New and Improved Apex User Site

Posted on November 15th, 2017

Five years ago at our first annual user conference in Nashville, TN we unveiled the first version of our user site to our customer base.  The site was extremely well received because it provided an improved mechanism for the delivery of purchased license keys as well as provided a streamlined process for downloading released software packages to our customers.  While we were very happy with the initial release of the site, my vision has always been that the user site would develop into an all-inclusive customer portal that not only provided streamlined product delivery, but also provided customer support, technical information and a system which could capture feature requests, software questions and support requests.

Since the initial release of the user site, we have invested heavily in improvements that not only add functionality but also improve the users experience with the site.  We have had roughly 20 updated releases of the site since our initial launch.  The latest update, released last week, is a culmination of several months of hard work by our development team and the result is a more organized, faster site which not only provides a more intuitive GUI design, but also allows for faster deployment of future releases based on the new backend modularity.  

 

The biggest addition to the user site involves channel based licensing.  Because our dynamic data acquisition software DS, is licensed on a per channel basis at the vendor level, each vendor (National Instruments, VTI, Dewetron, General Standards, Datatel, LTT, etc.) have a dedicated section under downloads for their appropriate driver packages, documentation and downloads.  

DS Channel Licenses

The first thing you see after logging into the site is our “Downloads Dashboard”.  This screen gives you access to download the latest releases of our products.  With the new release, products are organized into 4 standard toolkits (Acquisition, Analysis, Utilities and Archival) to improve the communication of software functionality to our users.  Access to products is based on company assigned users and also a valid maintenance agreements.  Even if you are not specifically assigned as the point of contact for a product, you can still login and access our “Utilities” section which provides you the ability to download DV our free data acquisition viewer, our API library for streamlined development of custom protocols and site integration, the Apex Circumferential Optimizer Tool and Apex Limits Utility Tool.  In addition to software packages, users can access help documentation, training information and license keys from this screen.

Downloads

The “Help Desk” section of the website is the most frequented and provides several resources to our customers.  The help desk ticket section allows users to enter questions, feature requests or software issues.  The system captures these requests, routes them to the appropriate APEX department, and provides a communication log of messages regarding the ticket.  We encourage all users to become familiar with the ticketing system and utilize it as your primary means of communication regarding our software.  The help desk ticket system provides quicker and more thorough support versus emailing support requests to our staff.

Help Desk

Our “Technical Library” provides valuable technical information to our users such as white papers, quick-start guides, demo files, LUA scripting libraries and archived presentations from our annual user conference.  All users have access to this wealth of knowledge.

In addition to our Technical Library, we have developed an FAQ section which answers frequently asked questions regarding our products.  This searchable section provides users with commonly requested information quickly.

Technical Library
FAQ

Over the past five years I have seen my vision of an all-inclusive customer portal become a reality and am excited to begin working on our next set of improvements.  If there is a feature you would like to see added to the user site, feel free to enter a feature request via our ticketing system.  We appreciate your feedback on the site and thank you for being Apex customers.

Author: Amanda Farmer, Administrative Director of Apex Turbine Testing Technologies

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Our 2018 conference includes free complete training classes on both Aeromechanics and Signal Processing (including rotating machinery!).  These training classes are highly requested and full of great information.  Our user conference is your only opportunity to attend these high level training classes for free.  In addition to the training classes, the conference includes introductions of new APEX products and features, product and feature deep dives, one on one sessions with our developers, engineers and executive team and several social events.  The conference is a great opportunity to offer input and suggestions on our upcoming development plans, as well as meet and network with other APEX users and industry leaders.  Several of our industry partners will be on hand as exhibitors for the event, allowing you to meet with several companies in one location.

Registration for the event includes all training sessions, conference sessions and social events and is free for all current APEX users with a valid maintenance agreement.  We hope to see you in Nashville in March and as always if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us!


Getting to Know Us

Posted on November 8th, 2017

I just completed a six week tour throughout a large section of Europe which was a mixture of business and pleasure.  My wife and I have been planning this for some time to coincide with the departure of our youngest son to college.  We’ve been very involved with our kids over the years and knew this would be an emotionally challenging milestone for us, so we planned the trip as kind of a diversion from the changes occurring at home.  We affectionately referred to this as our “crying through Europe trip”!  Of course, it wasn’t as dramatic as all that and we certainly didn’t do much crying, but it was a wonderful experience.  I also managed to visit a lot of our European customers and some new organizations that were interested to learn more about us.

