As global markets become more competitive, limiting noise and creating pleasing sounds are emerging as important product differentiators. That's prompting some companies to focus on tools that can analyze noise at various points from initial design to tests on the factory floor.
Vibration analysis in the military and other harsh environments can help minimize problems in the field, while concern about noise pollution is impacting the design of home appliances and office equipment. In the auto industry, noise is rapidly rising in importance. "Motorists make similarly high demands on a good engine sound as they do on a symphony," says Marcus Lewis, project manager at Siemens VDO Automotive (http://rbi.ims.ca/3850-513).
Those who design automotive interiors are trying to reduce monotonous sounds. "Preliminary studies show low and constant sound levels are not always preferred. Harmonious sequences of tones are particularly popular," Lewis adds.
In factory settings, "Noise and vibration are used to find problems," says Doug Marinaro, VP of software and consulting at MTS Systems, an Eden Prairie, MN, company that makes mechanical test and simulation equipment (http://rbi.ims.ca/3850-514). For example, the tone of a sensitive machine may shift when it's nearing tolerance limits.
MTS recently signed a pact with National Instruments (Austin, TX) under which the two will work together to offer complete noise and vibration analysis tools (http://rbi.ims.ca/3850-515). Initial products and a road map will come later this year.
One focus is to provide systems to be used by a variety of engineers and technicians. That will reduce the need for "golden ears" personnel who do tasks such as adjusting car doors so they sound right when closing. Experts often perform complex noise and vibration analysis.
"We want to deliver an economical framework for noise and vibration testing, one that the casual user can understand," says Peter Zogas, senior marketing VP at National Instruments. Marinaro adds that "as we lower costs, more people will use sounds as a way to test their products, and to differentiate them."
Today, most tools for noise and vibration analysis fit in the exploratory realm, requiring experts who have large software budgets. Typically, sound analysis is categorized as exploratory when sounds are analyzed during development, and standardized when tests are performed in order to meet target goals.
NI and MTS are using expert systems and other technologies to make their exploratory tools simpler without sacrificing the critical aspects of analysis. This will enable companies to provide targets for their designs so components and subsystems can be tested to see if they meet requirements before prototyping.
The firms will offer a variety of hardware and software that can be combined to examine products from hand mixers to cars. "When you're looking at how tire noise works with the suspension system, modeling and analysis tools will help manufacturers find problems before they build a prototype," Marinaro says.
Marinaro notes that the companies address different ends of the pricing spectrum. NI's average order size is around $3,000, while many MTS contracts are in the millions. He notes that the combination will give users the ability to tailor test and modeling systems for their specific requirements and budgets.