Laser scanner helps produce flight simulator ejection seats

July 21, 2008--Fain Models uses NVision's handheld laser scanner to produce accurate copies of jet fighter ejection seats for use in the flight simulation and training markets for significantly less than the cost of the flight worthy seat.

July 21, 2008--Fain Models(Bedford, TX) uses NVision's handheld laser scanner to produce accurate copies of jet fighter ejection seats for use in the flight simulation and training markets for significantly less than the cost of the flight worthy seat. Fain technicians use the NVision scanner to capture the 3D geometry of the more than 100 components in the seat and then use the geometry to machine the seats or models used to make molds. "The NVision handheld scanner is ideal for this application because it can freely move around an object to capture data at any angle at a very high resolution," said Cris Runge, scanning and reverse engineering manager for Fain Models.

Because of the high cost and risks involved in training in actual aircraft, the military is moving as much training as possible to simulators that realistically duplicate the flying experience. The companies that make flight simulators need high fidelity ejection seats that look, feel, and function just like the original seats but do not require the ejection hardware and other internal components. It typically costs $150,000 to $300,000 to buy real fighter aircraft seats from the original equipment manufacturers in small quantities.

Fain Models has developed a method to produce the seats for a much lower cost of only $15,000 to $75,000 per seat, or 1/10 to 1/4 of the cost of the actual seat. The company disassembles a real seat and places the components on a granite base. The technician then moves the NVision handheld scanner around the seat to capture its complete geometry. A key advantage of the NVision handheld scanner is that it is mounted on a mechanical arm so it can move freely around any size part. The mechanical arm keeps track of the scanner's location so all data is collected within the same coordinate system.

The NVision scanner generates a point cloud consisting of the coordinates of individual points. Fain technicians use software that comes with the scanner to convert the point cloud to a polygon mesh. Then they use reverse engineering software to convert the polygon data to a surface model. They export the surface model in the IGES or STEP format and import it into their CAD software. The model is then fine-tuned and toolpaths are created for machining. Most of the seat is machined directly from aluminum. Plastic parts the pilot directly interfaces with are produced from vacuum tools, created from scanned data as well.

"Our method enables us to manufacture a complete seat months faster, when compared to traditional methods, depending on the level of fidelity required," Runge said. "This makes it possible for us to offer large savings to companies that build simulators. A key to our method's success is that the NVision handheld scanner is able to quickly reverse-engineer complicated parts at a high level of accuracy."

Related articles:

Laser scanner helps design faster cars

Laser scanner replaces template and reduces costs

More in Software