National Instruments – the US-based testing and validation platform supplier is driving convenience and speedier progress for its customers with its customisable user-defined testing systems.
Providers of a software-defined platform that helps accelerate the development and performance of automated test and automated measurement systems, National Instruments (NI) sees its role as a testing platform provider getting more and more crucial as the automotive industry embarks on a new journey of digitalisation, electrification and vehicle control through modern technology including machine learning and artificial intelligence. The company has been aiding speedier development of these new systems at various automakers and their associated component suppliers, and Korea’s Hyundai Kefico is one of the recent beneficiaries.
Hyundai Kefico is a vendor of powertrain management components including electronic control units (ECUs), sensors, actuators and modules. It supplies to parent Hyundai and Kia Motors, and also to Mahindra-owned Ssangyong Motor, with the parts also being used as spare parts sold by Hyundai Mobis.
The company has registered achieving faster test speeds required for functional tests of powertrain ECUs in manufacturing, and thus, shorter development times by adopting a customisable user-defined test system using the NI automated test platform. NI claims that the ECU vendor recorded a reduction in development time to one-sixth of the previous system and lowered the system cost to 70 percent with a 15 percent faster test time.
The requirements of the test engineers at Hyundai Kefico were critical wherein they needed to sustainably meet manufacturing test deadlines for increasingly complex powertrain electronic control units (ECU) with over 200 pins and 20,000 test steps – all of this while ensuring test times comply with throughput needs and also the cost of testing is reduced to remain competitive in the market. Using the NI test platform to build a standard architecture, the company achieved flexible test system configurations of all powertrain ECU types and reusable test scripts and procedures that guarantee test coverage alignment from R&D to manufacturing, while allowing global, standard test deployment.
A New Approach
In the past, an ECU functional tester was required to design sensor / actuator emulators, vehicle communication modules, test execution engines and applications, test procedures, and test result management tools for each type of ECU. In other words, a new tester for every new ECU needed to be built, with minimum reuse of test engineering assets, thus bearing a negative impact to the cost of test.
The problem was approached by Kefico engineers with creating the ‘Common Platform Tester’ (CP-Tester) and beginning with the standardised ECU Functional Tester development process. They based the CP-Tester on standardised test assets called CP-Standard, which define sensor / actuator emulation, vehicle communication, test execution and its result management.
NI claims that the CP-Tester has a few key components that streamline the test development process. R&D or product engineers can use a test scripting modeling tool called ‘CP-Editor’ to configure each test step and parameter by choosing from over 200 prebuilt functions to develop test sequences. They can map these test steps to the appropriate hardware I/O and reconfigure them for different ECU types. The ‘CP-Server’ is another component that engineers can use to effectively manage test result data to improve upon new test requirements. Hyundai engineers were able to realise the following three benefits from the CP-Tester:
- Shorter tester development times because of its adaptability to various types of powertrain ECUs
- Efficient use of test engineering assets because it can reuse and reconfigure test steps from R&D to manufacturing
- Get more value out of manufacturing test data due to data handling and traceability in standard format
Hyundai Kefico says that it chose the NI PXI platform because it is better suited to deal with the complexity of its powertrain ECUs. Benefits of NI PXI solutions include:
- High and flexible channel counts (over 200 pins) with different layouts
- I/O configuration with source and measurement capabilities
- Ability to connect dummy loads (resistance and inductance) to properly test ECUs
- Wide variety of switching options and ease of use with NI-SWITCH to increase I/O flexibility
- Ability to customise I/O through FPGA to implement special sensor communication protocols such as SENT (Single Edge Nibble Transmission and SAE J2716)
While most turnkey ECU testers on the market require 10–12 months to adopt new test plans for new products, and they still require significant interaction with the vendors and high costs, Hyundai Kefico says that it took advantage of NI’s automated test solutions to become independent and develop its own flexible standard tester within three months.
This resulted in the company achieving an 80 percent reduction in development time, while also gaining the ability to add functionality like CAN with flexible data-rate in the future, as product requirements evolve. Also, PXI’s timing and synchronisation features further helped it improve its test time by 15 percent and eventually cutting the test system cost by 30 percent, thus becoming more competitive in the market.
For the first 17 CP-Testers, Hyundai Kefico gained a 45 percent better project ROI and saved over $1M compared to previous solutions.
Interview: Arturo Vargas, solutions marketing manager — Automotive — Automated Production Test, National Instruments
What USPs do NI’s platforms offer for testing of critical components such as ECUs?
