AEDC Spark Tank: Engineers study control system method for possible implementation

  • Published
  • By Bradley Hicks
  • AEDC Public Affairs

The pursuit of better results sometimes requires a fresh approach.

Research is now underway to determine whether a control system method used in various industries but not yet implemented within Arnold Engineering Development Complex will offer better performance than the method currently used within the complex.

This alternative method, known as model predictive control, or MPC, will be explored through the use of demonstration software. The MPC runs a model of a system in real time to predict the optimal path forward to achieve the desired set point before a disruption event happens in real time. The MPC intends to compensate for the disruption and provide the optimal set point. 

“If the demo proves successful in outperforming the current method, we will evaluate the cost-reward of implementing such a system,” said William Garner, instrumentation, data and controls technical lead for the AEDC Test Information Systems Section.

The MPC exploration is among the eight projects that received funding through the AEDC Spark Tank. The Spark Tank, which was open to military, DOD civilians and contractors across all AEDC units, allowed members of the AEDC workforce to propose suggestions for how to improve AEDC processes, products and test capabilities. Those awarded funding were notified in mid-February.

Spark Tank money was awarded through several diverse sources. The proposal to examine another control method received AEDC Innovation Grant funding.

The investigation is occurring at Arnold Air Force Base, headquarters of AEDC.

Garner, who served as principal investigator for the Spark Tank proposal, said that although the project will take place within a specific area at Arnold, the benefits of the work could be experienced base-wide. He added several individuals are now exposed to a control scheme previously not seen at AEDC. This group could grow over time.

“This gives human assets a new tool in their kit to address real problems we face in controlling complex phenomena,” Garner said.

The expanded knowledge of AEDC controls and alternative methods is an immediate result of the investigation. According to Garner, the implementation of a system utilizing the software could take years depending on the system complexity and the path forward Arnold engineers have in mind.

Garner also said he is grateful for the support the proposal received through the Spark Tank program.

“This is great,” he said. “The base is demonstrating the willingness to invest in human capital to better the breadth of knowledge for engineers working at AEDC. We are taking an already complex system and attempting to modify it with more intelligent self-optimization attributes. The money is well-spent on an application that can provide an alternative solution on advanced issues in the future.”

Garner also appreciates that, through the Spark Tank, AEDC leadership is encouraging personnel to explore new ways of doing things. 

“In my time at AEDC, in solving issues that come up, the immediate advice is, ‘do it this way because this worked last time,’ or ‘X, who retired long ago, said it should only be done this way.’ Many solutions are derived from things that happened in the past,” Garner said. “In funding this endeavor, AEDC is showing that it is committed to developing the expertise in human capital to find potential modern solutions to modern problems. We need our engineers making solutions, not regurgitating limitations of the past without understanding modern advancements in their profession.”