Testing Systems Keep Pace With Auto Industry Needs

By ShyamPrasad :

Consumer expectations of real value from vehicles at competitive cost is ever increasing. Simultaneously the life cycle of vehicles, especially passenger cars and two-wheelers, is shrinking. This can trigger price rise. Vehicle manufacturers are torn between the demand for cost cut and factors of cost push. They deploy new methodologies to develop simpler, smarter, and safer products faster and cheaper. However, these products cannot be launched until they are systematically tested and authentically validated.
The challenge is for the testing companies to get along. They must match the speed of product turnaround to make manufacturers relevant and successful by cutting the time to market. The testing equipment makers have to cope with the innovative technologies and disruptive products, and ensure quality testing with high throughput and repeatable results. They must meet the regulatory parameters and satisfy the needs of the OEMs and consumers. Industry experts confirm that the automotive test infrastructure and technologies in India need to keep pace with the industry needs. AutoParts Asia is unwinding these complexities by taking a closer look at the emerging trends.

Growth of embedded software in vehicles, electrification of the drive train and Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) determine the trends in automotive testing. They also present immense opportunities for the testing industry. According to an Automotive Test Equipment Market report by Absolute Reports, the automotive test equipment market will grow at a CAGR of 6.09 percent during 2017-2021.
ADAS is one of the biggest trends that drive the testing companies in India. “We are supporting the automotive industry with the tools required for the development and validation in the ADAS/Autonomous perspective,”
S Ramanathan, Managing Director, Automotive Test Systems (ATS), told AutoParts Asia. The Ghaziabad-based ATS works with most of the leading OEM’s in India including Tata Motors, Mahindra& Mahindra, Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai Motors, Ford India, GM-Tech Centre India, Volvo, MAN Trucks, TVS Motor Co., and JCB India. It also supports the leading farm equipment manufacturing companies.
“We are able to assist our customers by providing tools, knowhow and engineering support in the entire vehicle development cycle in the ADAS /autonomous area. The projects vary from customer to customer. For some we supply only the tools required (SIL/Mil/HIL/VIL for example). For others we provide engineering support also,” he said.ATS conducts regular training programmes for its customers in these areas.
Though India is one of the key development centres for autonomous vehicles with hundreds of engineers working in this area, adaption to the latest trends like ADAS by the industry is still slow. One of the reasons would be the high volume of traffic and very close driving practices in India. Even here, the ADAS features find acceptance in the high-end models. Probably some of these safety features might be standardised in the coming years, Ramanathan said.
National Instruments (NI), another leading and global company in the field of automotive testing, provides test platforms for advance active safety systems.NI’s platform has the advantage of having the breadth of I/Os (input / output) needed in these kinds of applications, and an open and easy integration with ‘Scenario Generation Software’ like IPG Carmaker and others.
“National Instruments launched its Vehicle Radar Target System (VRTS) in 2017 which is a PXI-based system to simulate targets around an automotive radar with minimum obstacle range of four metre with a range resolution of 10cm,” Archan Mudwel of National Instruments India said. The company works with all the major automotive OEMs, Tier-1 suppliers, and companies that provide engineering services to these OEMs and suppliers. and suppliers.
NI also offers test platforms based on the open PXI industry standard with a wide range of I/Os modules for the various sensors/actuators that the automotive industry demands. There is a growing focus on ADAS which incorporates a lot of non-conventional signal types like RF(radio frequency) signals for radars, images from cameras, ultrasonic reflections for proximity sensors, etc.
In the automotive industry a growing trend called sensor fusion, where cameras are integrated with additional sensors, such as radar for passenger safety, is becoming very popular. For example, a radar system is very good at finding objects while a camera is good at identifying specific details of an object. These two sensors are used together, and their inputs are ‘fused’ to identify where things are and what they are. The software can then use these two data points to make decisions about how to respond. Test platforms like PXI are ideal for testing a fused sensor because all the sensors are simulated on a single system allowing tight synchronisation between the radar and the camera allowing them to ‘see’ the same object simultaneously.
Active safety systems on the way to autonomous driving require millions of test drive miles to meet safety requirements. Acquiring road data is extremely expensive and there is no guarantee all the scenarios can be encountered during field tests. There is also no good way to inject errors into the system when a test drive is being performed. Testing needs to move from the road to the lab. This approach is called Hardware-In-the-Loop or HiL testing.
NI and its partner ecosystem build systems that can perform sensor fusion HiL testing using scenario simulation software like IPG carmaker running on a HiL Simulator. Essentially, they make it possible to drive on a virtual road which is captured by the camera, and radar reflections are being generated synchronously so that the radar sensor ‘sees’ the same object that the camera detects. The same system can be used also to simulate targets for LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and ultrasonic sensors as well as V2X communication simultaneously. In addition to testing the embedded software that goes in the vehicle, the same system can also be used to characterise the sensor to ensure that the hardware meets design requirements.
Vector Informatik India, a leading testing solution provider, which has been the preferred partner for development of embedded electronics, is focusing on Electronic Control Units (ECU) testing tools to support its customers in the implementation of simulation and test environments efficiently.

