As in every industry, simulation, testing and prototyping are an essential part of the automotive sector. This area of development is getting more advanced in terms of the various tools being offered to engineers and designers, and is also getting more mobile for remote usage. National Instruments (NI) is one such company that offers software and hardware applications to carry out development activities in various industries seamlessly. In a conversation with Satish Mohanram, Technical Marketing Manager, National Instruments (R), we found out the exclusivity of the company's products and their uses in the automotive sector, among other things.
AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY APPLICATIONS
NI products are extensively used in the automotive sector in test cell applications, wherein tests are performed for the newly developed products. These applications put the products through multiple cycles of performance and endurance tests in order to ensure the field-worthiness, or real-world working of the product. The tools are used almost equally by vehicle manufacturers (OEMs) and Tier I suppliers, Mohanram noted.
The company's products are used for testing new-generation electronic components, mainly on infotainment systems. The engine control unit is other area of development that the company is looking at. NI provides hardware-in-the-loop test with a graphical system design approach, which provides modular hardware in the form of plug-in cards, based on the electronic needs. Software based on LabVIEW is also provided on top of this hardware, which allows the building of the complete test system. These modular systems allow customers to pick tools as per their specific requirements, and can also be customised to save on costs. This modular approach of hardware, along with customisable software for specific requirements is what leads to the company's exclusivity, Mohanram explained. The tools from NI work in accordance with the ISO 26262 standard, allowing customers to work on automotive safety validation systems with the company's tools.
NEW AND FUTURE PRODUCTS
Following its acquisition of Drivven, NI has been working on the engine control segment. Tools from Drivven were integrated into the NI framework of graphical system design to create the Engine Control and Combustion Suite. The company offers a reconfigurable engine controller that can be connected to the engine directly, and has the ability to adjust various parameters in real-time. Earlier, engine controls were completely based on simulation tools, Mohanram said. This suite also allows the exhaust gases from the engine to be regulated through a combustion analysis tool suite to conform to emission standards. Mohanram said the tool can help undertake actual tuning of the engine performance, ensuring the required output in terms of power and torque, and also compliance with emission norms. IIT Chennai is a customer that uses this tool at its research centre for internal combustion engines.
The most recently launched NI product is VirtualBench, which is essentially a multi-functional test and measurement instrument. It integrates a mixed-signal oscilloscope, function generator, digital multimeter, programmable DC power supply and digital I/O, as well as a wireless access point. It can be run through software applications on PCs compatible with Windows operating system or iPads, and leverages the technologies of these operating systems to provide results on a single screen.
NI had also developed an infotainment testing tool some time back, which has complete capabilities to measure any type of audio and video. The company is working on solutions for wireless networking inside the vehicle, which has received good feedback domestically and internationally, Mohanram said.
R&D AND FUTURE
Situated in Bangalore, the R&D facility of NI is integrated with the company's global R&D. Although he did not provide details on the staff and the R&D set-up, he did, however mention that NI invests between 16 % and 18 % of its revenue in R&D. This high investment in R&D is mainly to help evolve products and make them more user-friendly, so as to attain a higher reach into the engineering community.
The R&D teams not only undertake the development of new tools, but also enhance tools already present in the company's portfolio. LabVIEW, NI' largest tool, is regularly updated with technological enhancements that are currently trending. Also, technologies like cloud computing will be integrated into the company's tools, so that customers can get access to data saved on the cloud, while testing with NI products.
Joel Shapiro, Leader, Emerging Markets Marketing, NI (L) said the focus of the automotive industry is set to increase in Indian and other emerging markets, along with the usage of electronics and compliance with the global emission norms. These trends could drive the potential for NI's electronic validation tools for test cells and applications like hardware-in-the-loop and infotainment testing. Shapiro concluded that the engine control system provides the tools for improving fuel efficiency and controlling emissions in automobiles, important in these market regions.
Text: Naveen Arul