SwRI engineers recently launched an automotive program to carry out benchmarking of new vehicles and engines. Benchmarking is an increasingly important tool used by manufacturers to measure the quality of their products and processes against those of their competitors.
"Current comparison programs require a company to independently examine competitive products by performance testing a vehicle, removing the engine, and evaluating key engine characteristics such as brake-specific fuel consumption, power, and emissions. This time-consuming and lengthy procedure can exceed $300,000 per vehicle," says Steve Griffin, a research engineer in SwRI's Engine and Vehicle Research Division. "By participating in the SwRI benchmarking program, manufacturers interested in the North American market can share costs, with access to more comprehensive data."
Current testing is being completed on a 1997 Nissan XE light-duty truck with a 2.4-liter, single overhead cam, 3-valve per cylinder, inline 4-cylinder engine. The next vehicle and engine planned for testing is the 1999 Lexus LX 470 luxury sport utility vehicle which has a new quad-cam, 4-valve per cylinder V8 engine.
"SwRI is dedicating equipment for high-speed dynamometer tests, as well as conditioned inlet air and combustion analysis," he adds. In addition, the use of the SwRI-developed Rapid Prototyping Electronic Control System (RPECS) is allowing performance testing with complete control of fueling, ignition timing, exhaust gas recirculation rates, and other process controls.
Contact Griffin at (210) 522-2614.
The Plasma Experiment for Planetary Exploration (PEPE) instrument, one of the most advanced plasma sensors ever to fly, was recently activated from a distance of more than 4.5 million miles. The instrument is riding aboard the Deep Space 1 (DS1) spacecraft, which will fly by asteroid 1992 KD and Comets Wilson-Harrington and Borrelly. SwRI designed and built the instrument in cooperation with Los Alamos National Laboratory.
"So far PEPE is operating perfectly and we're seeing the things you expect to see in space -- no surprises yet," says Dr. David T. Young, PEPE principal investigator and an Institute scientist in the SwRI Instrumentation and Space Research Division. Young and SwRI Senior Research Engineer John Hanley turned on PEPE from the control center at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology. "DS1 is testing 12 new technologies in deep space, including PEPE which has several new technologies of its own, to help lower the costs and risks of future NASA missions." Other SwRI scientists and researchers from elsewhere in the U.S. and Europe will help analyze the data collected during the encounters.
DS1 is using an ion propulsion system -- essential for exploring deep space because it's more efficient and can propel spacecraft further out than typical chemical rockets. PEPE will help determine whether space physics measurements can be made from spacecraft using such propulsion systems without affecting the scientific data and results. In addition, the instrument's high mass resolution will enable it to make scientifically interesting measurements of asteroid and cometary environments and to easily distinguish between the two major species emitted by the ion propulsion system, xenon and molybdenum. The instrument's other goals onboard the spacecraft are to validate the PEPE design and technologies, which include multiple plasma physics capabilities in a single 6-kilogram package.
"There's a possibility that the propulsion system could damage PEPE because the current coming out of the ion thruster is so intense -- far more intense than anything you'd normally find in space," Young continues. "I'm beginning to think it's a very small chance, but we'll have our finger on PEPE's off switch in case anything goes wrong."
This is the first ion drive that has ever been used to propel a spacecraft. Previous missions have avoided using ion propulsion systems as the primary system because the technology, and its interaction with other instruments, has yet to be proven in space. "We'll know soon whether we have to take future precautions with instruments in this environment."
Consider the scenario: A U.S. Army rapid deployment force is ordered to capture and hold a strategic bridge. Time is critical as the task force readies its tactical vehicles, including battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, transport trucks, and mobile cannons, but trucks arriving to refuel the vehicles are carrying commandeered fuel. The commanding officer is wary of using fuel that has not been fully documented. Because the nearest fuel laboratory is several thousand miles away, fuel identification could be delayed two to three days -- a real dilemma. To eliminate this uncertainty, the U.S. Army contracted with Environmental Technologies Group and the TARDEC Fuels and Lubricants Research Facility at SwRI to develop a petroleum laboratory that can be easily transported to a battlefield.
The heart of the mobile laboratory's petroleum quality analysis system (PQAS) is a near-infrared (NIR) spectrometer. The spectrometer determines the specimen's cetane number, aromatics, density, and viscosity and measures distillation temperatures, cloud and pour points, and alcohol content. An X-ray fluorescence spectrometer measures the sulfur content in diesel or the lead content in gasoline; other instrumentation measure the sample's flash point, vapor pressure, and freeze point as well as its water-shedding characteristics, particulate content, color, and electrical conductivity.
"The need for a system with these capabilities was especially evident during Operation Desert Storm," notes Program Manager Steven R. Westbrook. "The Saudis provided fuel for the U.S. tactical vehicles as part of their war effort. Trucks carrying undocumented fuels would arrive at the battlefront to be unloaded, but no one knew with certainty if the fuel was diesel, JP-8, JP-5, or a blend. The nearest U.S. Army fuel analysis laboratories were in Germany, causing several days' delay in confirming fuel quality. With this on-site PQAS, a battle tank commander knows within minutes if he can use a fuel."
