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The Global ATE Market Is Expanding: Aerospace Is a Big Reason

Aug 16, 2022 | Aerospace, All Content

Automated Test Equipment, or ATE, is a rapidly expanding industry. As manufacturing capabilities have scaled up thanks to automated production lines and improved data management practices, a new bottleneck has emerged: testing. Quality control has become the new chokepoint in production, especially in aerospace companies. By expanding your ATE capabilities, you can maintain quality without sacrificing output.

Furthermore, ATE can actually cut R&D and production costs in the long term. It’s clear that more aerospace companies will invest heavily in ATE to help products get to market sooner. Consider the applications of ATE in your industry and learn how to implement it in your facilities.

ATE in aerospace

The Global ATE Market Is Expanding: Aerospace Is a Big Reason

Automated Test Equipment Market News

A recent report highlighted the growth of the ATE market. Although there’s been growth across several different industries, the aviation industry has been one of the largest drivers. Globally, however, ATE is surging because of how complex consumer products have become. When a product only had a few components, testing each system manually was not overly burdensome. Imagine trying to do that with a modern cell phone or vehicle, which now includes advanced sensors and multiple compute units.

With rising complexity comes the need for a more versatile testing system. Expecting human inspectors to test everything reliably is not viable considering the high degree of accuracy modern systems are expected to have. The solution then is ATE. Automated test equipment provides precision, accuracy, and most importantly, it automates testing to allow for high-volume quality control.

How ATE and Aerospace Synergize

Aerospace companies in particular are well-suited to ATE. Whether you fabricate a whole aircraft or only manufacture components for one, safety is of utmost concern. Therefore, having a reliable testing system is paramount. Since aircraft involve combinations of systems ranging from communication to targeting in military applications, there’s also a need to test a variety of electronic systems. ATE provides aircraft manufacturers and their suppliers with consistent testing to ensure quality and safety.

Ground-based systems like radar stations likewise benefit from ATE. ATE systems can test a wide array of signals to ensure that radar was properly deployed. In addition, ATE units can even simulate incoming threats to test both the radar’s performance and staff’s readiness. With ATE, it’s possible to stress test every component, whether digital or analog. Purchasers need parts and products that can withstand heavy interference and even subterfuge in high-risk settings. ATE provides that guarantee. 

The Growing Role of Autonomous Vehicles

Inside the aeronautics industry, one specific area has driven immense ATE growth: UAVs. UAVs have soared in popularity in the past decade and government orders for them only continue to increase. Even outside of the military sector, UAVs have proved useful for search and recon, surveying, and mapping applications. However, unmanned vehicles need to be able to handle problems on the fly since human intervention is limited to providing digital inputs.

ATE has accelerated the development of new UAVs and has improved their reliability. By automating the testing process, manufacturers can put their UAVs and components through more rigorous testing protocols. These can even be done in real-time during test flights to measure how the aircraft responds to various alarms or faults. Engineers are able to refine UAV programming to respond better to potentially disastrous situations as a result.

Where Does ATE Excel?

What can automated test equipment accomplish? There are a number of applications for ATE within the aviation industry. ATE is primarily used to test electronic systems, including communications and software. However, it can also test the reliability of ground-based systems. Electronically controlled safety systems also benefit from ATE.

There are also mechanical ATE benches for testing analog components. For example, the landing gear can be hooked up to a bench with actuators to perform precise tests that simulate a number of different landing scenarios. Nevertheless, ATE primarily focuses on electronics as these require a wider array of testing conditions and can be performed much faster using automation than physical tests.

Signal Testing

Signal testing with ATE is useful for all kinds of systems. Most importantly, aircraft communication systems require very thorough testing. Tests should include every possible frequency that is used by the aircraft to ensure operational communications in every situation. This includes both communications with ground-based equipment and other aircraft. In addition, internal communications systems also need to be tested. Manually testing each frequency on each antenna and radio would be extremely time-consuming. An ATE bench can do it faster.

With ATE, you can configure the testing parameters. Set the size of the data packet to be transmitted, set a range of frequencies, and set the number of times you want each frequency to be tested. The ATE unit will then proceed through each scenario in seconds, outputting data regarding signal strength and performance.

Radar Testing

Radar systems, like onboard communications, require extensive training across a number of frequencies. However, they also require simulation testing to verify how the radar system detects objects of various sizes and speeds. ATE can send signals to simulate a variety of scenarios ranging from common aircraft to incoming threats. Radar arrays can also be tested together to evaluate how radar systems share data.

It’s also possible to test entire defense systems using ATE. What starts as an input simulation on radar can then be tracked to measure how the radar system relays information to automated defense systems or countermeasures.

Software Testing

ATE also provides support for aeronautics software development. ATE can put programs through a battery of tests to determine how they respond to unexpected parameters and to determine if they provide the correct response to unsafe values. ATE helps programmers find bugs and correct them faster, rather than relying on field testing alone. While field testing is still a necessary part of any product’s development, ATE can greatly speed up software development before reaching a working prototype.  

Safety Systems

Everything from emergency lights to parachute systems to software-based abort protocols can be tested using ATE. These are some of the most vital systems to test, especially when passengers are involved. Even components with safety features, such as onboard electrical outlets, can be tested to ensure that they fail properly and do not pose a risk to the aircraft.

Safety testing is often the greatest barrier to bringing an aerospace component to the market. Failures are not tolerated and can lead to lost contracts quickly. Investing in ATE guards against these potential business-ending problems.

What Makes ATE Superior to Manual Testing?

Aside from its versatility, ATE offers several benefits to industrial companies in aviation and related fields. ATE is more reliable than other testing methods, allowing you to set it and forget it. With high-precision computer-controlled testing, you get very reproducible results. Finally, you can produce a much higher volume of tests, allowing you to finish development faster.

Reliability

When it comes to reliability, ATE systems are unsurpassed. The testing units themselves are built with extra redundancies to ensure that they work consistently and require infrequent calibration. When used properly, they can perform thousands of tests without needing service. Digital ATE systems that only test signals or electronic components can reliably test hundreds of thousands of times.

This unparalleled level of reliability makes ATE the gold standard. It’s much more efficient than relying on human testers. When you require manual testing, you’re only able to do so when staff is present and available. In contrast, ATE machines can be set to work long hours, even when no one is on site.

Reproducibility

If you can’t trust your test results, they’re worthless. However, validating test results by repeating tests takes human operators additional hours. With ATE benches, you can rapidly repeat tests to validate results without adding significant testing time. By default, most ATE systems will run the same test several times for consistency. The additional data is also useful for determining margins of error and tolerances.

High Volume Applications

Automation allows you to put a single component through a wider array of tests, or to test multiple components quickly. You greatly expand your testing capacity with automated test equipment. If you intend to increase your production capacity, do not overlook the value of ATE. There is no better alternative than automation when you need to test a high volume of equipment or put prototypes through a high volume of tests.

Implementing ATE

Automated test equipment has proven to be a useful tool for industrial applications. As the ATE industry has expanded, prices are becoming more affordable for companies as well. ATE is no longer only for the largest manufacturers.

Contact SAAB RDS to learn more about ATE and how we can help your company implement it successfully.

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