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Drone Design

Drone Design

Micro Systems' command and control systems have been used with virtually every U.S. aerial target drone for the past decade. These systems control unmanned aerial vehicles that use both weapon test and evaluation for the training of military personnel. They simulate threats ranging from cruise missiles to supersonic aircraft flying at altitudes ranging from 7 to 40,000 ft.

Drone Design
Equipment designed to meet such high-performance requirements must meet stringent safety and reliability requirements. As a result, Micro Systems is extremely selective when choosing component vendors to support its system development efforts.

"Micro Systems recently recognized a need in the industry for a new, portable, low-cost system that would be easy to use and maintain," says Maynard Factor, Micro Systems' business development engineer. "As a portable command and control system, we knew this system would also have to be extremely durable if it was to live up to our standards as well as the standards of our customers."

Micro Systems developed the design of the new portable command and control system (known as PATS - Portable Area Target System) from its existing MOdular Networked TAarget control Equipment (MONTAGE). MONTAGE is a field-proven design that has supported more than 1,000 high-reliability missions worldwide.

Among the key challenges faced by engineers on this new design was the quality and durability of the individual switching components PATS would require.

"For the command panel design we looked at many different vendors of push-button and toggle switches, but it always came back to quality and lead time," Factor says. "We needed a supplier that could provide switches that could function reliably and safely in adverse environmental conditions and also support an accelerated delivery schedule of only six months; a schedule that is almost unheard of in the industry."

Drone Design
Beyond principal considerations such as quality and lead time, Micro Systems needed the switches to have gold contacts and feature a solder lug connection option. "Gold contacts were a requirement due to the low electrical current that was available in various measurement circuits used in the system," says David Ault, lead engineer on the PATS project. "The solder lug requirement was driven by cost and manufacturability considerations."

Factor says NKK was able to provide Micro Systems' engineers with sample switches to aid them in their design and prototyping efforts. This allowed Micro Systems to ensure that they had the right solution before fully committing to a purchase.

"When developing a new command panel, it's always nice to be able to fabricate a functional prototype with the potential system components before fully committing to one solution," Factor says. "It's one thing to see specifications on a data sheet, but when it comes to cutting holes in metal as part of the manufacturing process, you want to make sure that you've got all your ducks in a row."

The new command panel is a sleek, ergonomic design using a lightweight, molded plastic enclosure and precision joystick. The entire system can be broken down and stowed in ruggedized transit cases for high mobility.

Mark Wuolle is marketing manager for NKK Switches.
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