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Westland cuts helicopter development costs with ZYTOUCH


07 April 2004

Rapid HMI prototyping using virtual instrument panel saves project costs, time and aids documentation

Using Zytronic’s Zytouch touchscreen technology, Westland Helicopters Ltd. can quickly reconfigure an entire helicopter instrument panel layout during customer trials.  The aircraft’s human machine interface can now be refined during a single meeting with customer aircrews and specifiers, shrinking the time taken to make any adjustments from days or weeks to as little as one hour.

A single touchscreen measuring 1.5m x 0.6m simulates the entire helicopter control panel. By combining Zytronic’s touchscreen technology with its own virtual instrument panel software, Westland can now re-site instruments and bezel keys by simple drag and drop operations, and present an interactive panel for aircrews to “fly” during simulations. This allows customers to gain a better understanding of the human machine interface at an earlier stage in the programme. It also allows Westland to implement changes more cost-efficiently, and simplifies documentation.  After reviewing an initial configuration with the aircrew, Westland engineers can reconfigure the panel to incorporate customer requests without making mechanical or wiring changes that can be expensive and time-consuming.

Visiting experts from customers such as the Ministry of Defence can trial the instrument panel, and have their changes implemented in as little as one hour and then immediately re-evaluate the layout. “We can drag, drop and re-size instruments and controls in any position,” explained Paul Brinson, assistant chief engineer – technology and simulation, of Westland Helicopters Ltd. “No other currently available technology can give us this flexibility. We have been developing virtual panel software for some time, but Zytouch now allows pilots to interact with those instruments as soon as they have been redrawn.”

Brinson added that after Westland decided that touchscreen was the way to go, it was Zytronic that devised the solution. Embedding the optimal film technology in the touchscreen glass was especially critical to the project. Zytronic evaluated potential films and completed the first iteration of the panel within six months of Westland’s first enquiry. Westland has bought three panels, and is about to order a further three panels.

The new system makes it easier to agree the human machine interface (HMI) with the customer, a process normally achieved through complex paperwork and mainly static representations of instrument behaviour. “Documentation can run to hundreds of pages, to adequately describe the appearance of the instrument panel,” explained Brinson. “The touchscreen approach can articulate concepts more clearly and is more tangible, thereby making it easier to agree formats with the customer.”

Following extremely positive customer reaction, Westland is now seeking to increase the re-use of software modules created for this rapid prototyping activity, to further streamline design, configuration and build of instrument panels across all helicopter models and all customers.