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Mission Statement 

The purpose of FLAPS-2-APPROACH is two-fold:  To document the construction of a Boeing 737 flight simulator, and to act as a platform to share aviation-related articles pertaining to the Boeing 737; thereby, providing a source of inspiration and reference to like-minded individuals.

I am not a professional journalist.  Writing for a cross section of readers from differing cultures and languages with varying degrees of technical ability, can at times be challenging. I hope there are not too many spelling and grammatical mistakes.

 

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I use the words 'modules & panels' and 'CDU & FMC' interchangeably.  The definition of the acronym 'OEM' is Original Equipment Manufacturer (aka real aicraft part).

 

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Journal Archive (Newest First)

Entries in MCP (4)

Monday
May152017

MCP and EFIS By SimWorld - Review

This article will review and evaluate the Mode Control Panel (MCP) and Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS) produced by SimWorld in Poland.  It will also briefly examine the use of the CANBUS controller system (SimBox). 

LEFT:  Mode Control Panel (MCP) by SimWorld.  The image looks impressive and the looks do not deceive as this MCP has many advantages over other panels. (promotional photograph © SimWorld (click to enlarge at super size).

The MCP will be discussed first followed by the EFIS and CANBUS system.  Where some areas overlap they will be discussed together.  I use the word panel to denote either the MCP or EFIS.  Also, OEM is an acronym for Original Equipment Manufacturer (aka real aircraft part).  

This review is not endorsed by SimWorld and is entirely my view based on first-hand experience using the MCP and EFIS.  

Background

The mainstay for several years has been the MCP and EFIS produced by CP Flight in Italy.  For the most part, these panels have delivered consistent and reliable performance, despite their rather dated design and engineering.  

However, there are several distinct differences in aesthetics and functionality between the CP Flight units and OEM counterparts.  Furthermore, many CP Flight panels had connection problems caused by the nature of how the MCP was connected to the server computer (using a virtual communication port).  

Reason for Updating MCP and EFIS

Until updating to the SimWorld MCP and EFIS, I had used the panels manufactured by CP Flight (2015 Pro USB interface model), but technology is not idle.  The use of high-end CNC machines and electronics has enabled many parts to me made, that are in many respects indiscernible from the real item.

Initially, I attempted to find OEM panels.  Although the older non-Collins style MCP could be found, it wasn’t possible to find the newer Collins unit at an affordable price.   

SimWorld provides, at the time of writing, the closest resemblance to the OEM panels.  Furthermore, the use of the CANBUS enables trouble-free connection.

Pre-Sale

The MCP and EFIS are not inexpensive; add to this Government import charges and UPS freight and you have spent a considerable sum of money.   With an increased price comes the expectation of higher quality, reliability, robustness, and attention to detail; let’s examine how SimWorld shapes up to this maxim.

The SimWorld website provides considerable information, including photographs and a video demonstrating the MCP and EFIS.  Although imagery can save a thousand words, questions usually need to be asked.   Filip and Piotr spent considerable time answering my specific queries and e-mails were replied to in a timely manner.   Their customer focus has been top shelf in every respect.

Aesthetics, Manufacture and Detail - MCP

The Mode Control Panel (MCP) and Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS) are the main avionics panels used in a simulator, and most enthusiasts strive to replicate the appearance and functionality of these panels as closely as possible to the those in the real aircraft.  

Quick List Main Advantages (SimWorld MCP):

(i)         1:1 in comparison to the OEM MCP;
(ii)         Correct Boeing-grey colour;
(iii)        Screws located in the correct location on the front panel;
(iv)        Flight Director thumb stops;
(v)         Use of externally protected printed circuit boards (PCBs);
(vi)        Motorised autothrottle arming switch with automatic release to off;
(vii)       Ambient sensor (2017 MCP model, not functional);
(viii)      Does not use seven-segmented displays;
(ix)       Ability to accurately display +- and other specialist fonts;
(x)        Push to engage annunciators are backlit in green (when depressed) and are separate to the colour of the backlighting;
(xi)       Integrated backlighting uses a built-in PCB for reliable dimming control;
(xii)      Correct styled knobs made from painted aluminum;
(xiii)     Correct smoky-coloured display windows positioned in frames identical to the OEM MCP;
(xiv)     Functionality that replicates the OEM MCP (depends on avionics suite used); and,
(xv)      Use of commercial grade rotary encoders.

Internal Components

The components for the MCP and EFIS panels are for the most part machine-made; however, the components are assembled by hand on a market-demand basis.   To ensure production repeatability, SimWorld use a number of printed circuit boards (PCBs) sandwiched together to provide core functionality.

LEFT:  External casing removed showing multiple Printed Circuit Boards PCBs).  Click to enlarge.

A PCB contains numerous ‘tracks and pads’, that are used for input and output devices, memory chips and processors, and various electrical components such as resistors and capacitors.  An advantage of using PCBs is that troubleshooting can be done via a tethered computer, and if a problem is detected, a board can easily be replaced.  This is because, theoretically, each PCB for each panel is identical in design, layout and population.

