How to customize COTS test systems to application-specific data-acquisition solutions

BY Pat Cassady

By definition, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) modular instruments, such as VME, PXI, VXI, CompactPCI, and PCI, at one time created automated test and measurement systems as general-purpose, programmable, and flexible systems sufficient to handle several different input ranges, types, speeds, and functions.

At first, these modular commercially available instruments may seem ready to meet the needs of instrument manufacturers or test system designers, yet 100 percent COTS tend to be inadequate for complex, commercial measurement. Often as not, these instruments are built into either a chassis or personal computer, and help build systems for research-and-development laboratories with techniques or information not previously available.

Nearly 90 percent of the money a company makes comes from sales of COTS modules; yet, an increasing number of buyers require some modifications to hardware or software to fit properly into the application, notes Steve Krebs of KineticSystems, a CompactPCI/PXI and VXI data acquisition module provider for test and measurement applications.

“We build flexibility into our cards so they can deal with multiple conditions,” Krebs says. “For instance, we have multiple input ranges on our cards. But we can’t anticipate everything, particularly in cutting-edge applications, so that’s where customization still enters into the equation.

“With modular instruments, there is this idea that you can buy different pieces from Vendor A, B, and C, stick them together in a system, and that will be it,” Krebs says. “But once you put these modules together in a chassis, there can be issues with interoperability, input ranges, synchronization, signal amplitude or conditioning, and other performance characteristics.”

Some customization can be handled by the customer’s engineering staff, but modifications can be a time-consuming, expensive activity that consumes resources and detracts from a company’s core activity. As a result, manufacturers are well advised to partner with instrument providers willing to semi-customize COTS products. Unfortunately, high-volume manufacturers are often only interested in providing off-the-shelf products and are ill equipped or unwilling to provide semi-customized products.

“Large instrument manufacturers claim to do it all. But if you need customization, they often refer you to third-party integrators or channel partners, and the way these parties generate revenue is to charge significantly for it,” Krebs says, adding that smaller instrument manufacturers are willing to provide semi-custom solutions free or at nominal costs.

PXI system for component testing

KineticSystems completed work for an automotive component testing application (CTS Automotive). The system was for an automotive component-level development and testing division of a large company that supplies products to many different industries. The project involved an upgrade of the company’s current data-acquisition system for testing component-level assemblies for automobiles—in this case, accelerator pedals. The customer required a COTS solution to replace existing instrumentation for a lower cost and the same performance as its existing system. The ATE system was to be installed in multiple plants throughout the U.S., and later standardized for export to other countries, including China.

The testing process involves temperature-controlled test chambers to simulate the worst-case component environments. The accelerator pedals are mechanically cycled 24 hours a day for up to several months while the data acquisition system records the position and monitors the motion profile to ensure the pedal is performing as designed. In some instances, stress is also measured on the component under test.

The original ATE system, developed as a custom solution, was a proprietary, non-standards-based system no longer supported by its manufacturer. Later, the system was updated with VXI components from KineticSystems, but was still largely proprietary. “Every time they purchased a new system, they made incremental improvements, but never came up with a standardized solution they could easily duplicate,” Krebs says. “Now, they were interested in a more economical solution that took less real estate and that they could standardize on globally.”

KineticSystems was able to satisfy the requirements with a PXI-based solution. The company supplied 4 modular, off-the-shelf instruments in a rack-mounted enclosure. Each CP246 is a flexible, 8-channel CompactPCI/PXI module with signal conditioning and A/D converter.

The customer also wanted to perform more frequent calibration of the instruments in its own metrology labs. Typically, calibration is performed annually at KinectSystems’ facility. However, calibrating in house would minimize downtime and expense. In response, Kinetic Systems developed a standalone software application to perform periodic calibration with pre-calibration and post-calibration report generation for NIST traceability.

The customer also required the built-in flexibility to perform ad-hoc data acquisition experimentation without having to write any code. It was achieved through KineticSystems’ SoftView configurable data-acquisition software, which provides access to all of an instrument’s capabilities and features through a simple point-and-click GUI. KineticSystems further customized SoftView to include the ability to specify modules as master/slave to allow for simultaneous acquisition of multiple transducer signals between multiple modules—a feature now standard in the SoftView software package.

