How we test our product: DroneX
When you're manufacturing a product, it's vital that standards are consistent and that your product is tested. This can mean different things for every business - from ensuring your food product meets certain standards, to putting your product through its paces under different conditions. Testing also helps you learn and discover more about your industry, and what your product is capable of.
One of our Virgin StartUp-funded businesses is DroneX, a startup that specialises in making UAV systems - or, as you might know them, drones. A technical business like this requires a lot of testing to ensure the drones are safe and operate smoothly - so we decided to ask a few questions to find out how you can ensure that a technical product meets the standards required.
What does DroneX do?
DroneX is a Bristol-based high-tech start-up that specialises in designing and building custom-made UAV systems for commercial, industrial and scientific use.
We are able to optimise our systems for specific requirements, and so all our products are unique and bespoke. Our approach is to work closely with our customers to create real value. Basically, DroneX listens to its customer requirements and suggests a suitable tailor-made solution; designs the machine, builds it and tests it thoroughly. The customer walks away with a 100% working, fully configured and tested system they can trust.
How do you decide upon the factors you want to test?
This can be anything from component testing - like propeller efficiency - to flight capabilities in difficult weather or temperature conditions, night flying and many more settings. It depends on what the customer needs.
We always make sure that our customer receives a well-working system that's ready to fly out of the box, so testing our product before we give it away is our priority. Testing also helps us widen our knowledge and expertise. This scope of experience allows us to take a proactive approach with our clients.
For example, few months ago we designed a quadcopter for surveying. Because of the mission requirements, we started off with efficiency testing to set up the right propeller type. We tested approximately 20 propellers in terms of power they take and the level of trust to create an efficiency chart. We experienced substantial performance difference between each shape, which helped us to make our decision.
What is the testing process like, and is it the same for every drone?
Certain parts of test process are the same for each drone. For each system, we do component testing in isolation before they are installed on the drone. Then as part of flight assessment we test efficiency, power output, stability. We measure temperature, vibration, electromagnetic and electrical interference etc. We have a process in place with a long checklist of tests that each drone has to pass.
In addition, many of our drones have a custom payload, sensors or other capabilities unique to that one specific design. In this case, we build a special test case for that equipment.
Do you source pieces for the drones from a variety of suppliers, or is it all done in-house?
We are normally able to produce the drone almost from scratch and include supporting structures from 3D printed materials such as canopy and the housing of the speed controllers - however we still need parts like motors, electronics, batteries etc, which we purchase from our well-established supplier network.
How have you refined the testing process over time?
Yes, we hold a full record or test procedures and test results for each drone. Any issue we detect during testing or any improvement we make later is recorded and test procedures are modified accordingly. Over time tests became more and more comprehensive.
Are there industry standards or checks that you have to be conscious of?
Most of the systems we design fall below the 20kg category, and as such they are exempt from external airworthiness assessment. But UAV operators are still responsible for making sure their drone is in good technical condition. We are following best industry practices and help our customers with technical and maintenance burdens.
Do you have any advice for other startups who create products they need to test?
Testing is always cheaper than repairing or rebuilding - try it out and get it right before you release it!