System Logic and Functionality

The MCP and EFIS are a hardware-user interface that has been designed from the outset to provide full flexibility in relation to functionality.   However, although the panels may have the appropriate hardware in place, the logic to enable the functionality to operate is supplied by the avionics suite in use (for example, ProSim-AR).  

MCP Light Plate

The light plate has been professionally made and the various precut holes (cut-outs) are well finished.  The laser-engraved lettering on the light plate is precise, evenly cut, and does not differ across the unit.  Additionally, the colour of the paint is the correct Boeing gray and does not differ in hue between the MCP and EFIS light plates.

The manufacture of a light plate is quite involved, and an individual plate or batch will take on average 3 days to complete.   Prior to cutting, several thin layers of paint are applied to the light plate.  A laser is then used to engrave the required letters down to the white-coloured base layer.  The base layer is transparent to light, and when backlit, the lettering can easily be read.

SimWorld use the same technology (or very close to it), that is used to manufacture the OEM light plate.

Exterior Casing

The light plate is attached to a series of printed circuit boards (PCBs).  The PCBs and electronics are protected by a 1 mm thick exterior casing.  The casing is made from aluminum and measures 3 inches in depth perpendicular to the front of the light plate.  The casing is powder coated and coloured black.

On the rear of the panel is a female 12 Volt DC power connector, and a connection for the plug that connects the MCP to the CANBUS system.

Knobs

The appearance and colour of the knobs is very similar to the OEM knobs.  Each knob, with the exception of the vertical speed wheel, is made from machine-cut aluminum and is the correct colour.  The knobs are well finished with no sharp edges, or left over metal from the milling process.   One or two metal set screws secure each knob to the shaft of the rotary encoder.

LEFT:  Detail of heading knob and bank selector pointer.  Note the detail in the window bezel and the well defined laser engraving on the lightplate (click to enlarge).

The heading knob incorporates a functional bank selector pointer (made from plastic), and the vertical speed wheel is produced from high grade molded plastic.  There are no injection holes in the plastic and the end finish passes scrutiny.

The knobs are tactile (feel solid to touch) and when rotated generate a well-defined audible click (similar to the OEM knobs on the MCP).  

Rotary Encoders

Not all rotary encoders are made equal: a high-end encoder is constructed to an exacting standard predominately using metallic components.  To rotate such an encoder requires a mild effort; there is resistance – it isn’t difficult, but you can’t move it left or right with a flip of a finger.   

In comparison, hobbyist-style encoders are considerably cheaper to purchase, are made to a less exacting standard and usually have a shaft and body produced from plastic.  The encoders are easy to rotate and can also wear out prematurely with extended use.

SimWorld use quality Swiss made rotary encoders, rather than using low quality encoders from China.  Each encoder has a cylindrical metal shaft.  A metal shaft is important as a plastic shaft can wear prematurely, in addition to becoming damaged from overzealous tightening of set screws (which hold the knob in place).

I have been told that military specification (MilSpec) encoders are available, however, SimWorld use these encoders only for high-end commercial simulators.

Resistance When Rotating Knobs - Comparison With OEM Honeywell and Collins MCP

Resistance when rotating the knobs will depend on the MCP model.  The knobs on the older Honeywell models are very easy to rotate - A finger with just a ‘tad’ of pressure will move the knobs, however, the newer Collins model has more resistance, but the knobs are still very easy to rotate with minimal force.   As one First Officer stated: ‘You can definitely hear a soft click as you move the encoders - especially on the Honeywell models’.

By comparison, the resistance felt when rotating the knobs on the SimWorld MCP, although difficult to quantify, is similar to the resistance felt when rotating the knobs on the OEM MCP – It is realistic and does not feel ‘toy like’.  

Backlighting

The backlighting is controlled by a number of 5 Volt light emitting diodes (LEDs).  Each LED has been strategically located in the light plate to ensure even coverage and intensity of light.  

However, the MCP does exhibit slight light bleed along the join between the light plate and the protective casing.  This is not a problem as when the MCP is mounted into the MIP, the stray light is not noticeable.  If necessary, cloth tape can be placed over the join to eliminate any stray light.

LEFT:  The stray light is at the interface where the exterior casing joins the lightplate.  This area is covered by the MIP when the panel is mounted (click to enlarge).

Backlight Dimming - Dimmer Interface Card (DIC)

The MCP and Captain-side EFIS can be dimmed together, while The First Officer EFIS is capable of being dimmed independent of the Captain side EFIS.  This is how it occurs in the real aircraft.

To enable the panel backlighting to be dimmed, SimWorld have used a dedicated PCB (DIC).  The use of a PCB ensures that dimming is reliable, accurate, and highly controllable.   The PCB is standalone, is roughly the size of two credit cards and can be mounted anywhere.

The DIC is connected to the CANBUS system via the custom wiring harness and then to the appropriate potentiometer that controls panel backlighting.   Panel backlighting can be dimmed from off to any brightness level.  

To enable dimming, a potentiometer must be wired to the PCB (DIC).  

Power

The MCP requires 12 Volt power, while the backlighting uses 5 Volt power that is connected to the DIC.