Laser instrument systems

Some advantages of purchasing a COTS module is to reduce costs and time-to-market, and to allow a company to focus its abilities on the design of the complete measurement system and not instrument manufacturing.

This was the case for a U.S. manufacturer of laser instrument systems for specialized inspection at electrical and geological sites. The manufacturer had been dedicating valuable resources to engineering its own digitizer card in house, which was expensive and time-consuming, and distracted personnel from its core competence—the laser optical system itself. Although commercial digitizers were available at the time the product was initially created, FPGAs (field-programmable gate arrays) that perform on-board signal processing on a COTS digitizer were not.

Later, when the product started to take off, the manufacturer decided to incorporate an off-the-shelf digitizer into its system. GaGe, a manufacturer of high-speed PCI/PCI Express digitizers, had just released one of the first digitizers with FPGA programmability that performed many of the functions the manufacturer required. After some research, the laser manufacturer selected a 12-bit, high-speed digitizer from GaGe.

Almost immediately, it was clear that the FPGA was not large enough for the application, so GaGe worked with the customer to add another, larger FPGA. The larger FPGA was from the same FPGA family and was pin-compatible with the original. Consequently, GaGe was able to enlarge the FPGA without changing the circuit board, which would have entailed much higher costs. The manufacturer realized belatedly that the digitizer they had developed in house was also equipped with low-speed A/D, D/A, I/O to capture analog temperature measurements, activate motors, and turn the various devices on and off.

To add these elements, GaGe partnered with KineticSystems to deliver what became a 2-board solution: the digitizer and a PXI DAQ data-acquisition board from KineticSystems modified to operate from a USB port that provided the additional functions.

Laser instruments used to monitor conditions in remote locations operated off solar-powered rechargeable batteries, creating a strict power budget. Working with the customer, GaGe removed unnecessary components on its cards and reduced power consumption by 50 percent. “Because our board is general-purpose, we had multiple input ranges and multiple channels, and the customer only required one,” says Andrew Dawson of GaGe. “We removed a channel and the amplifiers, which resulted in a significant reduction in the power required.”

Another element had to be addressed: the duration of the trigger pulse used to activate the laser beam. Although adequate for most applications, the standard trigger pulse on the GaGe board was too short in duration for this specific application, causing the laser to activate intermittently and, therefore, unreliably. GaGe engineers modified the card to extend the duration of the trigger pulse. GaGe also adapted the boards to be mounted horizontally, instead of vertically, and provided special board stand-offs to meet mounting requirement. “Although, by itself, each of these modifications might appear minor, the ensemble of modifications provided the customer with a complete, application-specific solution,” Dawson says.


Pat Cassady is president of Dynamic Signals LLC in Lockport, Ill. Visit the company online at www.dynamicsignals.com.

More Military & Aerospace Electronics Current Issue Articles
More Military & Aerospace Electronics Archives Issue Articles


Get All the Military Aerospace Electronics News Delivered to Your Inbox or Your Mailbox

Subscribe to Military Aerospace Electronics Magazine or email newsletter today at no cost and receive the latest information on:


  • C4ISR
  • Cyber Security
  • Embedded Computing
  • Unmanned Vehicles


Get All the Military Aerospace Electronics News Delivered to Your Inbox or Your Mailbox

Subscribe to Military Aerospace Electronics Magazine or email newsletter today at no cost and receive the latest information on:


  • C4ISR
  • Cyber Security
  • Embedded Computing
  • Unmanned Vehicles

Military & Aerospace Photos

Most Popular Articles

Related Products

PORTABLE ANTENNA KIT 20 Hz-40 GHz

A.H. Systems offers 10 models of portable antenna kits from 20 Hz- 40 GHz. Each kit come individu...

LOG PERIODIC ANTENNAS 290 MHz- 7 GHz

A.H. Systems' offers 13 Log Periodic Antennas. Each antenna is lightweight, compact, rugged and h...

DOUBLE RIDGE GUIDE HORN ANTENNAS 170 MHz-40 GHz

A.H. Systems DRG Horns are broadband antennas that offer excellent performance over the frequency...

Preamplifiers and High Frequency Low-loss Cables

A.H. Systems has both preamplifiers and high-frequency low-loss cables to match all antennas to 2...