Our trip began in the Netherlands, then on to a couple of locations in Germany, then to Paris, Zurich, then several locations in Italy, then to Munich, Prague, Pilsen and finally Berlin.  I’ve sprinkled a few pictures in here to give you an idea of these beautiful places.  If you’ve not had opportunity to see some of these places, we highly recommend it!  During this time, we got to better understand the people in Europe, visit with our reseller, Datatel, and of course, meet with our customers and prospects.

Agriturismo

Agriturismo

Zurich

Zurich

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

Bellagio

Bellagio

As I visited around various places, I was so grateful for the time and attention of all the people that hosted me.  It’s always a great opportunity to visit people face to face and to learn directly what their concerns and needs are.  Information provided during these meetings has a direct impact on our development plans so this time is extremely valuable to us.  Thank you to everyone I met with!

Despite the time spent at each of these places, I’m always pressed for time to share updates about what our company is doing.  We are busy doing many things to improve our product offerings, so it is nearly impossible to cover everything in an afternoon meeting (or maybe even an hour or two!).  Plus, while I certainly have a solid grasp on what our products can do, it’s nearly impossible to demonstrate all the features in the time allotted.

To address these problems, five years ago APEX Turbine (then EDAS) began hosting a three day “user conference” to provide our customers a venue to dive into what our products can do.  The conference includes training sessions in a plenary setting (everyone together) and also “deep dives” which are available for all of our products and are done conference-style in 45-minute presentations with time for questions and answers.  We involve almost our entire staff in these conferences, so our customers can learn directly from our developers and engineering staff.  These aren’t sales presentations…they’re interactive sessions where you can learn details and share experiences.

We also offer our partners and suppliers an opportunity to exhibit at the conference, so you can talk directly to them, see their products and see our software running on a variety of hardware platforms.  We’ve been proud to host representatives from Concurrent Computer Corporation, Datatel, National Instruments, Pacific Instruments, Precision Filters, Prime Photonics, TEAC, the University of Notre Dame, and VTI Instruments.  This year we expect to welcome some new exhibitors to the conference.

2017 Apex User Conference-Event

Hard Rock Cafe

The conferences have another facet that I think is most important.  We intentionally include a couple of social events in the conference so that our customers can talk to one another.  I know, you’re probably thinking “boondoggle”, but these events are really important.  When I travel around to customer sites, the host always expects that I will present our company and products in the best positive light.  Of course!  Who wouldn’t do that?  But, by having the social events at our user conference we offer attendees a chance to talk to and hear from other APEX customers directly.  So instead of hearing a biased opinion about APEX from me, you can hear from others unfiltered.  I think you will agree with me that this may be the most important aspect of the conference.

2017 Apex User Conference-Product Deep Dive

Product Feature Deep Dive

2017 Apex User Conference-Keynote

Keynote Presentation

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The APEX Turbine User Conference has been held in Nashville twice before and in New Orleans and Atlanta.  This year we will again be in Nashville.   Nashville is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States and offers a wide range of things to do and places to enjoy.  We are privileged to have people from nearly all of our customer’s organizations attend this conference from places around the world.  I am always humbled that people take time out of their busy schedules to visit us and learn more about our products, but this says something about our products and about our company.  Our customers find value in spending the time to get to know us and our products better.  I hope you will consider coming to Nashville this year to learn for yourself why people choose APEX products for their testing needs.  I also think you’ll have a good time.  

Author: Kurt Nichol, President/CEO of Apex Turbine Testing Technologies


APEX Turbine Celebrates Seventeen Years in Business!

Posted on August 29th, 2017

Happy Anniversary Apex Graphic

This month APEX Turbine celebrates our seventeenth year in business!  Over the years not only has our business grown, but more importantly, our understanding of our market and our customers’ needs has grown.  It’s been quite an adventure.  As with most anniversaries, it’s a good time to look back at how we came to be.