Electric And Hybrid

Electric (EV) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) is another segment shaping the emerging trends in the testing industry. The components present in the EVs/HEVs like motors, drives, batteries, battery management system, etc. pose a specific challenge in testing these systems.
The complexity of motors give rise to the need of higher fidelity modelling using Finite Element Analysis (FEA) tools to simulate non-linearity and the ability to run them on faster, parallel processors like FPGAs. This ensures the simulated environment to be very close to the physical system in terms of results.
National Instruments is investingin its R&D for automotive testing on this front. ATS alsois expanding systems for the development and testing of EVs.

Lightweight Materials

The emergence of legislations the world over for the control of carbon dioxide emissions, is leading to the increased adoption of lightweight materials in automobiles. “Although the concept of light-weighting has been most prominent in the aviation sector, it is permeating the automotive industry, where vehicle dynamics is an important consideration,” Mudwel said.
“With the increased focus on reducing the carbon footprint, there is a need to reduce the weight of the vehicle without compromising on its structural strength. Even with OEMs moving towards electrification, a big challenge is to increase the mileage on a single charge. One of the major ways to ensure that is to have larger capacity battery packs in the vehicle. With these heavy battery packs, it becomes essential to use lightweight materials for the structure to improve the energy efficiency of the electric powertrain,” he added.
Mudwel said this would be of prime importance for the automotive OEMs, and cited as an example BMW Project i, a new electric vehicle using carbon fibre in its structural design to reduce weight and to enhance the vehicle dynamics. “According to a McKinsey & Company report, ‘Lightweight, heavy impact’,OEMs will be willing to pay up to EUR 20 per kg saved, depending on powertrain and vehicle segment,” Mudwel said.
Many different lightweight materials like aluminium, magnesium, plastics, composites and carbon fibre are in use now though they are very expensive (almost five times the cost of steel).Industrialisation of carbon fibre may reduce its cost, making it a preferred material in the automotive industry.
The use of these materials poses a lot of design, manufacturing and test challenges. The components need to be designed carefully to endure the same physical and thermal stresses as their metallic counterparts without deformation or risk of failure. They should be sturdy and rugged to work in the harsh and demanding environmental conditions that an automobile is exposed to. Similarly, there are challenges in the manufacturing process, each material (metal, composites, ceramics and plastics) needs a completely different manufacturing process to develop components. The advanced manufacturing techniques like additive manufacturing and 3D printing are coming into practice. With the growth of non-conventional materials, the conventional machining process will become obsolete and many new manufacturing technologies will become more common.
Any newly designed component or product needs to be thoroughly tested and certified before it enters the market. The components made from non-conventional materials must be tested for their structural strength along with rigorous endurance or life cycle tests to ensure that they can withstand even the harshest conditions.
With the change in materials, the designing and manufacturing processes also change. But the testing standards remain constant. The components are tested for their structural strength, acoustic properties, endurance to temperature, vibration and shock conditions and electrical properties.

Testing Methods

Testing methods can be roughly divided into two groups depending on their purpose. The first group consists of methods that are used for determining material properties and they are most often destructive. The second group applies non-destructive methods to evaluate the condition or functionality of the component in harsh conditions. The destructive tests are done on materials to characterise their material properties like hardness, tensile strength, Young’s Modulus, Impact Strength, fatigue characteristics, temperature and corrosion resistance, etc.
Even after characterising these material properties, there may arise in the manufacturing process defects like cracks, blisters, porosity, de-bonding that require non-destructive testing (NDT) techniques to detect. There are different NDT techniques such as validation of the frequency response of the structure to a known vibration, visual tests using specialised dyes, optical tests using interferometry, thermal infrared testing, ultrasound testing and radiographs or X-Ray tests. These tests capture even the minute defects in the manufactured components before they are rolled out to the market.


