Case In Point: Quality Inspection on the Fly

With more than 60 years of innovative ideas and experience, Air Cruisers, a division of Zodiac Aerospace, remains the leader in development of and the industry standard for aviation inflatable safety technology - the rafts and slides known all too well by frequent business travelers who can recite the pre-flight instructions by heart. The company has a lengthy list of groundbreaking industry accomplishments, including the first inflatable life vest, the first inflatable aircraft evacuation slides and more.

When you work in this type of market, where lives are at risk, there is no room for error. Therefore, Air Cruisers must take the time to deploy all products in simulated test scenarios to ensure they meet industry standards for effectiveness and safety before selling to customers.

But this can be a tricky process, as all deployments must be recorded by video and approved by a quality monitoring team. In the past, Air Cruisers conducted its tests of inflatable aircraft evacuation slides by simply using handheld video camcorders - a system that worked, but unfortunately did not use resources in the best-possible manner. On many occasions, Air Cruisers was even forced to ship products back and forth between production centers and testing facilities in order to ensure that all products were tested properly. As one can imagine, this process got complicated quickly and as Air Cruisers re-evaluated their system, they determined there was a need for something more effective and less resource-consuming.

"With our multiple quality testing centers - especially a new location we just opened in Mexico - we needed an easier way to link all facilities to one central location," says Robert Schalhoub, vice president of information technology, Air Cruisers. "That way, our quality monitoring process would become simpler, while still allowing us to continue growing as a company. We determined that if we were able to develop a method of viewing live deployment testing by our quality monitoring team in New Jersey, then we could easily continue testing in Mexico, or other locations."

With this specific goal in mind, Air Cruisers began its quest for a unique network video surveillance system that would include remote monitoring capabilities.

Developing a Remote Video Network

A system of this kind obviously is not a regular request for security integrators. But for help determining a network video system that would fit such unique needs, Air Cruisers turned to video security integrator Digital Provisions to commission a new quality monitoring system.

As a company specializing in IP-based video surveillance products, access control systems and IP networking technologies, Digital Provisions easily understood Air Cruisers' need for high-definition cameras with digital zoom capability, to guarantee that the quality monitoring team could see every aspect of the deployment live and during replays, in addition to a camera system that could capture an extremely large product, such as Air Cruisers' B777 jetliner aircraft model. With those criteria in mind, Digital Provisions designed a tailored system based on the network cameras of Axis Communications and the open platform software of Milestone Systems. Specifically, the resulting network consisted of five HDTV-quality Axis network cameras for quality monitoring surveillance (four outdoor-ready AXIS Q1755-E Network Cameras for deployment testing and one AXIS Q1755 for paperwork recording), AXIS Pan-Tilt Motor bases for easy mobility of the fixed network cameras and Milestone X-Protect Professional 7.0 software to connect the entire system.

"We had extremely unusual needs for this system and knew it would be challenging to find technology that could include all the features we wanted - security, video, audio, high definition, strong streaming capabilities and high-end production," says Ilya Visgordinskiy, manufacturing engineer for Air Cruisers. "The HDTV aspect of Axis cameras was especially appealing because it provided us with a strong zoom capability to analyze any missed deployments and more quickly determine root causes."

Adds Schalhoub: "Every other vendor we spoke with said a system like this wasn't possible and tried to get us to change our criteria to match what they could offer."

Solving Historical Problems and Reaping Immediate Results

Due to the surveillance system's unique IP-based design and features, Air Cruisers was able to easily install the network and receive immediate benefits across the board; however the biggest impact came from the new network's remote viewing capabilities. With this feature, Air Cruiser engineers were finally able to work offsite and control camera angles for better monitoring of deployments, quickly reducing company expenses for travel and troubleshooting. For example, once the system was up and running in Mexico, Air Cruisers could finally monitor the quality testing from New Jersey without having to ship products or employees back and forth.

Air Cruisers was also able to implement multiple video shots on a common time line, an ability the company did not have before, and as a result, eliminated the need for extra hours spent by engineers in the "video" room reviewing recordings.

In addition, one of the biggest problems Air Cruisers faced with its original handheld recording system was the inability to control human error. For example, each deployment has an industry-required five second time limit for the evacuation slide to deploy correctly; however, when this timing was only controlled by a stopwatch, Air Cruisers was unable to easily verify the cause of deployments that did not meet the limit. It may have been that an employee simply started the clock a second late or ended too early, but it could also be that the slide was not functioning properly - a more serious possibility that cause the company to spend extra hours re-testing materials. In addition, with handheld cameras, Air Cruisers could not guarantee that the recording would occur from the same angle each time, again complicating the process of ensuring quality effectiveness.

"There were so many issues that we had been fighting for a long time, such as archiving and storage space, deployment time limits, and differences in video quality perspectives. Even just the simple fact that our deployments cause a lot of debris in the testing area had been a problem in the past, as the dust would negatively affect electronics," Visgordinskiy says. "Now, with a network video system that has tough, external casings we no longer face the possibility of cameras malfunctioning. Overall, with the features that this network system provides us, we can easily handle all of our past issues, and so much more."

Planning for the Future

Once the plan for the network video system was finalized and developed, Air Cruisers implemented it as a pilot program for six months in its New Jersey quality monitoring headquarters. After receiving rave reviews from company users, the system went into action and Air Cruisers implemented a production mode in its Mexico facility in mid-October. Based on initial results in both New Jersey and Mexico, especially the cost-saving ROI of not having to ship products back and forth for testing, Air Cruisers already expects to expand on the system's use in the future.

"In our line of work, finding a system that would work for our specific needs and help us exceed customer expectations was not an easy task. However, the quality of technology we received from this network video system has truly convinced our company that there is no other way to handle our video needs," Schalhoub says.