads it will experience at sea. Even the cooling effects of ocean currents has been accounted for. The testing times are relatively long and can last for several weeks. The testing system is very flexible with regards how loads are placed on the tested product, at what frequency and cycle and for how long tests are conducted.
During a typical test the device collects measurement data from over a hundred different measurement points. The measurement points and measurement scales can be altered from one test to the next.
The test centre allows different parties to work together in the development and testing of new technologies. This cooperation includes customers, research centres, universities and suppliers.
The implementation of the propulsion device test centre at Wärsilä is a shining example of how advanced testing technologies can be used to optimize product development and the implementation of new technologies. All eyes are on them now to see what new and ground-breaking features they will develop with the aid of this technology. The sky is the limit.
A test bench used to test propulsion devices in real seagoing conditions.
When should analysis and user experience make way for laboratory testing?
Product operates in conditions that renders measuring and testing too difficult or expensive
Product is affected by complex dynamics
Generating results is extremely time consuming
User tests are expensive and require lengthy implementation times
The customer aims for a large technological leap in a short timeframe
The original text was published in our 1/2014 Top Engineer magazine
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