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By: Todd Vinson, Pacific Aerospace Consulting, guest author

There was a day when functionality, not funding, was the driving force behind the engineering industry’s approach to developmental Test and Evaluation (T&E). We expected, and generally received, full funding to conduct our engineering projects. As a result, we conducted our evaluation projects with a rigor that included technical reviews and test-planning meetings that outlined plans to conduct simulation and laboratory testing, followed by testing in an environment that more closely resembled the real-world environment of the device under test. For military applications, we moved from the bench to the simulator, then to the aircraft or ship (or weapon or sensor), then to operational testing.

At risk of over simplification, the only real variable in the developmental test process was when to transition from one phase to the next (from ground to flight, for instance). We relied on our engineering experience for those decisions. Regardless of the soundness of the test strategy, we included plenty of regression testing into the schedule to allow for fixes and re-tests. We covered ourselves. Sure, we maximized efficiency where possible, but not to the extent that required a new business culture or mindset. However, times have changed, and so must our thinking if we intend to continue in the developmental test arena.

The Department of Defense (DoD) commissioned a Defense Science Board (DSB) Task Force to conduct a comprehensive review of how military and industry facilities do T&E. The DSB findings were released earlier this year and should serve as a wake-up call for us all. Among other findings, the report cited lack of disciplined processes from an eroding workforce and loss of senior T&E experience.

The DSB report also cited excessive time for incorporation of fixes and the need for greater emphasis on integration testing. These findings drove a modification to the Defense Acquisition Guidebook, which now places greater emphasis on technical maturity risks and less on the more traditional cost and schedule drivers. The changes are also reflected in acquisition contract language, which assumes the reader’s thorough understanding of the role of integration in the acquisition process.

The requirement for a change in mindset doesn’t stop there. Government test agencies are responding to the changing Defense Acquisition world. For example, the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC) is changing their organizational culture (not just organizational structure) to provide a more efficiently tested and easily upgradable product for their customer, the soldier. They are not the only government test facility doing so.

If this sounds like private sector language, it is. The DoD is admittedly taking a cue from the commercial world by downsizing workforce, consolidating facilities, engaging in selective purchase of new systems to support current critical needs, and investing only in technology that addresses critical needs for the future. This issue is pertinent to more than those who provide support to a government customer. It affects technology, how we use it, test it, and provide it to our customers.

Pacific Aerospace Consulting believes that adapting to this new testing culture rests in innovation and thinking beyond traditional approaches to problems. What if we don’t offer a fixed set of renewable energy choices for the customer, but instead we develop renewable energy solutions literally based on the customer’s needs, with a return on investment (ROI) calculated from real-world data? What if we take advantage of the diverse backgrounds and experiences of our teams, and develop unique and innovative solutions that combine T&E engineering, marketing, and on-site installations and evaluations?

Or what if we create new ways to use emissions from existing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) units to assist in power generation by feeding the emissions into renewable energy components (wind, solar, or thermal)? The result is a hybrid solution costing less than a new system, running more efficiently and generating a much lower carbon footprint than a traditional power generator.

Of course, creating innovative solutions brings us back full circle to the subject of designing innovative approaches to T&E and integration of the technology. Given the new culture, the first step in our test strategy is in realizing that we are testing to a new requirement: a new mindset. Once that is realized, renewable energy technology will give us plenty of opportunities to implement the fix.

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