MCP Annunciators

The annunciators are not glorified micro-switches, but are push on/off buttons that when depressed emit an audible click.  The resistance felt as the button is pressed, is slightly less than the pressure required to engage an OEM annunciator.  The square push button and frame is made from plastic, and the cylindrical shaft that the button connects with is made from metal.  

SimWorld have replicated each of the square-shaped buttons exceptionally well, and for the most part their external appearance is identical to the OEM counterpart.

Each annunciator is connected to the primary MCP PCB, thus eliminating the use of wires.  If an annunciator is broken during the course of its life, replacement is relatively straightforward and involves soldering the connection of the replacement annunciator to the PCB.

Status Checkerboard and Legend

Each annunciator on the MCP comprises a square push button, a rectangular-shaped checkerboard, and a legend.

The checkerboard is made by engraving a number of holes that, when the annunciator is pressed, enables green-coloured light to be transmitted through the checkerboard.  The checkerboard is similar to the OEM panel and has the same number of engraved holes.

Each annunciator has a legend that uses multi layer technology (proprietary to SimWorld).  Multi layer technology is what enables the backlighting of the checkerboard and legend to be a different colour.  The name of each annunciator (speed, VNAV, N1, etc.) has been engraved into the legend.   

Unfortunately, the engraved letters are not as defined as you would expect; the lettering is slightly jagged in appearance (enlarge above image). 

LEFT:  The detail of the annunciators is very good and the jagged appearance of the lettering only becomes apparent when they are backlit.  The backlight intensity is set to 100% (click to engage).

This is noticeable only when observed very close-up; from a normal distance (seated) this is barely noticeable and therefore, not really an issue.   However, the ability of the legend to transmit light evenly through the cut-out lettering is noticeable as the jagged appearance causes the names to appear slightly ‘furry’ (brighter or dimmer) depending upon the amount of light that can travel through the lettering, and your viewing position.

The annunciator legends and the checkerboard, are illuminated by strategically-placed LEDs.  

Window Bezels and Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs)

The two main differences that separate an OEM MCP from a reproduction MCP are the design and appearance of the bezels that surround the display window, and how the actual characters (digits) are displayed.

SimWorld have used a black-coloured bezel that surrounds each of the display windows.  The bezel is identical to the bezels in the OEM MCP, and the join between the bezel and the display frame is seamless.

Equally, the use of custom-made Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs), with each display backlit by one LED, is what causes SimWorld’s design to stand-out above its competition.  

The combined use of LCDs and LEDs enables each character (digit) to be displayed in the correct shape, colour and size.  This is in addition to displaying the specific characters used in the speed window (under and overspeed conditions) and the +- symbols displayed in the vertical speed window.

LEFT:  The checkerboard is identical in appearance across all annunciators.  Note the ambient sensor and + character in the vertical speed window.  Also the very slight difference in the illumination of the + sign  Backlightng is set ~50% intensity (click to enlarge).

Although appearing rudimentary, this is similar to how the OEM displays are illuminated.  To my knowledge, all other manufacturers of reproduction MCPs use seven-segmented displays.

While the use of this type of display is a positive step forward, it is not without its negatives; if the LEDS are incorrectly positioned, or the throw of light is not even across the rear of the LCD, then the characters will not be evenly lit.  This may cause some of the characters in a display to be brighter or dimmer (hot or cold spot).

To counter against this, quality assurance (QA) must be exceptionally thorough.  I will discuss QA later in this article.

LCD Brightness

As discussed earlier, each LCD is backlit by a single LED (this is how the characters (digits) are illuminated).

LEFT: Backlighting at full intensity is excellent (click to enlarge).

The brightness of the digits is linked to the intensity of the backlight dimming.  Therefore, as backlighting is dimmed, the brightness of the LEDs behind each LCD is lowered.   Although this is exactly how dimming operates in the real aircraft, I find that during the day in bright conditions, with the backlighting turned off, it’s difficult to read the digits as their intensity is not very bright.  At night and in low light conditions this is not an issue as the digits can easily be read. 

A solution to this issue is for SimWorld to enable an alternate method (although not as done in the real aircraft) to allow the brightness of the LEDs to be independent of backlighting.

Autothorttle (A/T)

The A/T toggle, controlled by a solenoid-release mechanism, resembles the OEM toggle.

The system logic SimWorld use in the toggle is slightly different to other reproduction MCPs, in that the toggle can only be engaged when certain conditions are met (system logic).

If the correct conditions are not met, then the toggle cannot be engaged; the toggle will not stay in the engaged position (up) but flick back to the disengaged position (down).  Be aware that for this functionality to operate, the avionics suite in use must also have this capability.

Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS)

Disregarding OEM panels, the SimWorld EFIS is probably the best on the market (at the time of writing).   Each EFIS replicates its OEM counterpart in both appearance and functionality, and is the correct size (1:1).

LEFT:  Captain-side EFIS panel with backlighting at full intensity.  The lightplate is well made and the laser engraving is well defined enabling even illumination of backlighting accross the panel.  The BARO STD knob has purposely been left slightly left of center.  When the BARO knob is released it will spring back to the central position (click to enlarge).

