“The challenges that we meet everyday well exceed what most engineers have to face. The rewards for meeting those challenges are terrific.”

RedViking is a company with a passion for taking on the most difficult engineering challenges. Its affiliate company, Superior Controls, located in Plymouth, MI, got its start in the systems integrations field, primarily automotive. But for the last 20 years, they’ve also been designing and building component test machines. Two years ago, they took that end of the business and began RedViking, a group focused exclusively on building powertrain test machines. About that time, the company took on several large projects, including one for the Department of Defense. They center their attention on making “fewer moving parts.” President and CEO Randy Brodzik details their methodology:

“We are designing and building flexible test machines — flexible in that each machine is able to test a variety of transmissions and gearboxes. We’re working on helicopter transmission and other powertrain test machines.

“When they approached us, our customer was working with a multitude of test cells, each with a cell that would test one particular transmission. This method is old-fashioned, impractical, and time-consuming, so they were looking to upgrade to newer controls and a much more stout machine. Our concept was to create flexible test machines that will allow them to test a whole range of transmissions on one single machine. We were able to take 21 test cells and reduce them to five, saving significant real estate, energy, and personnel at their location.”

The process rests on a concept that the main transmissions can all be tested on a single test machine. A helicopter typically has a main transmission that accepts power from one or more jet engines. RedViking analyzed the transmissions and gearboxes within the scope of work of their particular customer, and divided them into five different test machines. So the challenge for each of the flexible test machines was to take the required torques, speeds, and geometrical locations for the inputs and outputs. This required creating gearboxes with multiple inputs and outputs to test different components from different OEMs on a common platform.

If you look at a helicopter in general, they typically have a main transmission that accepts power from one or more jet engines. That power is then transmitted to the main rotor, which provides the lift for the helicopter. It also has an output that will typically go downstream towards the tail of the helicopter. There can be either a free wheel shaft or another intermediate transmission that diverts that rotation up at an angle towards a tail rotor. The tail rotor has another transmission to power itself.  RedViking developed machines to handle all the main transmissions, and other machines that would test the combination of the intermediate and tail rotor transmissions. The specifications weren’t exactly a piece of cake, either.

“We had to live within the parameters of their test requirements,” says engineering manager Michael Schwartz. “They gave us a very specific set for each transmission. We verify all of our calculations. We have a very specific methodology that we use. The first step is to take the design parameters imposed on us by the customer (torque, speed, etc.). We go through a specific set of steps to establish our shafts and bearings for our design parameters, in order to stay within margins of safety and bearing life required to make a sound test machine.”

RedViking is growing. With 85 employees (equal to their affiliate company Superior Controls) and four locations in Plymouth, MI, Raleigh, NC, and Corpus Christi, TX, they are hiring “technical folks on electrical and design and mechanical side. It’s been difficult with the economic downturn that hit this area a few years back. Michigan lost a lot of talent.  But all these prospective employees have to do is walk in the door, and their eyes light up. They see what we’re doing,” remarks Randy Brodzik.

“From an engineering standpoint, we get to work on the coolest machines on the planet. The challenges that we meet everyday well exceed what most engineers have to face. The rewards for meeting those challenges are terrific. We’re dealing in horsepower that most engineers only dream about — almost unimaginable speeds up to 23,000 rpms, 10,000 hp in some machines. It’s exciting stuff.”

Drawing upon a wealth of practical knowledge and understanding within the aerospace, automotive, and defense industries to take on the most difficult problems in powertrain test machines, RedViking director of marketing Brooke Elliott asks the pointed question, “Why are we the first ones to do this? Well, we dug our heels in and said, ‘Why not?’ We did that by equipping ourselves with some of the brightest minds we could find. We have a variety of experts from different fields on board, along with some of the brightest students coming out of school. We’re constantly trying to educate ourselves, and each other, and consequently we are growing as a group that will be the experts in the gear field.”

While they deal in serious horsepower, RedViking also knows how to lighten things up, with a strong emphasis on community. They have regular get-togethers, including chili cook-offs, an employee appreciation event that includes a remote-controlled helicopter obstacle course, and even a bake-off (lasagna won this year). The Toys for Tots program always generates a lot of participation, with hundreds of toys donated in December.

RedViking also supports the men and women of our armed forces, and their families, by supporting the Wounded Warriors program and by donating household items and furniture to military families through the Selfridge Air National Guard Base. In the tradition of “reduce, reuse, and recycle,” they’ve been devoted to developing energy-saving solutions since their inception. RedViking designs and builds systems with mechanical and electrical re-generation to maximize energy efficiency. Their largest transmission test system regenerates up to 80% of its energy, which can be used to power the system or be put back into the electrical grid. Additionally, there is a mindset of energy efficiency within each office. “Internally, we are committed to recycling and minimizing our own carbon footprint,” says Elliott.

“The goal is to rebuild this level of experience. We want this country to become world leaders in engineering again, and we think we’re doing our part. The people here are very proud of what they do, and they should be.”

www.redvikingeng.com or call 734-927-1460

The Control System Integrator Association (CSIA) is a global non-profit professional association for control system integration companies to advance system integration for the success of members and their clients. www.controlsys.org

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is the managing editor with Gear Solutions Magazine.