Anyone passing in front of the Spectra Tecnologia building, located on a street in Belenzinho, the old industrial district of São Paulo’s east side, would never imagine the wealth of technology housed inside. One of the company’s warehouses that sits on a site measuring 5,200 meters square has been adapted to accommodate military helicopter flight simulators, built in a partnership with the Army Technology Center (CTEX). The Spectra-designed pilot training equipment faithfully reproduces the cockpits found on the Eurocopter AS250 (Squirrel) and Fennec AS550, and runs in a 3D virtual environment. All the instruments, commands, levers, displays and even seats are exact replicas of what is found in the cockpit of these Brazilian Army aircraft.
“We’re the only company in Latin America that owns all the technological know-how needed to design and build this type of simulator,” says naval engineer Aurélio Da Dalt, 61, a partner and director at Spectra. “It will give the Army’s pilot training a 100% Brazilian-made product equal to what until now was only available in other countries, like France and the United States.” The project to build the simulator began in 2007 under a CTEX contract and was completed in December 2011. One year later, the equipment, called Shefe (the Portuguese acronym for Squirrel and Fennec helicopter simulator) was approved by the National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC) and granted FTD4 certification for initial pilot training. The model is currently in the process of being certified for Full Flight Simulator Level B. This qualification – that ranges in ascending order from A to D – ensures that simulated flights give pilots the same sensation as actual flight, including the helicopter’s motion and its responses to pilot commands. In 2016, the equipment will be transferred to the Army Aviation Training Center (CIAvEX) in Taubaté (SP), which is currently undergoing renovation.
|São Paulo, SP|
|Nº of employees|
|Equipment for durability testing of automotive parts and systems, and helicopter and shooting simulators|
Obstacles to creating this virtual environment were many. “The company that develops simulators is usually backed by the manufacturer of the aircraft or helicopter to be simulated, which provides the mathematical flight model as well as aircraft parts and components,” explains mechanical engineer, João Carlos Boaventura, 51. The Brazilian aircraft manufacturer, a company owned by the French group Airbus Helicopters, did not want to provide any information because its parent company has close ties with European simulator manufacturers. “We did not have the benefit of this support and had to design everything from scratch. The mathematical model was created by working with ITA [Technological Institute of Aeronautics],” says Boaventura, Spectra partner and director in charge of defense innovations. The project also received support from the Army Aviation Command (CAvEx) and the Air Force’s Department of Aerospace Science and Technology (DCTA).
Another aspect regarding the simulator involved the Army’s original construction estimate, which proved to be inadequate. Since it was in Spectra’s best interest to consolidate the project – which would give it the qualifications to compete with the world’s largest simulator manufacturers –, the company used its own funds to finalize the Shefe. “The project cost R$16.8 million but the Army contract covered only 44%. We invested nearly R$9.5 million of our own funds, but we now have a product that is 92% Brazilian-made,” says engineer Da Dalt, who is also a professor at the Mauá Institute of Technology. Completed four years ago, the Shefe is currently undergoing modernization and implementation of new software. One of the employees who is involved in that effort is 27-year-old electrical engineer Amanda Shiokawa Freitas. “This is work that involves a lot of research so that the mathematical models are able to simulate the aircraft systems and operate the equipment smoothly, in a synchronized manner, with no delays,” says Freitas who began her career at Spectra as an intern in 2011.
Another Spectra development for the military is a small arms shooting simulator known as Stal. The project came about as a result of the lack of equipment that could meet the Army’s requirements and be manufactured by a Brazilian company. “The shooting simulator will serve training centers to provide an experience that rivals field training. The shooter uses replicas of military guns and rifles and interacts with targets and a wall-projected 3D simulation,” explains 23-year-old computer scientist Guilherme Simão Gibertoni.
The advantage of this simulator is that it reduces the Army’s costs by eliminating the need for ammunition and deploying troops to firing sites. At the same time, it is a safe environment where young soldiers can complete their first shooting tests. “The 3D simulation provides a dynamic environment in terms of target position and motion,” says Gibertoni.
Established in 1989, Spectra is a 100% Brazilian-owned technology company. It reported earnings of R$12 million in 2014 and invests 15% of this amount in research, development and innovation. It currently employs nine engineers, two technologists, six technicians and two designers associated with engineering, in addition to 25 employees in the manufacturing and management divisions. It boasts of a diversified product line that includes, in addition to the helicopter simulator, servo-hydraulic equipment for vehicle durability testing, on-board electronic control modules for bus bodies (the product has been supplied for nearly a decade to a Brazilian company – more than 10,000 vehicles have been equipped with it – and it is currently being exported to Peru), industrial heaters and control systems for anchor winches on boats used in high-seas oil exploration, a product sold to its client, Petrobras.
“Diversification is part of our business strategy. When one area is not doing well, another compensates for it. We try to maintain control over all the steps involved in our production process. That way, we have greater control of the technology we develop and the price of our products,” says electrical engineer Affonso Ferro, 50, who makes up the trio that holds the reins at Spectra.
The servo-hydraulic test systems for fatigue and durability testing of automotive parts are Spectra’s main product and accounted for 30% of earnings in 2014. Equipped with actuators, hydraulic pumps and a system for data control and acquisition, the testing laboratory is used to test various parts and systems for cars, buses and trucks such as suspension, brakes, mufflers, steering systems and seatbelts. “It works like a simulator, quickly and precisely reproducing actual vehicle conditions on the track,” Ferro says. “Our laboratory is used to conduct a full range of static and dynamic performance tests to analyze mechanical tensions, vibrations and fatigue in a vehicle’s structure.” One of the laboratory developers is computer engineer Jonas Dourado, 25. “I’m working on a software project and creating equipment to conduct durability testing on mechanical parts, especially automotive parts,” Jonas says.
In addition to selling a fully-assembled laboratory, Spectra also provides service to engineering and development departments at autoparts manufacturers and the automobile industry itself. Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Scania, Ford, Fiat, Magneti Marelli and Mahle are just a few of its clients. Last year a unit was exported to Argentina. “The Universidade Nacional de La Plata, second largest in the country, purchased a laboratory for US$2 million,” Da Dalta reports.
The testing laboratory, one of the largest of its kind currently operating in Brazil, was entirely designed by Spectra. The three partners met in the 1980s, when they worked at Mafersa, a former manufacturer of railcars and railroad materials. They worked in a durability testing laboratory – similar to the one they later developed –, whose equipment was imported from the American company Material Test Systems (MTS). At the time, the laboratory was controlled by a computer the size of a small closet.
Da Dalta, Boaventura and Ferro came up with the idea of developing the hardware and software required for an IBM PC-XT to control the laboratory. One of the MTS directors loved the idea and decided to buy the innovation when it was ready. According to Ferro, Spectra was the first company in the world to use a PC to control a road simulator. Hundreds of systems were sold to automakers and parts manufacturers all over the world. “For five years, we received royalties on the sale of our system. That was what allowed us to financially structure Spectra in the beginning,” he says.