Two noticeable positives are the concave-designed push in/out function buttons on the lower portion of the unit, and the use of independent duel rotaries that are centrally spring-loaded.  

Quick ListMain Advantages (SimWorld EFIS):

(i)      Correct size and dimensions (1:1);
(ii)     Use of externally protected printed circuit boards (PCB);
(iii)    Correct Boeing-grey colour;
(iv)    Accurate aluminum knobs with set screws;
(v)     Independent backlighting between Captain-side and F/O side EFIS units;
(vi)    Two speed rotary encoders which auto-center (BARO and MINS);
(vii)   Well defined laser-cut lettering on light plate; and,
(viii)  Concave-designed push buttons.

Manufacture and Detail - EFIS

The EFIS has been manufactured and assembled in a similar way to the MCP.  The EFIS panels are 1:1, are the correct shaded grey colour, include the appropriate screws located in the correct location, and have the correct styled knobs.  As with the MCP, the EFIS use printed circuit boards which are then protected by an exterior aluminium casing.

LEFT:  First Officer side EFIS.  Knob length, functionality and detail are as per the real aircraft as is concave function buttons and well defined lettering and even backlighting accross the lightplate (click to enlarge).

EFIS Light Plate, Backlight Dimming and Exterior Casing

The laser-cut lettering on the light plate is crisp and sharp, and when the EFIS is backlit the light is evenly spread at the same intensity across the panel. 

Both EFIS panels are dimmed through the same dimmer interface card (DIC) used for the MCP, however, the F/O EFIS panel can be dimmed separately to the Captain-side panel (as it is done in the real aircraft).  

The protective casing that each EFIS resides measures 5 inches in depth perpendicular to the light plate.   On the rear of the unit is a female 5-volt DC power connector, and a connection for the plug that connects the EFIS to the CANBUS system.

Knobs

The manufacture of the knobs is similar to the knobs used on the MCP, with the exception that a centrally-placed disc has been laser engraved to enable the function name to be backlit.  The lettering on the discs is crisp and sharp.  The knobs are held securely to the rotary shaft by two metal set-screws.  

LEFT:  First Officer side EFIS.  The lettering and black disc is well made.  The metal set screw that attaches the upper knob to the dual rotary can be observed.  The upper knob is self centering (click to enlarge).

The pointer (black & white line) on the function selector knob is a transfer that has been glued to the outside of the knob.  The adhesive has been solidly applied and I doubt the transfer will come loose.

Rotary Encoders

The rotary encoders are similar to those used in the MCP and have a metal cylindrical shaft.  Each of the encoders is a double encoder meaning that it has dual functionality.

Specialist Functionality - BARO and MINS

The barometric pressure (BARO) and radio altitude/pressure (minimums) function exactly as those in the real aircraft.  The outer knobs are spring-loaded, and when rotated and released, self-center with the label resetting to the horizontal position.  The knobs also are push to reset.

Each knob has two speeds: a slight turn left or right turn will alter the single digits, while holding the encoder left or right for a longer period of time will change the double digits, and cause the digits to change at a higher rate of speed.   

The below video, taken inside the flight deck of a B73-800 aircraft shows the operation of the OEM BARO and MINS (courtesy Shrike 200).  The SimWorld BARO and MINS knobs operate the same way.

 

Concave-shaped Function Buttons

The function buttons on the EFIS are concave in shape and made from plastic (this differs to the rubberized buttons seen on several OEM EFIS panels).  Each button has the name of the function engraved into the button.  The engraved letters are crisp and sharp and when the panel is backlit, the letters are evenly illuminated without hot or cold spots.  

Each button’s mechanism is made from plastic, and while the use of plastic is understandable, metal probably would increase the mechanism’s service life.  

Minor Problem - Sticky EFIS Button

A minor issue developed after installation of the EFIS into the bracket.  Two function buttons when pressed, would not automatically reset themselves (click in and click out).  The problem only presented when the panel was mounted into the bracket faceplate.

After carefully examining the bracket and protective casing, it was found that when the EFIS was mounted into the MIP, the casing was compressed against the button.  This caused the button to remain pushed in.

The problem was resolved by slightly bending the aluminum external casing so that it did not rub against the button’s mechanism. 

Functionality

The functionality of the EFIS is identical to the OEM EFIS.

MCP and EFIS Bracket

SimWorld provide a sturdy bracket that is used to mount the MCP and EFIS panels to the Main Instrument Panel (MIP).

LEFT:  SimWorld propriety bracket to mount MCP and EFIS into the SimWorld MIP.  The bracket is solid and very well made (click to enlarge)

The bracket consists of a front faceplate and a rigid bracket framework.  Both items are made from 1 mm thick, black-coloured, powder coated aluminum.  The faceplate is precut to allow fitment of the MCP and EFIS.  The framework provides stability to stop the EFIS panels from wobbling in the precut hole.  

Mounting The Bracket To The MIP

The bracket is designed to be used with SimWorld’s propriety MIP, however, the bracket can be used with other MIPs.  Take note that, depending upon which MIP is used, the bracket/MIP may need to be modified.