Prior to forming the company, I was working at the Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC) in the technology department where a team of us, civilians, contractors, and Air Force personnel, worked to streamline the structural test and evaluation process.  We worked on a variety of things including test planning, test support, and data acquisition and data analysis technologies.  As part of our work, it was a fairly common practice to work with universities as subcontractors.  One of our subcontractors at the time was Vanderbilt University, and one of our primary consultants there was Dr. Csaba Biegl.

A key component of improving structural test was the development of the Computer Assisted Dynamic Data Monitoring and Analysis System, or CADDMAS for short.  This project transpired in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and culminated in a real-time test capability that offered the ability to not only acquire dynamic data, but also the ability to view real-time Campbell diagrams.  Because CADDMAS performed all FFT signal processing online, we were able to store and record processed data in so-called “dat” files which were used for quickly reviewing the data offline.  CADDMAS was truly revolutionary.  You can read about the development in

“CADDMAS: A REAL-TIME PARALLEL SYSTEM FOR DYNAMIC DATA ANALYSIS”, ASME 94-GT-194, Tibbals, et al.,  1994.

Of course, data acquisition and online monitoring was only one tool in our toolbox to improve turbine engine structural test efficiency.  At about the same time, we also tackled the problem of streamlining dynamic data analysis and signal processing.  The signal processing part of this wasn’t too difficult to overcome since CADDMAS was already storing processed dat files.  The real challenge was to get through all the data in a timely fashion.  To understand why this was a problem, you must first understand how much data could be generated.  

A typical aeromechanical test program at AEDC would involve perhaps 48 dynamic strain gage channels scattered over a variety parts in an engine.  Each strain gage would record vibrations for on the order of 20 modes of vibration over a typical accel/decel of an engine.  But, because testing at AEDC involves testing at simulated altitude conditions, it would not be unusual to do these engine transients at 20 or more flight conditions with variations on the way the engine was controlled, or with various inlet distortion patterns.  This could produce maybe 50 or more individual test conditions.  So, in order to understand what all the measurements meant, we had to analyze resonant responses for 50 conditions x 20 modes x 48 strain gages or 48,000 responses!  Each response had to be compared against some success criteria or limit.  Responses that exceeded limits had to be trended against various test parameters to understand what to do next.  Whew!

To make this much faster and easier, we created a computer program to quickly scan through the dat files looking for maximum responses for each mode of vibration.  These responses were then compared against pretest-defined limits and stored in a summary file within the program.  This tool came to be known as DatWizard.  The summary file produced by DatWizard could be filtered, and could also produce X-Y plots for evaluating responses against a variety of engine parameters which enabled us to make maximum use of the data.  This was our first foray into the world of “Big Data”.

DatWizard-Campbell Plot

DatWizard-Campbell Plot

We developed a few more products under US Air Force funding that did even more detailed kinds of analysis, such as BladeOPS and SDRAC.  Check these out by looking up these papers:

“Minimizing Vibratory Strain Measurement Error”, ASME 98-GT-257, Nichol et al, 1998

“Application of the Structural Dynamics Response Analysis Capability”, Nichol et al, Proceedings of the Fourth Annual HCF Conference, Monterey, CA, February 1999.

Acquisition

So, what does all this have to do with APEX Turbine?  Many of these capabilities were being used regularly by the test customers at AEDC.  It didn’t take long for these customers to begin asking whether similar capabilities were available commercially, or whether they could access these tools commercially.  And, technology transfer out of the government to the private sector can be challenging. 

I’m a big believer in living life with no regrets and I don’t want to ever get to the place where I wonder “what might have been” so in late 1999 I began to consider starting a company founded around the technologies I had been a part of for so long.  After many conversations in a lot of barbeque places in central Tennessee, Csaba and I decided to launch Engineering Design & Analysis Solutions, Inc., or EDAS for short.  As part of the new start we worked with our friends at AEDC on a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, or CRDA to acquire rights to develop and market AEDC-developed technologies.  This allowed us to carry on the work of developing the products while marketing them and it allowed AEDC to benefit from improvements we made.

CADDMAS eventually evolved into our DS product with commercial off the shelf (COTS) hardware.  This is widely used at AEDC (albeit they still call it CADDMAS).  DatWizard evolved into our DX product after several iterations through DataDetective and WorkFlow.  BladeOPS and GageMap were combined into GageMap.  

