Pump Test Stand Accelerates Cooling System Development

July 11, 2024 - Author: Alex Accola - Lead Mechanical Engineer, Sam Poser - Software Development Engineer, Austin Haag - Senior Instrumentation and Controls Engineer, Daryl Rothamer - Director, Systems and Equipment

Barber-Nichols - Arvada, CO

Project Features:
Advanced Mobile Pump Test Stand, Thermal Management Systems, Rugged 304 Stainless Steel Frame, Closed-Loop Controls, Resistance Temperature Detectors, Yokogawa WT5000 Power Analyzer


Pump test stand for thermal management systems development

The Challenge

Barber-Nichols, an aerospace leader in the design and manufacture of specialty turbomachinery, partnered with ACS to design and fabricate a pump test stand for high-flow thermal management systems. The company wanted a new test stand for use in research, development, production, end-of-line, and endurance testing.

Their critical requirements were:

  • Handling high-flow pumps used in high-power-density cooling solutions
  • Generating a pump curve with each test
  • Programmatic control of flow rates and temperature
  • Inline filter and air removal capability
  • Mobility with a 480-volt electrical connection
  • Simple water filling/draining for swift change-outs
  • Automated and unsupervised operation

Previous in-house and external solutions were limited. Barber-Nichols needed consistent performance, automation capabilities, and improved integration of mechanical and electrical systems. By unifying the development of these systems, ACS enhanced efficient data acquisition, expanded automation potential, and improved pressure and temperature capabilities.

Barber-Nichols wanted the test stand to simulate precise customer system conditions to enhance the engineering accuracy of their cooling solutions. Their goal is to develop new high-performance, compact, and reliable pumps that allow customers to save weight, space, and power while maintaining efficient cooling.

Bill Stillman, Senior Engineer at Barber-Nichols, says, “We chose ACS because they often work with a similar aerospace design review process that we’re familiar with. Going through that preliminary design critical phase with them really helped us fine-tune exactly what we wanted.”

The Solution

ACS teams engineered and fabricated a powerful pump test stand capable of flow rates up to 700 gallons per minute and 60 kilowatts of heat rejection. The test stand’s high-flow, high-power capacity makes it well-suited for validating pumps used in applications such as thermal management systems for radar, lasers, aircraft, and hydrogen fuel cells.

ACS fabricated a rugged 304 stainless steel frame with Lexan paneling in key areas for operator safety. The pump test stand is skid-mounted for easy transportation. It requires only a single power connection to operate, and operators can fill it with water or glycol via a garden hose connection.

Each heating and cooling system operates with closed-loop controls. The test script can synchronize the systems by specifying the same fluid temperature set point. The heater has a 18kW capacity, while the cooling uses variable dampers and fans to extract heat at the required rate. This parallel operation allows for controlled temperature regulation. A precision control valve regulates flow rate or pressure across the pump under test.

The ACS software engineers built the test automation and data acquisition systems on the ACS framework platform for maximum flexibility. They integrated ten Resistance Temperature Detectors (RTDs) to monitor temperatures and enable precise control. The team positioned eight transducers near the RTDs to measure pressure, with some dedicated to controlling pump pressures and others for verification. To track flow, they installed two flow meters: a main system flow meter capable of handling 700 GPM and a smaller meter for the pump controller’s cooling loop. The ACS engineers also incorporated accelerometers to capture vibration data. This sophisticated DAQ network generates a detailed pump curve with each test.

ACS’ breadth of integrated capabilities, with mechanical, electrical, and software engineers collaborating under one roof, produced a test stand system integrated by design. Having all disciplines involved from the start in design reviews ensured the mechanical hardware, electrical components, and control software operated in seamless synchronization right from initial commissioning.

“What started as a design project expanded when Barber-Nichols had us build the test stand too,” says Daryl Rothamer, ACS Director of Systems & Equipment, “Through productive discussions, we gained a deep understanding of the system, allowing for more precise estimates. Barber-Nichols demonstrated exceptional responsiveness and flexibility throughout the project, with regular collaboration that built their trust in us to handle any issue that arose.”

The Outcome

The ACS-designed and fabricated pump test stand consolidates multiple test stands into one. Now, Barber-Nichols can conduct thorough, unsupervised pump tests in just hours. Previously, such tests required hands-on operators an entire day and multiple test stands to complete.

The mobile pump test stand enables Barber-Nichols engineers to program any aerospace test scenario sequence and parameters through a user-friendly interface. The automated test system can then run the test scripts on the UUT autonomously. This flexible automation provides extensive in-house testing and development capabilities across the full operating envelope. Barber-Nichols teams can rapidly iterate through multiple test campaigns on high-power density products, all in one facility. This streamlined approach speeds up development while delivering significant time and cost savings to customers.

According to Stillman, “A key customer is excited now that we have the pump test stand up and running on site. They have a lot of tests lined up that would be costly to conduct at external testing facilities. With this new rig, we expect to save them millions in the long run – and they’re thrilled about the potential cost savings. The test stand meets all our expectations so far and our test engineers are eager to get to it.”

Barber-Nichols uses the new test stand to validate designs across development, production, quality, and endurance testing cycles. This rigorous evaluation process enhances product reliability before customer delivery. With the enhanced testing, Barber-Nichols can develop higher power density pumps, motors, and systems that offer uncompromised performance in smaller, lighter, and more robust packages.

In the future, Barber-Nichols looks forward to collaborating with ACS to replace more aerospace test rigs with flexible, automated test systems.

Key Features

  • Pump test stand fitted for single pumps.
  • 700 GPM maximum flow rate, 200°F max temp, 300 psi max pressure, 60 kW cooling capacity
  • Skid-mounted, 116″W x 84″D x 92″H, for easy transportation and protection
  • Comprehensive data acquisition: temperatures, pressures, flow rates, valve control, power analysis, vibration
  • Automated filling and semi-automated draining processes
  • Custom serial communication with pump controller
  • Generates pump curves and performance comparisons
  • Yokogawa WT5000 power analyzer
  • Capable of fully automated, unattended test campaigns
  • Enables extensive in-house testing and development

ACS Services

  • Engineering and design services including mechanical design, controls system design, and software development.
  • Multidisciplinary engineering approach for fully integrated mechanical, electrical, and software systems.
  • Equipment fabrication of mechanical components and assemblies, and electrical construction and wiring.
  • Factory Acceptance Testing (FAT) with customer participation and sign-off.