Group Editor Marty Kauchak reports that shifting regulations and end user requirements, and evolving business models continue to shape the visual display sector.
Brian Simpson, the president & chief executive officer of Q4 Services, noted visual display systems have been the most labor and maintenance intensive component of flight simulators for many years. “The cost impact operator’s bear for maintenance slot provision and skilled manpower employment is significant, “the Orlando-based industry expert added.
It is in this all-too-familiar environment that visual display sector suppliers and their industry partners are quickly responding to modest increases in governing organization regulations. As important, there are more rigorous civil aviation end users’ requirements for more capable products with increased life cycle efficiencies.
Doug Gill the director of engineering at FlightSafety International (FSI), noted that in one instance, ICAO 9625 (Manual of Criteria for the Qualification of Flight Simulators) is driving increases in field of view (FOV), brightness, and geometric accuracy. The FOV (to 200 degrees horizontal) and brightness increases are “modest” and follow COTS technology. But more significant, “The geometric accuracy increase is substantial,” Gill emphasized and added, “We believe our combination of FlightSafety’s high accuracy glass mirrors with our Display Management System’s (DMS) capability of correcting small geometric distortions is a substantial advance towards meeting these requirements.”
The TRU Simulation + Training team is also remaining attentive to any new requirements introduced by the upcoming 14 CFR FAA FAR Part 60 that can affect visual display and image generator technology. Accordingly Paul Solnoky, the senior director of Program Development TRU Simulation + Training, emphasized that his company ensures it configures its flight simulation training devices, from flight training devices to full flight simulators, with systems that are compliant with agency directives.
Beyond agency directive conformance, training device manufacturers and their suppliers report common, intersecting requirements and areas of interest among their customer bases.
FSI continues to see requirements for increased fidelity and ease of maintenance in visual displays. “Graphics fidelity is increasing via the long term trend of rendering, based more on physics and through more detailed and realistically ‘busy/cluttered’ airfield environments,” Gill explained. Concurrently the transition to solid state projectors, via both LED (light-emitting diode) /DLP (digital light processing) and laser-phosphor technology is significantly increasing display system stability and easing maintenance requirements. He added, “We also see trends of increased resolution at lower price per pixel.”
Similarly, Alasdair MacPherson, the managing director of Sales and Marketing at RSi Visual Systems, concurred that while the regulatory requirements have seen only modest increases in requirements, more significant, user expectations are significantly increased in the scene realism in modern visual systems – resulting in several technology thrusts at RSi.“Customers clearly see what’s possible in modern PC-based gaming systems and increasingly expect to similar content and realism from today’s visuals. Harnessing the rapid advancements in modern enterprise-class PC systems, RSi is meeting this demand with significantly increased scene content, on approach and in airport content.”
TRU’s Solnoky said his customers have a high level of interest in a brighter image, with better day/night contrast, and the sharpness and resolution or airport lighting systems (such as runway lights). “While HD resolution projectors meet the regulatory light point resolution tests, recent COTS WXGA and 4K resolution projectors offer a significant improvement with light point sharpness approaching what was available with calligraphic light points on the older generation CRT systems. Database content and realism, not only in and around the airport, but also in the surrounding area and cities are more and more important to our customer base.”
From an operational standpoint, TRU is finding a strong focus on reducing time spent on display maintenance and set up issues, including less channel realignments, edge blending and color matching across channels, frequency of lamp replacements associated with LCoS [liquid crystal on silicon] projectors are very important. “For example, the laser-hybrid LCoS system addresses the short lamp lifespan associated with the earlier generation of LCoS systems,” he added.
Reduced maintenance requirements also have AXIS Flight Training Systems’ attention. Michaela Kollmann, the company’s head of Marketing & Sales, succinctly observed maintenance is a leading area of interest among its customers, specifically “decent auto-alignment and color match capabilities.” Beyond maintenance, Kollmann differentiated some of the attributes which set the firm’s new training devices apart from its legacy products. A short list of improvements to meet current requirements include: display quality and enhanced performance with features such as massive storm cloud models.
According to Dave Fluegeman, the director of simulation at Barco Simulation, solid state illumination (SSI) has dominated the immediate conversation about visual displays in training devices. The industry veteran told CAT this is an upgrade which can reportedly be done to existing simulators without driving costs throughout the rest of the visual systems “equation” and will significantly improve simulator uptime and maintenance costs. “Performing lamp maintenance can be very disruptive in a high-use environment, resulting in re-calibration work along with the projector maintenance. SSI brings high life-time usage and extremely low MTBF [meantime between failures], which keep the simulators up and running longer and the flow of trainees moving,” he noted. Concurrently, Fluegeman observed “We have seen a dramatic increase in the use of our FL35 LED-based WQXGA projector in the civil airline training market, and the adoption of the FS35 IR-enabled LED projector is growing rapidly.”
A blend of business models continues to shape this sector.
Activity in a “Healthy” Sector TRU’s Solnoky noted “We manufacture our own collimated display system. TRU does not have a preferred IG and projector supplier,” and added TRU has delivered its FFSs with Rockwell Collins, RSi Visuals and aXion™ image generators, and with projectors using different display technologies such as DLP-LED, LCoS, Laser-Hybrid LCoS from the primary COTS projector vendors including Barco, JVC and Sony.