Mesh-Free FEA Post Analysis Software
DS-Dynamic Data Acquisition Software
DX-Offline Signal Processing Software

Seventeen years and millions of dollars later, our products benefit our many customers around the world.  Being a business owner has been challenging, but looking back I would make the same decision.  It’s one of the most challenging and interesting things I’ve ever done.  The only bad part of it is that I can’t complain about the management!

What does all this mean looking forward?  APEX continues to refine our core products to make them even better and to make them applicable to complementary markets.  Additionally, we are working on some entirely new products that we think will continue to benefit our existing customers and grow our reach into new markets.  One of the best ways to learn more is to attend our annual APEX User Conference.  We’ll be meeting in March 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee.  It’s a great chance to receive training in aeromechanics, signal processing, or on how to use our products.  Mostly, it’s an excellent opportunity for you to get to know us better.  2018 Apex User Conference

So let me conclude with a simple “Thank you” to all of our customers who trust us for products that they use every day to make their products better.  It has been, and will continue to be our privilege to work with each of you.

2018 Apex Turbine User Conference

Author: Kurt Nichol, President/CEO of Apex Turbine Testing Technologies


Power Generation Data Acquisition Case Studies

Posted on August 15th, 2017

APEX Turbine sells and supports dynamic data acquisition systems (DDAS) to a number of OEM’s in the gas turbine power generation market around the world.  We provide these important customers with fully integrated systems based on commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) digitizers, signal conditioning, computing platforms and of course our DS dynamic data acquisition software.  Portability, reliability and ruggedness are important because many of these systems are taken to remote test sites where conditions are not always so pristine.

Many of these customers are selecting the National Instruments PXIe platform because it is rugged, compact and can be configured with an embedded PC controller producing a complete, portable dynamic data acquisition system.  As a National Instruments Alliance Partner, APEX Turbine can function as the prime contractor and systems integrator to our customers while giving them all the support and backing of National Instruments.  We work together with NI to ensure that the customer can accomplish their unique goals with what is substantially a COTS solution.

Data System Integration Diagram

In order to provide a turn-key solution to our customers, APEX needs to integrate the signal conditioning, digitizer, computing platform, storage device, software and more into one easy-to-use product.  The overall complexity of the integration depends on how much of it is available in a single COTS hardware platform.  This is one reason many of our customers are moving toward the PXIe platform as there are many options for digitizer cards that include signal conditioning.  Plus, the card/chassis configuration allows customers to create relatively large, or small systems depending on the current need of any test.  The 8-slot, NI PXIe-1082 chassis is large enough to accommodate an array of digitizer cards, an embedded controller and even additional storage devices or timing cards.  For example one of our customers in central Florida uses the 1082 chassis with four NI PXIe-4497 digitizers, the PXIe-8135 embedded controller (aka slot-0 PC) and the NI PXIe-8260 3TB HDD for added recording capacity.  The 8135 controller runs our DS software and does all the set up and data recording control.  This configuration provides sixty-four channels of dynamic data acquisition with online monitoring in a form-factor that is smaller than most suitcases and is easily transported to a job site anywhere in the world.

Data System Integration Diagram

NI PXIe-1082

Another advantage of this system is that it can be expanded by networking a number of these units together to build even larger systems that can all be sample-synchronized (common clocked).  This was the approach taken by another of our customers where the embedded controller was configured to run as a data forwarder using the NI Linux RT operating system and an APEX data forwarding application.  This allowed APEX to provide a central location for data storage and control using an industrial-grade server.  This customer has 384 dynamic channels all pumping data to a centralized storage and online monitoring network.

NI PXIe-1082

Portable NI PXIe-1082 Data Acquisition System Powered by APEX DS Data Acquisition Software

The example shown above is a pretty straight-forward dynamic data acquisition system solution perfectly suited for acquisition of voltage signals or accelerometer signals.  But many times, customers need to make measurements from a variety of sensor types.  Given the modular nature of the PXI architecture, one solution is to simply add other card types, like the NI PXIe-4353.  We generated a system for an Asian university customer that included one of these 4353 cards so they could measure temperature data in the same chassis with dynamic channels.  Other customers need bridge completion so might be interested in something like the PXIe-4431.