I retrofitted the bracket to a Flight Deck Solutions (FDS) MIP which was not without its problems. 

Problems Retrofitting The Bracket to the FDS MIP

The FDS MIP, the distance between the Captain-side and F/O-side glarewings did not allow enough room to enable the bracket faceplate to be fitted; the bracket was approximately 1 mm too long, and the bracket framework was too deep to easily slide into the recess of the FDS MIP.

These shortcomings were rectified by shaving away a small portion of the inner side of each glarewing.  This enabled the bracket faceplate to fit snugly between the glarewings.  

To use the bracket framework (which is quite deep), the internal structure of the FDS MIP has to be cutaway, an act that may affect the structure of the MIP.  Therefore, the framework was discarded and only the bracket faceplate was used.  

Without the framework to provide stability, the EFIS panels wobbled somewhat in the bracket faceplate.  To stop the EFIS from wobbling, small wedges made from wood were fabricated and installed between the EFIS and the inside edge of each glarewing.  Once the wedges were installed, the EFIS did not wobble.  The MCP is secured to the bracket faceplate by four screws which inhibits any movement.

A facsimile of the piece of metal that covers the underneath portion of the MCP was made from thin metal, painted black, and the appropriate screws added.

Wiring Harness

SimWorld supply a high quality wiring lumen that consists of four colour-coded wires with connectors.  The wires connect to the MCP and EFIS, and then to a 5 and 12 Volt power supply, dimming interface card (DIC), and the CANBUS system.  The power connections are standard push pull plugs and the wires that connect the MCP and EFIS with CANBUS use wire tap connectors (T-taps).   The length of supplied wire approximately 12 feet and SimWorld provide a basic wiring diagram.

LEFT:  T-taps can damage wires causing connection issues, so should be viewed as a temporary set-up (click to enlarge)

Wire Connectors

The use of wire tap connectors (wire chomper), although very convenient, should probably be looked at only as an initial connection when testing the panels.  For a more permanent connection, soldering the wires is preferable.  Soldering will remove the possibility of any troublesome connection.  

Let me explain,  the act of pressing the wire into this slotted metal piece bludgeons the wire. The concept behind this is fine – it’s supposed to strip back the insulation on the wire to make contact with the wire itself. The problem is that there is no guarantee that you won’t accidentally catch some of the wire in this process and tear some of the individual wire strands.  Additionally, if the insulation is broken over a wire, there is a possibility of corrosion (oxidation) occurring.  

Push-Pull Power Plugs

Although the use of a push/pull power plug is standard to many appliances, the connection is not tight.  If pressure is applied to the power cable, it is easy for the plug to become dislodged and loose connection with the MCP or EFIS.  

LEFT:  Power plug and CANBUS connector.  Each panel is connected to CANBUS by one of these connectors, and then to the dimming interface card (click to enlarge)

On a simulator with motion control, vibration could cause the plug to be dislodged.  An easy matter to rectify, the security of this connection should be improved in future designs.

CANBUS Controller System

The CANBUS system (also called Simbox or CAN controller) enables communication between the server computer and the MCP (and specific SimWorld panels) and is a vital part of the SimWorld architecture.

CAN is an acronym for Controller Area Network and is a bus standard designed to allow micro controllers and devices to communicate with each other.  Simply put, CANBUS translates the CANBUS signal, allowing for control and communication through the computer.

The CAN controller system (printed circuit board) resides in a ribbed-aluminum case with two connectors at each end of the case; one side connects with the computer via a standard USB cable while the other side connects, via a specialist connection, to the wiring harness, and then to the MCP and EFIS panels.  The CAN controller does not require a dedicated power supply.

LEFT:  CANBUS module.  Made from aluminium and housing a Printed Circuit Board (PCB), the CAN controller is what connects the MCP and EFIS tot he server computer.  During all trials, CANBUS performed flawlessly with no drop outs, lags or failures (click to enlarge).

CANBUS is small and light enough that it can be mounted anywhere between the MIP and server computer.  I have the CANBUS unit secured to the rear of the MIP via a Velcro strap.

Connection and Drivers

CANBUS does not require any drivers to operate as it’s detected by ProSim-AR when the software is turned on.  Connection is immediate, and whatever configuration is needed is done automatically through Windows the first time CANBUS in connected to the computer.  

There should not be any connection or communication issues provided you have checked (ticked) the enable SimWorld drivers within the configuration/drivers tab of the ProSim737 software.  

Compatibility

At the time of writing, CANBUS is compatible with ProSim-AR (plug and fly).  A dedicated driver for iFly and PMDG is under development.  Prior to purchase, I would seek the advice of SimWorld to whether CANBUS is compatible with the avionics suite you are using.

Reliability of CANBUS

In one word - 'perfect'.   I have not had the MCP, EFIS or CANBUS disconnect during a flight simulator session.  This is using FSX and ProSim-AR (version 1.49).  As a test, I disconnected the CAN controller during a flight, then reconnected it.  The flight was not disrupted and the reconnection occurred effortlessly.