FSI’s business strategy includes primarily delivering a complete visual system. The company’s VITAL 1100 image generator integrated with its DMS ties together and fully integrates the generation of the visual data for display of a properly blended and geometrically correct image on the display devices. FSI’s David Emig, the staff engineer for Display Systems, further noted this integration technique controls the active elements of the display system and optimizes the rendering to the characteristics of the display. “Our DMS enables us to be projector agnostic; we maintain close relationships with all relevant projector vendors, test and evaluate candidate projectors, and select the best projector to meet the application requirements. This essentially allows us to provide a ‘best of breed’ solution specific to the customer requirements,” he added.
At the business strategy level, Rockwell Collins announced this February 25 that it acquired the Matrix series projector product lines from Christie Digital Systems (“Christie®”). Jonas Furukrona, the principal programs manager for Simulation Training & Solutions at Rockwell Collins, explained the significance of the transaction. “The Christie Matrix acquisition allows us to bring a broader portfolio to our customers. The Matrix SIM and StIM strengths are in their high performance LED light engines and independent infrared capabilities. They have been very successful in the military training space due to these combinations.”
Furukrona further reflected on Rockwell Collins’ greatly expanded portfolio. In addition to the recently acquired Matrix series projectors and the Rockwell Collins ProSim ultra contrast projector, Rockwell Collins will also offer an integrated visual system that combines the newly released EP-8100 image generator with the latest ‘laser illumination’ projector technology from JVC. “
Beyond consolidation and partnering, RSi’s MacPherson commented on the economic health of this sector, noting that he sees a robust market for new simulators (and therefore visual systems) complemented by a very active market in the upgrade of older simulators. Indeed, the industry veteran added that while RSi, “moved to a new facility in Coppell, Texas (Dallas-Fort Worth region) in 2014 to accommodate the company’s growth, RSi plans to relocate in the first half of 2016 to a Coppell, Texas facility to double its size to meet increasing demand for its systems.”
An expanded supply base should please AXIS Flight Training Systems and other RSi customers.
Growth and expansion also resonate at Q4. Simpson pointed out as his company provides industry leading products with unmatched minimal lead times Q4’s unique approach to visual display supply incorporates in-house manufacturer of all major assemblies. “Q4’s manufacturing platform has expanded twice in the past 18 months with additional growth provisioned for the future to support a growing order book for all collimated display product lines.”
Other Materiel Updates Q4’s Simpson recalled two new Q4 products were successfully launched in 2015 – enabled by its partnering network.
The reported world’s first 7ft (2m) radius collimated display, was designed and manufactured specifically for small aircraft types: ab initio, corporate/business jet and single seat military applications. Of significance, “the product was launched in partnership with Diamond Aircraft Industries (Wiener Neustadt, Austria), Simpson noted. The first system has been successfully integrated with a Diamond DA42 simulator.
Q4 also launched a low cost collimator, SupraVue® Lite, specifically designed and manufactured for fixed base simulator applications. Simpson pointed out that incorporating a new fiber glass and composite mirror plenum structure, the product achieves a low price point while delivering Level D collimated optical performance. “A strategic alliance was formed with fixed base simulator manufacturer Venyo to launch the product in third quarter 2015. Two units have been delivered with five more units currently being manufactured at our facility in Orlando, Florida.”
Rockwell Collins has been taking orders for its new EP-8100 IG since last September. Of note, systems the company will be delivering going forward will be using the EP-8100 platform. Furukrona pointed out the EP-8100 was designed to extend the longevity of the EP-8000 product line by addressing some obsolescence.
Barco’s Fluegeman reported that his company’s high performance LED projectors have been extremely well-received and have demonstrated to the training operators that Barco projectors “are the low-risk, high-performance choice in this space.” One of the first installs his company “did with high-resolution LED projectors was with British Airways, who have standardized on LED projectors from Barco across their fleet,” he recalled. In another significant customer trend, Barco has seen more and more system integrators and end users demanding LED projectors from the company for their fleet of simulators. “Our most notable achievement in this area was selection by CAE for a 2-year supply agreement of FL35 WQXGA projectors for their civil and military simulators worldwide,” Fluegeman added.
Other 2016 Developments According to Paul Lyon, the new business development lead at Esterline Simulation Visual Systems (SVS), his business unit’s rapidly evolving TD-Series product is the world’s first display that uses a roll-up spherical screen for easy deployment and setup. “It is a ‘low cost technically acceptable’ product targeted at the small commercial helicopter training market and other commercial markets like mining and driving simulation,” he explained this March 2.
The product, which has also caught the attention of the military sector, is evolving as a collaborative effort between Esterline SVS and its sister division, Esterline CMC Electronics (CMC) – a designer and producer of leading technology electronics products for the aviation and global positioning markets.
Lyon continued, “Over the next couple of months we are putting a small helicopter demonstration unit together that integrates our new TD-Series display with their new small helicopter cockpit. The purpose of this is to help expand the small helicopter market for both of us.”
2016 is seeing a new family of professional-class solid state projectors emerging from Barco. The company’s new F90 projector series was launched this February. Fluegeman continued, “This new family of projectors is using laser phosphor illumination technology and Barco’s own unique 4K UHD [ultra-high-definition] technology. These new projectors will augment our extremely successful LED range of projectors with features specifically developed for the simulation market, as we extend our product offerings along the price/performance curve.” Fluegeman also promised, “We will be showing the F90 at ITEC in London, and I/ITSEC 2016 will bring even more exciting developments.”
On the closer-in horizon RSi will introduce its Epic D4K visual system at WATS 2016. “The Epic D4K system will feature a native 4K resolution projector and image generator system in the conventional - channel configuration. This first of its kind 4K visual system will offer eight million pixels per channel and will be offered at price points consistent with current market expectations,” MacPherson revealed.