Sand and Dust Simulators in One Device

May 16, 2011
By Rita Boland, SIGNAL Connections

The battle against damage to equipment from sand and dust has gained ground with the unveiling of the first device that simulates exposure to both in a single chamber. Aptly named Desert Wind, the tool enables real-time, repeatable tests on equipment to determine the effects of temperature, humidity, and sand and dust concentration. It also simulates dust, sand and wind speeds up to and exceeding 65 miles per hour.

Air Dynamics Industrial Systems Corporation developed the equipment, which reduces variables in experiments to 5 percent or less—a large drop from the typical 70 percent variable. U.S. Military Standard (MIL-STD) 810G addresses the U.S. Defense Department's test method standards for environmental engineering considerations and laboratory tests and comes with a caveat that laboratory results might not equate to field conditions. Desert Wind is applicable for MIL-STD 810G testing or can be adapted to meet other specifications, such as DO-160F, which governs environmental testing of airborne components.

Dan Lehman, president of Air Dynamics, says with Desert Wind, laboratory results will stand up in the real world and costs will decrease. One way the military or companies will realize savings is through no longer needing to take a piece of equipment, strap it to a field vehicle and fly a helicopter low over it to blow sand at the device to test the durability of their gear.

Unlike other simulators, Desert Wind does not use optical sensors to measure concentration of sand and dust. Rather, all parameters are picked up within the confines of the equipment in analog format, converted to digital format and recorded every 10 seconds. Data is plotted in real time. Technicians can pause the test at any time to reposition the specimen, or they can choose a continuous rotation option.

Also unique to the simulator is its ability to test for sand damage without suffering erosion from the sand. Lehman explains that other devices can self-destruct from abrasion, which introduces new variables into the experiments. "We simply don't allow the abrasive component of the test media [sand or dust] ... to effect the critical components of the system," he says. "It's part of the design that permits the equipment to repeat the test without affecting the performance." For each test, new sand and dust is used; the particles automatically are placed in a waste receptacle after a single test.

Lehman says Desert Wind can test a variety of equipment, including warfighter gear such as weapons, radios and laptops; solar-power components; wind generator parts; airfoils; rotor blades; and even full-size missiles. Because the simulator is scalable, it can be enlarged from its primary 1-cubic-yard size to a version large enough to accommodate a vehicle. It also can operate nearly 24/7.

One client using the simulator is the Aerospace Technology Center in Canada, which focuses on applied research in the aerospace industry. Stéphane Carpentier, the center's director for innovation and development, says private and government aerospace organizations from across North America can access the device. He explains that the center was interested in the technology for several reasons that include keeping this type of testing on this continent, serving industry and further developing avionics. Because Desert Wind enables testing of both sand and dust in one, it simplifies research, Carpentier adds.

The Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane also is employing a Desert Wind test chamber to enhance testing capabilities in the simulation of environmental impact and equipment degradation in locations with significant airborne sand and dust.
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