Robustness and Service Life

The life and serviceability of a product has a direct relationship to how the product is used (or abused) and the duration of use.   Modern electronics are very forgiving, and electronic problems (if any) usually develop soon after an item begins its service life.  If problems are not detected after first use, then it is not unusual for an item to have a considerable service life.

Some of the more common problems that occur with reproduction panels include; failing encoders, damaged plastic encoder shafts, worn out set screws, slippage of knobs, and faulty switches and buttons.  Additionally, knobs may wear out with use, and paint on the lightplate may chip.  

SimWorld have countered potential problems by using printed circuit boards, commercial metal encoders, aluminum knobs, metal set-screws, and by replicated, as much as possible the same processes used in the manufacture of OEM light plates.  

The above said, it's wise to remember that reproduction panels rarely replicate the robustness and exacting standards of an OEM product; therefore, they should be treated with respect and with care.   I expect that in time the paint on knobs will chip and wear thin with use - this is normal wear and tear.  I don't mind this 'wear and tear' look as it is very seldom you a knob that is shiny new - unless the aircraft is new.

Quality Assurance (QA), Customer Service, and My Experience

Put bluntly, when anything is done by hand there must be a very high level of Quality Assurance (QA) to ensure that design specifications and tolerances are met.  QA can be an expensive process as time is needed to inspect each individual panel and then, if imperfections are noted, make required alterations/repairs.

There is a direct relationship between the price that an items costs and the amount and level of QA that is performed.  You would not expect an inexpensive item mass-produced in China to have high QA – and it doesn’t, which is why many Chinese-produced products fail after a short period of time or have obvious defects.   However, if you are purchasing a high-end product with a high price tag then the expectation is that this product will meet specification, will not have problems, and be sold with an excellent warranty and support.

SimWorld realize that enthusiasts demand quality and strive to meet this requirement.  However, not everything passes muster first time around and sometimes products are released that are not quite up-to-standard.   Whenever this occurs the reputation of the company is tested.

To ensure transparency, I have documented the issues below not to provide negative criticism of SimWorld, but to highlight their dedicated customer support and strong company ethics.  

My Experience

The first MCP and EFIS sent to me from SimWorld did not meet my expectations and had several issues.  Namely:  

(i)     Uneven brightness of the characters (digits) across the five LCDs with some characters presenting as hot spots;
(ii)     Rotary encoders cross-referencing values;
(iii)    A/T arming toggle not locking into the arm position (UP position);
(iv)    Crooked LCD in the course display window; and,
(v)     The light plate on the EFIS was not mounted parallel to the backing plate (crooked).

I contacted SimWorld and they requested that I return the panels to Poland (at their expense) for repair.  

The problems experienced were caused by:

(i)     The positioning of the LED behind the LCD was slightly off center.  This was rectified;
(ii)    The rotary encoders were faulty and had been tracked to a bad batch released from the manufacturer.  They were replaced;  
(iii)   The autothrottle toggle was not aligned correctly with the magnetic plate mounted behind the light plate. This was fixed by moving the toggle very slightly to the left;
(iv)    The crooked LCD was straightened.  As the LCDs are mounted by hand, careful attention must be paid to ensuring they are straight; and,
(v)     The misalignment of the F/O EFIS panel was rectified by making it straight against the backing plate.  

Repaired MCP and EFIS

Unfortunately, following receipt of the repaired MCP, the Captain-side course display would not illuminate.

Piotr at SimWorld organized for my computer to be tethered to their technician’s laptop to enable bench testing.   Unfortunately, the technician could not determine what was causing the problem, but thought it may be a faulty capacitor.  

Rather than attempt to repair the MCP again, Filip arranged for a replacement MCP panel to be sent to me by UPS.  

Replacement MCP Panel

The replacement MCP, by chance, was the newer panel manufactured in 2017.  I have not had any problems with the replacement 2017 model MCP and EFIS.  Both panels function flawlessly and the attention to detail on the panels is beyond reproach.  

Warranty and After-Sales Service

The MCP and EFIS is covered by 12-month unconditional warranty.

The after-sales service and warranty cannot be bettered, and I cannot stress the advantages of dealing with a company that treats its customers with respect and places customer service as a priority.  

In relation to the issues I had with the MCP and EFIS, SimWorld responded to my e-mails within 24 hours, followed up on my questions, provided reasons for the problem, and kept me updated with regard to repairs and/or replacement.   The after-sales service and support provided to me has been exemplary.  

Negatives - MCP and EFIS

It’s difficult to find any major negatives.  However, if pressed they are:

(i)    During the day, the digits displayed in the LCDs are difficult to read if the backlighting is dimmed 100%;
(ii)    The power connection on the rear of the MCP and EFIS is not secure.  If any pressure is applied to a cable, then it’s very easy for the connector to become dislodged from the panel;
(iii)    The laser cutting on the annunciator legends (Speed, V/S, RNAV, etc.) could be more precise (this really is not an issue unless you inspect your panel with a macro lens); and,
(iv)    The non-use of D-shaped shafts on the rotary encoders.  If used, this would minimise the chance of any knob slipping on the shaft of an encoder.
(v)   The brightness of the digits displayed in the LCD's, although more or less even accross all characters, does show slight intensity differences.  This is caused by the positioning of the LED that sits behind each LCD. 