Another of our customers – another major world-wide Gas Turbine manufacturer – chose to outfit test cells using the 18-slot, PXIe-1085 chassis with PXIe-4464 cards.   Here we utilized a server linked to the chassis over the NI MXI interface to host our DS software, and for data storage.  Most of the measurements were dynamic strain so additional signal conditioning from Precision Filters was provided.

This was an industrial application where all data was being transmitted over a very large network for online monitoring by many engineers.  But this kind of application needed to integrate with existing infrastructure where lower sample rate signals for performance and operability were being monitored and recorded.  This is where the DS application programming interface, or API, comes in.  We integrated this PXIe-4464-based dynamic data acquisition system with existing facility acquisition and control using the API included with our DS product which enables this customer to control all data acquisition from the main facility control location.  Not only that, but summary data from the dynamic data acquisition system was available for monitoring in the control room and data from the lower sample rate facility system was available for online monitoring and analysis at the APEX- DR online monitoring stations.

These are a couple of our success stories from the power generation industry showing what is possible when we work together with our customers and our partners at National Instruments and Precision Filters.  Using our DS software platform and our knowledge of the turbomachinery business, we deploy some really amazing systems that are helping our customers make products that make your life better.  Contact us today to learn how we might benefit you using the NI based systems mentioned above, or other COTS platforms from our other partners at VTI/Ametek, Dewetron, Pacific Instruments or others.  Check out our complete list of the hardware we support below.

Author: Kurt Nichol, President/CEO of Apex Turbine Testing Technologies

Dynamic Data Acquisition Systems

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Ultra-Portable Data Acquisition Systems

Ultra-Portable Systems

Portable Data Acquisition Systems

Portable Systems

Industrial Data Acquisition Systems

Industrial Systems

Ruggedized Data Acquisition Systems

Ruggedized Systems

Ultra-Portable Data Acquisition Systems

Ultra-Portable Systems

Portable Data Acquisition Systems

Portable Systems

Industrial Data Acquisition Systems

Industrial Systems

Ruggedized Data Acquisition Systems

Ruggedized Systems

Mesh-Free FEA Post Analysis Software
DS-Dynamic Data Acquisition Software
DX-Offline Signal Processing Software
BT-Blade Timing Software


Why We Made GageMap

Posted on August 9th, 2017

I spent a long time working at the Arnold Engineering Development Center, AEDC, in the 80’s and 90’s and had the great opportunity to work on many leading edge propulsion systems for our nations front line fighter aircraft.  The center is the largest in the world and has many facilities for full-scale testing of propulsion system in a simulated altitude environment.  There were many times where we would test twelve, fourteen, or even sixteen hours at a time and generate so much data that it would take weeks to get through it all.

In the mid-1990’s, the USAF experienced a significant rise high cycle fatigue (HCF) failures that generated a lot interest at the highest levels.   As with most large government organizations, this led to the formation of a couple of investigative groups to study the problem and figure out how to address it.  Given my position at the center, I was tagged with facilitating a working-group of experts from most of the OEM’s with the goal of improving test methods for detecting HCF problems.  ONE of the outcomes from the working-group was that there needed to be a better focus on “holistic test and evaluation” which simply means that testing should be viewed in the greater context of the overall development and service cycle.  We began looking at how well design models, particularly finite element models, compared with measured strains.

I spent a long time working at the Arnold Engineering Development Center, AEDC, in the 80’s and 90’s and had the great opportunity to work on many leading edge propulsion systems for our nations front line fighter aircraft.  The center is the largest in the world and has many facilities for full-scale testing of propulsion system in a simulated altitude environment.  There were many times where we would test twelve, fourteen, or even sixteen hours at a time and generate so much data that it would take weeks to get through it all.

