Norfolk, Virginia-based Bauer Compressors, Inc. (Bauer) redesigned its next-generation aircraft tire inflation system using Siemens’ SIMATIC S7-1200 controller with the engineering software TIA Portal, saving in equipment build up costs, and in turn gaining significant new capabilities and flexibility for future add-ons to the product. The company was able to cut weeks off completing the newly designed unit by developing and verifying the system’s software application in parallel with the manufacture of its machine. The result: lower implementation and build costs, reduced end-customer cost, and enhanced safety functionality of the tire-filling procedure – making the system more competitive in the markeplace.
According to a number of estimates, half of all drivers are operating their cars on under-inflated tires, ignoring known safety issues and driving down the life of their tires by increasing wear on them. Yet every driver would be alarmed if they were aboard a commercial aircraft weighing as much as 400 tons and learned that it had anything less than perfectly inflated tires when hitting the runway at 180 miles per hour.
Many of the world’s leading airlines avoid this risky scenario by using the Bauer 5012 Automatic Tire Inflator system. It is part of Bauer’s portfolio of expert test solutions for fuel, lubrication, pneumatic, and electro-mechanical applications for the global aviation industry. Bauer’s customers not only include the world’s major airlines, but also armed forces around the globe. All aviation customers expect Bauer’s test and support equipment to incorporate the latest innovative technology to help them operate safely and economically, and to support the efficiency and productivity of their ground crews.
Updating the Inflation Process
Typically using pure nitrogen from a cryogenic source, the inflation process is a delicate procedure that must be done carefully to avoid overfilling an aircraft tire. The risk is significant damage; tires cost up to $5,000 a piece, safety cages even more, and an exploding tire can result in a safety incident requiring investigation, documentation, and reporting to regulatory agencies. So proper tire inflation is essential to smooth airline and military aircraft operation.
Several years ago, Bauer updated the controls of its tire inflator system to add more features and capabilities and to improve their users’ experiences. Although the system’s filling algorithm worked just fine, it could be better implemented with newer PLC technology that could also monitor more parameters and execute more recipes for various makes and models of aircraft tires.
Before the update, the filling process involved a number of inflation intervals, each requiring time-consuming manual steps. Operators would inflate a tire partially, then gauge how much more was needed to fill, continuing this step-by-step process until the specified inflation level was reached. If tire pressure was overshot, the extra nitrogen was vented—and wasted. Since this process was inefficient and potentially costly, it presented an opportunity for Bauer to upgrade the system with a newer PLC and supporting technologies.
The Selection of Siemens
Bauer’s worldwide customer base needed a tire inflation system that could be serviced and supported around the globe. With that in mind, as well as the technological specifications required, the company evaluated two global automation suppliers, both with compelling PLC offerings and support operations sufficient to meet the requirements of Bauer’s global customer base.
Ultimately, Siemens was chosen for its innovative SIMATIC PLC technology, and especially its Totally Integrated Automation (TIA) architecture and TIA Portal engineering framework. Bauer had already standardized on the SIMATIC S7-1500 for its custom aircraft component test systems, so it was familiar with the time-saving capabilities of the TIA Portal. Further, it valued SIMATIC’s intrinsically safe I/O that enables the tire inflator to be installed in areas subject to gas or dust explosion hazards.
From a comparative standpoint, Bauer found Siemens much more responsive to their RFP, and were impressed by Siemens’ more consultative approach. Whenever questions arose, either the Siemens distributor near Bauer’s headquarters or an assigned Siemens applications engineer quickly responded.
For the tire inflator system’s core intelligence, Bauer chose the SIMATIC S7-1200 PLC. Coupled with WinCC Professional HMI software, the S7-1200 provides plenty of processing power, features, and I/O for the tire inflator system. The complete system is delivered in a compact package to save space.
For the HMI, a nine-inch SIMATIC HMI Comfort Panel was selected. This made sense because of the relatively small size of the tire inflator system, but still delivered all the features Bauer’s customers required. (One key requirement was connecting a bar-code scanner to enable fast, accurate, error-free entry of a tire’s make and model by operators; the S7-1200 PLC can call up the correct inflation recipe from its catalog. This feature also makes possible the printing of a label with details of the fill at the end of the inflation procedure that attaches to the tire.)
Smooth, Flexible Programming
Programming was done via the TIA Portal. Bauer was able to leverage its library of function blocks as well as those Bauer uses for its custom equipment based on the SIMATIC S7-1500 platform. With the integrated S7-1200’s PID V2.0 technology, the solution could be easily configured for any number of loops to read the system’s 20 parameters as required.
Moreover, the TIA Portal provided a number of time-saving capabilities, including:
- Verification that the tire-inflating algorithm was correctly ported from the old system to the new one. Bauer’s software team could do this in about two days, a task that took two weeks without the TIA Portal.
- Creation of HMI simulations. With these simulations, Bauer representatives were able to easily present design concepts to customers all over the world to ensure that the look and feel not only worked well for Bauer’s engineers, but also for the clients. What’s more, the flexible nature of the TIA Portal Project structure enabled Bauer to set a new design standard that can be easily applied to future product design updates.
New Features Realized
Leveraging the S7-1200 PLC, the HMI Comfort Panel, and the software programming via the TIA Portal, the Bauer 5012 Automatic Tire Inflator System realized a host of new features for customers, including:
- The barcode scanner speeds data entry and reduces errors.
- The label printer tracks the wheel assembly more efficiently.
- I/O overrides offer manual control if needed.
- Includes automatic alarm reporting and logging.
- A report generator is included for well-formatted printouts.
- Operator logins are required and tracked.
- Engineering and diagnostic functions are secured.
- Tire sizes and inflation pressures are stored along with other parameters for better fill control.
- A 10-point lookup table is provided.
- Live calibration is available.
- Built-in PLC and HMI operating simulations are possible.
- Logic testing can occur before equipment manufacture.
- Commissioning time is minimized through simulation use.
- Onboard diagnostics are provided via web browser.
- Field troubleshooting is possible without the TIA Portal.
The Ultimate Upgrade: Delighted Customers
Bauer customers were delighted to learn about the many new capabilities the company designed, engineered, and built into the automatic tire inflator system using the SIMATIC S7-1200 PLC, HMI Comfort Panel, and the TIA Portal software engineering framework. They also appreciated being invited to provide feedback to the simulated HMI and its operations, even before the first new inflator was built.
Many customers noted that they particularly liked the tire inflator system’s catalog of recipes that provides operators with much more control over the filling process than previously. The recipe catalog saves their operators a lot of time and minimizes the chances of errors. All the key inflation parameters can be stored as configurable options and invoked using the barcode scanner.
Among Bauer’s next steps with the SIMATIC S7-1500 and S7-1200 PLCs will be to continue raising the levels of standardization across its entire portfolio. This process will advance delivery commitments, competitiveness, and profitability.
Siemens will also keep adding features to the company’s standard equipment designs, such as new user-interface and automation improvements that will further competitiveness while helping to ensure customer satisfaction.Have an Inquiry for Siemens about this article? Click Here >>