“ATS India is developing a number of sensors and systems which we may export through our German operations. Most of these developments are in the field of Vehicle Dynamics, Road Load Acquisition Data (RLDA) and noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). We are also supporting innovations in the EV area through Amrita University and are looking forward to projects being executed at their technology centre,” Ramanathan said.
With the increased invasion of electronics in the vehicles, the OEMs are trying to integrate certain systems, especially sensors. ATS has the systems to test these sensors including Car-to-Car communication systems for mutual data transfer and different kinds of bus architecture etc. The sensor models are first tested in simulation area (SIL) and then in the lab using HiL systems before they are fixed on the vehicle which is tested on a proving ground. “We are providing the entire test tool chain in this area,” he said.
“We do projects in validation of component systems as well as complete vehicles. The idea is to simulate the real-world conditions accurately in the lab and bring down the testing time at the same time, by deriving suitable drive cycles and having a good correlation exercise. The test procedures can be different, depending on the unit under test. It will be different for an ECU as against a suspension or a transaxle ,” Ramanathan added. The technology varies depending on place of test. The real world tests require various sensors, cameras, high-end data loggers, evaluation software. In the lab it is enough to have a few HiL systems from IPG, High-end Test rigs, Automation systems etc.
With the rising number of ECUs in a modern vehicle, the conventional network buses like CAN are struggling to cope with the increasing data rate. Organisations like NI do research on advanced automotive buses based on the existing Ethernet standards known as Automotive Ethernet to increase the data rate of the vehicular network.

COTS Switch, Load And Signal Conditioning

While working with a lot of automotive customers, NI has realised that the engineers developing these test systems spend much time and money developing the Switching, Loading and custom signal conditioning, which are very specific to the Device Under Test(DUT). To standardise this process and allow shorter time to market, the company has developed a Switch, Load and Signal Conditioning Platform. With this, the test engineers can re-use the modules built by NI or by its alliance partners’ network of more than 1,000 independent third-party companies. They can also develop their own modules based on a standard framework. This allows reuse of IPs around the world without fresh investments.

Fast Pace

OEMs across the board are challenged to introduce new products at a faster pace. And testing companies support them by reducing the testing time. “We at ATS are running many projects for our customers, supporting them with testing and validating the products they develop. Our turnaround time is much less, and our teams work long hours daily to execute these projects on time. We have been supporting many customers at their facilities or on test tracks to keep time schedules. We also make suitable adaptations to ensure that their test standards or protocols are met. We have achieved a very high level of correlation with our customers from Japan, Europe and other countries, and this ensures that the data we provide are well received by them,” Ramanathan said.
“If we look closely at the trends in the automotive industry,major suppliers and new market entrants are integrating technologies from other domains such as wireless communication, radars, cameras, touch and software with the electric and hybrid powertrains to push overall fuel efficiency. These technologies can improve fuel efficiency and enhance advanced active safety systems. Owing to the rapid pace at which these technologies grow, automotive OEMs and suppliers need test systems which are suitable for their current needs and flexible enough to scale up for future needs. Active Safety Systems include multiple sensors like radar, LIDAR, cameras, proximity sensors, etc. and they help the drivers avoid accidents,” Mudwel said.
NI’s software-defined modular hardware test platform can be customised. The PXI is an open industry standard which provides over 1,500 modules from more than 70 different vendors. The open platform along with the wide portfolio of I/O modules ensures that the test engineers can acquire or generate the signals they need. This ensures that the engineers can work with conventional analogue and digital signals from various sensors and actuators and also with non-traditional automotive signals like RF reflections of a radar or images from a camera.
The company prefers a platform-based, user-defined test system to a closed, vendor-defined test system as it offers flexibility and scalability to the engineers to define the functionality of the test systems themselves. The system can be customised according to the exact test requirements. Scalability is required because every time the test requirements change (which is the current trend in the automotive industry) or a new sensor needs to be incorporated into the test system, a platform-based, user-defined test system can easily be scaled up without investing in a new test system altogether.
Photos are representational; courtesy: ATS, Audi, BMW, Mini and Volvo.


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