KI 7340 Series Loss Test Set (Two-Way with ORL)

Today's easiest, most-productive, most-accurate and most-integrated Two-Way Optical Loss Test Set...

KI 9600 Series Pocket Fiber Meter

The KI 9600 Pocket Fiber Meter is a simple and reliable power meter for testing power and loss on...

KI 9800 Series Pocket Fiber Source

The small KI 9800 Pocket Fiber Source is ideal for testing single mode, multimode or POF systems....

KI-TK033 MPO/MTP™ Si FiberTester Kit

Clean, inspect and test multimode systems with MPO/MTP™ multi-fiber connectors. Kit contains 850/...

KI 7000 Series Automated variable optical attenuator

The KI 7000B series Automated Variable Optical Attenuator is an easy to use instrument for testin...

Custom Thin-Film Coatings

Reynard offers the following Custom Coating types: Anti-Reflection(AR), Attenuation, Bandpass Fil...

Related Companies

GL Communications Inc

Offers a comprehensive suite of telecom testing solutions to test 4G (LTE), 3G, IP, Ethernet, T1E1, T3E3, OC-3/STM-1,...

AH Systems Inc

A.H. Systems manufactures a complete line of affordable, reliable, individually calibrated EMC Test Antennas, Preampl...

American Applied Materials Corp

American Applied Materials Corporation specializes in developing and manufacturing of high-performance permanent rare...

United Electronic Industries Inc

UEI is a leader in the PC/Ethernet data acquisition and control, Data Logger/Recorder and Programmable Automation Con...

Martin, Froeschner & Associates

The ultimate in velocity measurement, the Mark IV-3000 all-Fiber Doppler Velocity Interferometer (VISAR) never needs ...

Innovative Integration

  Since 1988, Innovative Integration has grown to become one of the world's leading suppliers of DSP and data ac...

Reynard Corp

Manufactures custom precision optical components and thin-film coatings 0.2–50 µm (UV to far-IR) to demanding specifi...

Electro-Mech Components Inc

Designs and manufactures push button illuminated switches, indicator lights, and multi-switch interlocking assemblies...

Streamline Circuits Corp

Streamline Circuits is a leading provider of high quality printed circuit boards. Streamline Circuits is committed to...

North Atlantic Industries Inc

The top 10 defense companies worldwide rely  on NAI Solutions NAI is a leading independent provider of specializ...
Wire News provided by   

Press Releases

Model INCX-4001

The INCX-4001 consists of a high quality audio transceiver specifically designed to implement a complete fiber optic intercom.

Model PS-1210

The PS-1210 is a 1A, 12VDC stand-alone or rack mountable non-switcher (no RF noise) power supply.

Model OS-3121

Optical switches are utilized to disconnect, bypass and reroute fiber optic communications. All of these optical switches are purely optical path, there is no optical to e...

Webcasts

New Design Tools That Help You Develop Radar That Sees the Un-seeable and Detects the Undetectable

Xilinx EW/ISR System Architect, Luke Miller, has new tricks and he’s going to tell you all about them in a new Xilinx Webinar—for free. His Webinar will cover new ways to implement Radar functions including ...
Sponsored by:

All Access Sponsors


Mil & Aero Magazine

June 2015
Volume 26, Issue 6
file

Download Our Apps



iPhone

iPad

Android

Follow Us On...



Newsletters

Military & Aerospace Electronics

Weekly newsletter covering technical content, breaking news and product information
SUBSCRIBE

Cyber Security

Monthly newsletter covering cyber warfare, cyber security, information warfare, and information security technologies, products, contracts, and procurement opportunities
SUBSCRIBE

Defense Executive

Monthly newsletter covering business news and strategic insights for executive managers
SUBSCRIBE

Electronic Warfare

Quarterly newsletter covering technologies and applications in electronic warfare, cyber warfare, optical warfare, and spectrum warfare.
SUBSCRIBE

Embedded Computing Report

Monthly newsletter covering news on embedded computing in aerospace, defense and industrial-rugged applications
SUBSCRIBE

Unmanned Vehicles

Monthly newsletter covering news updates for designers of unmanned vehicles
SUBSCRIBE