SwRI-developed software provides the soldier operator with a list of fuel types. The trained operator selects the appropriate fuel from the list, and the system's computer directs automated equipment to perform selected tests on the petroleum product sample. The computer then compares test results to the specifications for that fuel type and determines if the questionable fuel can be used as intended. More sophisticated tests are performed as the quality requirements of the fuel increase. JP-8 fuel, for example, may require some operator-performed tests for positive identification.
The SwRI staff determined the equipment necessary to analyze a petroleum specimen, compiled the NIR calibrations, wrote the software to automate key parts of the system, and evaluated the system in the laboratory. Environmental Technologies Group of Baltimore, Maryland, obtained the Institute-specified equipment, fitted it onto the U.S. Army's HMMWV (pronounced Humvee®) utility vehicle, and performed many of the required logistical studies.
The prototype successfully completed government vibration and durability testing at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, and is being evaluated at the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center (TARDEC) in Warren, Michigan. TARDEC, which funded the program, is responsible for a variety of fuel and water quality test kits and for specifications and qualifications of petroleum, oils, and lubricants used by Department of Defense vehicles.
The TARDEC Fuels and Lubricants Research Facility is a government-owned, contractor-operated facility located at SwRI.
Contact Westbrook at (210) 522-3185.
SwRI has been awarded an engineering services contract, worth up to $48.5 million over five years, to support military information operations at the Joint Command and Control Warfare Center of Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio.
Information operations involve all aspects of offensive and defensive activities related to information transfer, such as electronic countermeasures, computer security, and psychological operations.
As one of three prime contractors selected to offer engineering services through September 30, 2003, SwRI will work with seven subcontractors to help the joint military command identify needs and solve information operations problems, says Roy Thompson, director of the Communications Engineering Department in the Automation and Data Systems Division.
Subcontractors are Aegis Research Corporation, Ball Aerospace and Technology, bd Systems Inc., Computer Sciences Corporation, Northrop Grumman Corporation, Science Applications International Corporation, and Syracuse Research Corporation.
Contact Thompson at (210) 522-3757.
SwRI's Bioengineering Department has been certified as meeting ISO 9001 quality standards. The certification, issued by Det Norske Veritas of Hovik, Norway, covers "engineering services for the design, development, testing, and servicing of devices for the healthcare industry."
ISO 9001 is a set of international standards used to certify a quality system for the development of products, starting with initial design and continuing through production and servicing. The department was also certified under EN 46001, the European Community standards specific to medical devices.
"Twenty elements comprise the ISO 9001 standard, and Bioengineering had to develop procedures to comply with each," says Dr. Dean Winter, director of the Bioengineering Department. "We also established a quality council to discuss quality issues, such as procedural changes that might be needed for client concerns."
"ISO certification is widely accepted by the medical device companies with whom we do business," says Susan Zogbi, the research engineer heading the department's quality assurance program. "Our certification demonstrates our commitment to quality standards."
Working primarily for medical device companies, the Bioengineering Department specializes in the development of sophisticated diagnostic and therapeutic systems, from non-invasive blood pressure monitors to accessories for heart pacemakers.
Contact Winter at (210) 522-2681.org.
Dr. Robert L. Mason, a staff analyst in the statistical analysis section of the SwRI Automotive Products and Emissions Research Division, has been elected a Fellow of the American Society for Quality (ASQ).
Mason received the honor in recognition of his significant contributions to quality. The ASQ citation reads "for outstanding contributions as the author of numerous books, papers, and presentations on quality control and industrial statistics, particularly in multivariate quality control and experiment design; for significant work in teaching statistics to engineers; and for service on the editorial board of the Journal of Quality Technology."
Mason, a specialist in industrial statistics, has applied statistical methods to solve the data analysis and experimental design problems for a variety of commercial and government projects covering all major research areas at SwRI, ranging from analysis of vehicle emissions and aircraft coatings, to wastewater irrigation and turbine wheel failures.
The ASQ citation is his third major award from the society. In 1974 and 1985 he was the recipient of ASQ's W.J. Youden Prize, given for the best expository paper appearing in the journal Technometrics. He also received the 1992 Founders Award from the American Statistical Association (ASA) and the 1985 E.W. Jacobson Award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Mason is also a Fellow of the ASA.
Contact Mason at (210) 522-2671.
A set of non-technical essays on the wonders of the solar system were recently gathered for Our Worlds: The Magnetism and Thrill of Planetary Exploration (Cambridge University Press, 192 pp., $54.95 hardback). The collection of essays, introduced and edited by Dr. Alan Stern, director of the SwRI Space Studies Department in Boulder, Colorado, explores planetary science discoveries during the golden age of space exploration from the perspective of some of the leading scientists who made those discoveries.
Institute Scientist Dr. Clark Chapman, also of the SwRI Boulder office, contributed an essay, "Small Worlds, Close Up." Stern, along with Dr. Jacqueline Mitton, previously authored Pluto and Charon: Ice Worlds on the Ragged Edge of the Solar System -- an exploration of the outermost planet, Pluto, and its unusual satellite Charon.
Published in the Spring 1999 issue of Technology Today®, published by Southwest Research Institute. For more information, contact Maria Stothoff.