In the mid-1990’s, the USAF experienced a significant rise high cycle fatigue (HCF) failures that generated a lot interest at the highest levels.   As with most large government organizations, this led to the formation of a couple of investigative groups to study the problem and figure out how to address it.  Given my position at the center, I was tagged with facilitating a working-group of experts from most of the OEM’s with the goal of improving test methods for detecting HCF problems.  ONE of the outcomes from the working-group was that there needed to be a better focus on “holistic test and evaluation” which simply means that testing should be viewed in the greater context of the overall development and service cycle.  We began looking at how well design models, particularly finite element models, compared with measured strains.

AEDC

AEDC

AEDC

AEDC

Historically, the finite element method did a pretty decent job of predicting natural frequencies which were useful for predicting rotation speed where resonances might occur.  Subjective comparison of mode-shapes was often done using holography to correlate predicted eigenvectors with operational deflection shapes (ODS).  However, direct comparison of measured strains with strains from the finite element model were rarely made.  Why?

A normal modes analysis using the finite element method produces a group of eigenvalues and eigenvectors which can be correlated to natural frequencies and mode shapes.  The output from the model is always nodal displacements for each eigenvector.  These displacements are almost always output in the global coordinate system – although local coordinate systems can be created with some additional effort.  Strains are, of course, the partial derivatives of the displacements, but for the finite element method, these are computed at so-called integration points within each element.  These results are extrapolated to the nodes (or interpolated to the element centroid).  Because elements share adjoining nodes, nodal strains are averaged.  Output is again, typically in the global coordinate system.

So, computed strains are point values, linked to the nodes, and output in some kind of coordinate system – most often the global coordinate system.  In general, stains in isotropic materials have six unique components (they are tensor quantities), so to compare the computed value to a measurement, you need to know the plane on which the measurement is made and a direction.  All this depends on a coordinate system too.

Strain measurements, on the other hand, are scaler quantities.  Of course, they are made at some location on a part and in some direction, but this knowledge needs to be converted to the coordinate reference frame of the finite element model if you want to compare the results.  Then there is the issue of averaging.  Strain gages make an average strain measurement over the area of the strain gage.  Once all this information is known, it is a fairly simple mathematical computation to resolve the analytical strain – at the nodes – to the direction of the strain gage for comparison with the measurement.  Whew.  There had to be a better way.

Gage on Model

Gage on Model

Gage on Model

Gage on Model

Well, they say that necessity is the mother of invention, so one day while trying to make a comparison of a measurement with a model, I decided to begin working on a routine to compute the average strain over a prescribed area from displacements at the corner points of the strain gage.  To get the displacements at the corner points of the strain gage, we used the element shape functions to interpolate the displacements from the nodal values for the element containing the strain gage corner.  Because we were using the element shape functions, we could guarantee that the strain gage was exactly on the surface by setting an appropriate natural coordinate (a property within the finite element formulation) to zero or one as appropriate for the element.  This allowed us to “map” the gage exactly on the surface.  GageMap!

Once the corner displacements of the gage were known, computing the strain over the area was fairly trivial.  Output from this computation was the average strain in the direction of the gage, but also gave us the transverse strain and the shear strain – on the surface of the part.  And because we interpolated the displacements for corners of the gage within the appropriate element, our output was no longer restricted to the nodes.  We were finally free of the mesh, and the rest is history.

We just released version 2017.3 of GageMap in August of this year, built upon more than 17 years of development.  Since the original formulation, GageMap has been expanded to enable users to find optimum sensor locations,  handle HCF computations, perform model validation, assess gage misplacement uncertainty, and much more.  There is even a scripting version so you can do mode superposition, hot/cold geometry corrections, or any kind of advanced data analysis you can imagine.  If you are responsible for comparing analysis and test – particularly strains – there is simply no better finite element post processor out there.GageMap works with three of the most popular finite element packages; Ansys, Abaqus, and Nastran.  It supports a large array of element types, simple or complex material properties, non-linear solutions, and cyclic symmetry.

Since we began more than seventeen years ago comparing analytical and experimental strains, we’ve learned a lot about modeling practices, as well as test practices.  The HCF problems of the mid-1990’s are now pretty rare because of products like GageMap.  This makes for even better propulsion systems and more reliable power generation plants, and that benefits us all.

Author: Kurt Nichol, President/CEO of Apex Turbine Testing Technologies

GageMap-Mesh-Free FEA Post Analysis Software

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Mannually Mapping Strain Gages