Pictures and Videos

I have not included many photographs in an attempt to keep the footprint of the article to a reasonable size. 

Several images can be viewed in the image gallery - SimWorld MCP Version 2.  I have posted several 'very average' photographs in this gallery in an attempt to show you the appearance of the panels.  Promotional images and videos are fine, but they are always professionally made to show the product in its best light.  You will also see a few images of OEM panels in the gallery to compare.

Below are three professionally made videos courtesy of SimWorld.

The panels displayed in the video accurately reflect the appearance, detail and functionality of the MCP and EFIS.  Equally, CANBUS is as straightforwrd to connect as shown in the video.

Photography

A quick word about photography.  Detailed and close-up photographs will always show unwanted blemishes.  The better the lens the more blemishes will become obvious.  It's important to remember that you do not fly the simulator looking through a magnifying loop, but view panels from a moderate distance.  Even OEM panels show inconsistencies when viewed with a macro lens :)

Titbits

This article has taken several months to complete.  Originally it was three times the length and it's taken some time to condense the information to a length that is readable without it being bound in a book!

Final Call

The price paid to own the SimWorld MCP and EFIS is not inexpensive, however, it is nowhere near the price demanded of a OEM Collins panel, or a panel used in a commercial simulator trainer.

SimWorld's use of liquid crystal displays in lieu of seven-segmented displays, the resistance felt when turning the various knobs that closely match the OEM panels, and the close attention paid to detail: for example, the small tabs beside the Flight Director switches, detailed display bezels, ambient sensor, and realistic push to reset barometer and minimums knobs, is what separates this MCP and EFIS from its competition. 

If you want the appearance of the MCP and EFIS to be as close as possible to the OEM equivalent, and want accurate functionality, then you should not discount the panels produced by SimWorld.

Tuesday
Feb162016

Flight Testing The SimWorld MCP and EFIS

I use the Mode Control Panel (MCP) and Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS) produced by CP Flight.  These units have been the mainstay in the flight simulation community for several years and for the most part they are robust, reliable, and more or less look similar to the OEM units. 

Recently, other companies have begun to manufacture MCP and EFIS units to replicate the real aircraft part as closely as possible in both appearance and functionality. 

LEFT:  SimWorld MCP retrofitted into a Flight Deck Solutions (FDS) MIP.  Initial impressions exceed expectations, especially when comparing the appearance of the MCP to the OEM item.

SimWorld, located in Poland is a relatively new company that is making great leaps forward designing and manufacturing reproduction B737 panels and other parts.  One of SimWorld's premier items is their 'plug and play' MCP and EFIS.

I am currently in possession of a SimWorld MCP and two EFIS units.  These units have been retrofitted into a Flight Deck Solutions (FDS) MIP and flight testing has begun.  In due course a detailed review will be published.  I also will be, at the same time, reviewing the CANBUS system that SimWorld use to connect their various panels to the computer and Flight Simulator.

To test and evaluate the unit will take some time as the protocols I use are very thorough.  In the next few months (depending upon time) I should have enough data to enable a detailed review to be written.  The review will address at the minimum the following:

  • Manufacturing technique (materials, painting, lazer cutting, etc);
  • Accuracy and scale to the OEM MCP/EFIS
  • Robustness and longevity;
  • Functionality to OEM unit;
  • Quality assurance;
  • SimWorld pre-sales and after-sales support;
  • Reliability and consistency in operation; and,
  • An overview of the CANBUS system.

Note that I have no affiliation with SimWorld, or any other manufacturer.  This review will be a balanced opinion based on my use and the use and opinion of other users of the MCP and EFIS unit.

Glossary

EFIS - Electronic Flight Instrument System.
MCP - Mode Control Panel.
MIP - Main Instrument Panel.
OEM - Original Equipment Manufacturer (aka real aircraft parts).

Saturday
May122012

Striving For Realism - MCP, EFIS - AFDS & MIP Lighting

One aspect that everyone strives for when building a flight deck is authenticity.   We try to mimic the real flight deck whenever possible.    This isn’t possible with everything, and different people have varying perceptions to what is a suitable aesthetic compromise.   Equally, flight simmers become fixated with certain aspects of their flight deck. 

I know simmers who fastidiously try to replicate the switches of their overhead to replicate the real B737 switches, or try to mould their glare shield so they fit and look “just right”.  I have always been fixated on the MCP unit; I wanted the unit to mimic the appearance of the real unit as much as possible.

I was a little disappointed when I discovered that the CP Flight MCP and EFIS unit I was using, did not fit snug into the FDS MIP. There was small vacant gap along the edge of the unit when fitted into the MIP.  Further, at certain angles the MIP and AFDS flood lighting could be seen along the edge of the MCP.  I thought the latter was particularly unrealistic.  I was incorrect….