The speed of ECU design is changing and this critical field is also coming up to the task of meeting very stringent norms in every country, which kind of puts a lot of pressure on the designers. Hence, we have to look at offering value for our customers.
With our solutions, we meet the customers’ needs right in the sweet spot. Firstly, they don’t want to start from scratch and only build upon something existing in order to decrease the time to market. The NI PXI offers efficient use and reuse of testing steps from R&D to manufacturing and positively aids production by shortening the test times.
Moreover, it also aids to increase the speed of testing through parallel test capabilities, wherein not only testing multiple ECUs on one instrument, the platform has the capability to deliver across geographies in a cost effective manner.
How is the PXI platform the best suited to answer Hyundai’s problems?
The PXI platform offers great adaptability to different types of ECUs and the end-user is not bound to change the entire system while switching from testing one component to another. It gives customers a base to build on top of rather than give them a fully-built system, thus helping in collaborative innovation.
NI PXI is the best option for customers because all the instruments are placed in a single rack and customers don’t have to change the entire system to adopt new instrumentation as the racks itself gives them the ability to simply adopt new channels. For instance, just changing a single CAM communication panel will lead to running a second evaluation on the automated test platform. So, essentially, PXI has huge adaptability to customers and their demands.
Moreover, all the data obtained during the testing process is shared with the R&D department in real-time; this helps draw better insights and can help run simulations in software. It also allows pre-empting problems before the production process by utilising test validation data during the testing process, which helps in optimising the operational efficiency.
In what sense would you justify the extra investment into the NI platform?
Hyundai Kefico is using not just our PXI platform, but also the related software and test systems such as load management systems for testing of their ECUs. Even though the upfront cost is most certainly higher than what they were used to investing earlier, however, we are looking at a 45 percent RoI and over 80 percent reduction in the development time, which would then allow for the human resources to be allocated to other critical projects. So, more than cost, it is time that is going to see the intellect being utilised towards achieving growth.
What are some of the benefits switching over to the new platform?
The CP-Tester (Common Platform) sees a full electronic architecture including sensors, and harnesses being interconnected and shared. As a result, this allows for sharing of data, which can be further used to monitor performance and trends at the production level, and thus, build better traceability for any unforeseen future requirement, maybe in the case of a recall.
What is your view on the horizontal deployment of such systems in other arenas of automotive development?
It is very positive and we are currently in the process of deploying highly integrated test systems in the powertrain and body-chassis domains as well. This is because they function very similar to ECU testing. Having said that, these solutions, however, do not apply to ADAS and V2X for which we have other instrumentation and equipment in place. We aim to leverage these integrated solutions in these two critical automotive arenas and essentially optimise costs.
Even though the conventional powertrains are declining and might diminish slowly, hybrids are going to keep the demand alive for the deployment of these systems at the powertrain front. At NI, we are not just a solutions provider to the transportation or the semiconductor industry, in fact, we learn from each of the areas we operate in and believe that industry convergence are going to drive disruption in the market.
Is the industry open in adopting such systems? Are they held back by large capex?
My experience tells me that all the big OEMs and Tier 1 component manufacturers are quite open to the adoption, however, if we come one level down, it is an observation that the companies that want to survive in the long run don’t apprehend in investing judiciously, and the ones which become over-confident, are not seen surviving after a point in the future.
In any case, cost has to match value, and our job is to provide that to our customers.
Do you think there would be synergy on the validation front as well, given OEMs need to bring new technologies while minimising costs?
Absolutely yes, we can do validation in production and integrate it with full vehicle validation and component level validation as well. So, synergies are possible both at the OE-level as well as the technology creator-level as well.
What is the current status on Autonomous driving technology? Various technology companies are in the race to come to market as soon as possible, but how far are we from seeing a completely fool-proof and safe system to be coming on the roads without compromising on proper testing and validation?
Currently while the technology is being developed there are some critical questions to be asked, for instance LIDAR or not? So, in the next two years, we are going to see topology being defined wherein these questions are going to be answered. Smaller companies today are the ones doing the best research.
After this, the next thing that is going to happen is that people are going to get used to the technology and as we get used to it, we will start getting more and more open towards it. Also, the technology if brought in now, is going to be hugely expensive.
So, anything over the next five to 10 years at the most is when I would see autonomous technology making its way into our lives in an imminent way. The tech is already here, we are just waiting for the ecosystem to be created.