What's different? It's simple, mostly: We had different goals than most companies when we designed our platforms. We wanted a flexible, low-cost, high performance racing simulator, one with enough performance for serious simulation and training but low enough cost for entertainment.
And we were willing to undertake the R&D necessary for that to happen, rather than buying off-the-shelf components that would have forced us to compromise performance.
We achieved this by rethinking the design of the motion system — from the ground up.
We designed our own struts, our own platform geometry, our own display system, our own sound system, and our own controls, including one of the best force feedback steering systems in the business. We built our own cuing software and we spend time with developers to make sure it works right. And we made the system open, so it improves as third-party simulations and computing power improve. The result is exactly what we wanted: a price/performance ratio unmatched in the industry, and racing simulators and flight simulators with features you can't get anywhere else, at any price.
Testing and Lifespan
The 301 and 401 are large, powerful machines. They operate in a different class than their competition, so we think we should explain a bit about how we arrived at their design, how our testing and engineering works, and what that means for our customers.
Analyzing potential failure modes and understanding expected lifetime is complex and imprecise. Our machines are designed to last a very long time, and many of our motion platforms are still operating after ten years of heavy use with little maintenance. But there are always potential failure points, and we addressed those in our design of the machines.
All the parts likely to fail (bearings, shafts, ball screws, and repetitively stressed members) were subjected to standard analysis. This analysis for bearings, for example, takes into consideration the loading and the rotational speed to predict bearing life.
Because of variations in materials, finish, and fabrication tolerances between individuals in the population, such an analysis is statistical in nature, and the analysis result is stated as a “B-10 life”. B-10 life means that 10% of the population will fail at the stated life. In the case of our motion systems, all of the components were subjected to analysis and were sized so that a B-10 life of 5000 hours was achieved. This is similar to the techniques used in automotive design; 5000 hours was used because that is the standard used in the automotive industry.
Does this mean that a machine will not fail before 5000 hours?
Nope! It means that 90% of the components will not fail in 5000 hours. An individual machine could fail in one hour, which is why products have warranties. All machines have a failure rate that is referred to as a “bathtub” curve. The failures are high in the beginning of life (infant failures) and at the end of life (wear out). In between, (bottom of the bathtub) the failure rate is low and typically constant. We test our machines at the factory for at least 10 hours to eliminate a large portion of the infant failures.
The warranty period covers most of the remaining infant failures. 5000 hours of active use is a long time. If for example, you were to use the machine four hours a day, five days a week, it would take about five years to accumulate 5000 hours. Many customers have been operating machines for longer than this, and field results indicate that most of our platforms have longer lifespans between failures. For example, we recently performed a refresh on a machine which had been in commercial operation for 12 years with no maintenance aside from the replacement of a single $14 motor belt. While we don't recommend this as an operational strategy, the fact that it is possible gives an idea of the basic longevity of our systems.
Strut tubes are case hardened steel guided by 4140 steel rollers that are fitted with sealed needle bearings. The strut tube is driven by an oversized ball screw whose large pitch and consequent slow rotation gives it a very long life. The servo motors are three-phase brushless permanent magnet motors fitted with a spring actuated brake and differential output incremental encoder. The motor drives the screw with a toothed belt.
The frame is a weldment fabricated from low-carbon steel and is finished with a textured polyester powder coating. Removable panels are attached with hardened thread forming screws. All aluminum parts are clear anodized or polyester powder coated.
Electrical components are mounted in a subframe fabricated from Galvalume (55% Al-Zn coated sheet steel) This steel is corrosion resistant and allows excellent and reliable ground connections. All fan openings are covered with metal screens and the power connection is via a standard filtered and switched power entry module. A 25 ampere single pole thermal circuit breaker protects the circuit in case it is connected to an unfused power source.