I recently came across a selection of photographs taken inside the flight deck of an Alaska Airlines B737-700 (image above).  I was very surprised (if not pleased) to observe that the MCP and EFIS unit had a gap around the edge of the unit and the MIP and AFDS flood lighting could be seen shining along the edge of the MCP unit - exactly the same as in the simulator.

I now can sleep soundly knowing that what I look at in the simulator is very similar to that of a real aircraft.  :) "just kidding - I can sleep anywhere"

I've made the image larger than normal to show the detail I am referring.  Please note that this photograph is copyright and cannot be used without permission.

Tuesday
Apr172012

Look Dad - No Mouse! - CP Flight PRO MCP & EFIS Installed

In an earlier Journal entry, I mentioned that the CP Flight main control panel (MCP) PRO version I had purchased last September (before I embarked on the B737 Project) appeared to be faulty.  For some reason the MCP would not register on the USB port of the computer.  After many hours of wasted time, I returned the unit to Italy for either repair or replacement.

Just before Easter I received a replacement unit.  Paolo from CP Flight had decided to replace the electronics. 

Installation & Configuration

Installation of the CPF software and configuration of this new unit worked first time without any problem whatsoever.  Configuring the MCP to operate with Sim Avionics was straightforward and required some basic changes to the Server.exe configuration files.  I also had to clone the TCP_Client.exe and MCP.exe folders and copy these to the main server computer that has FSX and the MCP installed.  These folders and files need to be installed on the same computer as the MCP software and hardware is installed to allow Sim Avionics to recognise the device.

Simulator Start-Up Procedure

So what happens now is that I start FSX on the main server computer, then once FSX is running and the flight is open, I activate the MCP.exe shortcut which turns on the CP Flight MCP.  The process of the MCP.exe been turned on triggers the TCP_Client.exe to open and search for it’s counterpart on the network.  Turning on the Sim-A Server.exe (via a batch start file located on the client computer) allows the programs to communicate and the appropriate software to open on the flight deck.

Backlighting – An Initial Mystery

To connect the CP Flight backlighting was a mystery until SIM-A support informed me that you can either select a check box within the SIM-A server display window which causes the backlighting to be permanently on, or create a FSUPIC offset to a switch using the aircraft’s storm lights for manual activation.  I choose the later and have the backlighting set to a toggle on a GoFlight module.  This will suffice as I do not as yet have an overhead installed.

My Opinion of the Unit

The CP Flight MCP and EFIS unit has been discussed many times in various reviews and on U-Tube; the consensus being that the majority of users are very happy with the product.

The unit is well made, aesthetically looks pleasing, and works as it should.  The backlighting is very good and the green buttons that indicate whether a function is turned on or off are very visible.  The unit is quite light in weight compared with other MCPs on the market, so it must be installed solidly into the MIP to minimise movement when pushing buttons, etc.  The solenoid operated A/T switch is a nice change to the normal flick type switch and the use of replica DZUS fasteners is a nice touch.

CP Flight support is also beyond reproach.  Paolo is helpful, courteous and attempts to find solutions when a problem is evident.  I had an issue with my first MCP and Paolo spent considerable time with me working through issues attempting to find a solution.  CP Flight is not a “buy and forget” you type of company.

Major Advantage

One of the major advantages in using products from CP Flight is the very easy connectivity with other CP Flight modules.  The CP Flight family of modules are connected together by a daisy chain system.  A 5 pin (5 pole) DIN cable connects each module to each other with the main power being supplied by the MCP and its external 6 Volt power pack.  Connection to the computer is via a single USB cable.  What this makes for is a very simple, clean and modular way of installation.  There are no cards to connect or to find homes for -  nor any messy wiring.

Caveat

The only caveat is that the size of the MCP and EFIS are not an exact 1:1 ratio to a real B737 MCP and EFIS unit.  The CP Flight instrument is slightly narrower that the real module.  Whilst this is not a major issue, it does pose a slight problem if you’re using a OEM MIP or a MIP that is sized correctly to the real part. 

If you are using a MIP made by FDS, an additional bracket assembly is required, and even then there is a slight gap between the MIP and MCP unit.

This brings me to an interesting point.  Not all MIPS are the same size nor are they all an accurate 1:1 ratio.  CP Flight is used  exclusively with the MIP produced by Fly Engravity, so it stands to reason that the Fly Engravity MIP will fit the CP Flight products accurately.  if you are using another brand MIP, then it is best to check before hand to ensure that the CP Flight avionics will fit correctly.

Nice to Fly without a Mouse….

Whatever the difference in size, It’s very pleasing to be able to fly without a mouse and have something to fill the gaping hole in the MIP.  I’ve solved the issue of the spacing difference by cutting some thin acrylic to the appropriate size and painting it Boeing grey.  Once fitted, you barely notice the slight gap.  Sometimes you have to compromise...

Although this post is not a review, if pressed to give a rating it would be 8.5/10

To see further pictures, navigate to the Images Section / MCP & EFIS Units (internal link)

Now that the MCP and Captain EFIS is fitted and working, I need to order an addtional EFIS unit for the Flight Officer side. 

Next on the agenda will be to populate the avionics for the center pedestal.