Electronics device manufacturers are packing multiple features into the same sized packages, especially in the sensor sector. Big steps have been made in video-based monitoring and also in environmental, low power devices and wireless testing technology.
The BLIP test: Blackfin Low-power Imaging Platform
Supplier: Analog Devices
Much industry news in 2015 focused on smart cities, intelligent buildings talk to each other and thereby reduce energy consumption for example. For these real-time security, environmental control and building automation applications such as occupancy sensing for security, Analog Devices’ new ADZS-BF707 Blackfin Low-power Imaging Platform (BLIP) evaluation hardware provides a low cost solution for evaluating vision platform targeting a vast array of real-time sensing applications.
The product, a computer vision platform, gives end equipment manufacturers an out-of-the-box form factor development platform with multiple functional profiles covering intelligent motion sensing, people counting, vehicle detection, and face detection deployable both indoors and outdoors.
The BLIP includes an intuitive configuration GUI and enables real-time analysis of captured video, as well as video output/display through an on-board USB port, making it a highly valuable tool for product development.
A big aspect of the system is imporved home and business security. The BLIP hardware platform is delivered with a preloaded occupancy software module that has been optimized to detect the presence and behaviour of humans or vehicles within indoor and outdoor environments. This advanced detection operation provides significantly improved performance compared to single pixel PIR sensor solutions targeting lighting control, climate control, and access control applications.
“The Blackfin family of DSPs has proven itself to be a firm favourite with customers in real-time audio, video and control applications for many years, combining a unique blend of processing performance and power efficiency,” says Simon Duggleby, Semiconductor Category Marketing Manager at RS Components in Milton Keynes.
“RS customers purchasing any product from the BF70x family and, in particular, the BLIP board, will benefit from this blend of capabilities. For adding greater intelligence to existing occupancy sensing, asset tracking or vision based control systems the BLIP board comes across as a great solution.”
The BLIP platform is also suitable for asset counting and tracking.
A smart PLC built for speed: Panasonic’s FP7 platform
Supplier: Panasonic via Digi-Key
Machine builders and operators have an impressive choice of Programmable Logic Controllers today, some of which pack hundreds of features in to a small box. Low cost but high volume memory is one driver.
“With Panasonic’s latest Programmable Logic Controller release, I can’t help but be amazed with the ever growing list of features that are built into today’s PLC platforms,” says Mike Finseth, Product Manager – I&E at Digi-Key. “You can think of a PLC as a small industrialized computer that is specialized for a particular programmed function. These functions may include motion control, logic and mathematical functioning, vision or hundreds of other functions. The new PLC has input lines where sensors are connected to read conditions of temperature, levels of volume or object detection.”
In the past, PLCs were separated and classified by programme execution speed and available memory. Adequate memory has not been an issue with today’s PLCs, given the low cost of high density memory available.
Programme execution speed has been one of the more misunderstood advancements that continue to increase with new technology introductions, says Mike.
“For example, total programme execution time is the total time to scan the PLC inputs (1 millisecond or more), time to execute program instructions and finally the time to turn on or off the outputs. Panasonic’s latest FP7 platform allows for 234,000 programme steps with each step executing in 11 ns/step which is up to 20 times faster than past models.”
Operators need to consider how they write their instructions, the number of call ups used and whether they are using library modules such as timer and counter function blocks, that will have the most impact on the execution times.
In the past PLCs not been so good at storing, transferring data or exchanging data with other devices. Now, Mike says, “Ethernet communications have pulled the PLC onto system networks with full accounting and analytics capabilities. Today’s PLC needs to communicate via Human Machine Interface (HMI) displays, while not slowing down execution speeds.
These PLC units excel with applications such as packaging and wrapping machines for plastics, paper and textile industries, due to the multiple sequences needed and complex movements, while maintaining a process that is interruption free.
Green power supplies for hazardous environments
Power supplies are used extensively to provide regulated voltages to drive motors, relays and power electronic controls. Gases, vapours, mists and dusts can all form explosive atmospheres with air and, as power supplies produce heat and contain high voltages or currents that can cause sparks, it is important to select products that are appropriately certified for use in these environments.
ATEX was initially introduced in the European Union to facilitate the free movement of goods and services of equipment used in hazardous environments. It includes one harmonised standard that is applicable to electronic power supplies; the ATEX 95 equipment directive 94/9/EC. In Europe it is mandated by law to comply with that directive and compliance is indicated through the CE mark and distinctive ATEX symbol.
Non-electrical equipment in category 2 and all equipment in category 3 can be self-certified by manufacturers, although it is normal practice to support compliance through third party testing of products to the EN60079 series of standards.
Electronics manufacturer TDK-Lambda recently gained “Hazloc” certifications for the DRF series of DIN Rail mounted power supplies, as the previous generation products did not address the European market demands. “A premium medium power family, the DRF series combines careful thermal design and excellent efficiency,” says Martin Southam, Director of Marketing, TDK-Lambda EMEA based. “With an average active efficiency of over 87% and market leading low standby power consumption, this series is perfect for customers working to Eco-Design guidelines and seeking compact high efficiency products.”
The high efficiency values of up to 94% minimises internal waste heat. This allows the overall size of the DRF to be one of the most compact DIN rail power supplies on the market, while maintaining conservatively rated component temperatures for long field lifetimes.
Lowering cost while accelerating wireless manufacturing testing
Supplier: National Instruments
In car infotainment systems, the introduction of new automotive safety regulations such as eCall in the European Union and the growing number of vehicles with network access devices, are creating a growing need for cellular and wireless module testing. The result is a requirement for shorter test times per device under test (DUT) combined with higher throughput. This can be achieved only by using RF instruments more efficiently through instrument sharing or multi-DUT testing.
National Instruments’ Wireless Test System (WTS) was recently introduced to speed up testing and reduce costs. Built on PXI, multicore, and FPGA technologies, the WTS offers high measurement speed to help the operator improve test throughput.
Infotainment specialists HARMAN had been using a simple sequential test system for their recalled products that tested just one product at a time with no parallel testing ability. “The Wireless Test System gave them the ability to take a pre-build system with multi-protocol and multi-device under test capability, and deploy it into their production lines to test multiple DUTs in parallel much faster,” says Jeremy Twaits, Senior Marketing Engineer, RF & Communications, Northern Europe. “As WTS is built on the platform that NI has created for modular instrumentation, known as PXI, you can pick and choose the instrumentation that is required, combined with very powerful processing units, to perform the measurements that are required very quickly.”
NI has selected the fastest and latest processors, including Intel optical modules, to speed up the processing.
Within the WTS unit NI uses a vector signal transceiver, which is an RF generator and RF analyser within a single module, with an FPGA on board for performing inline processing. Smart switching further accelerates the tests. “The system also has smart switching to allow any signals being generated by the vector signal transceiver to be broadcast to all of the devices under test at once, where multiple responses from the devices are read in order to calculate whether the device is responding correctly to any RF stimuli.”
HARMAN created a “4-UP” four device system in parallel, which means they have reduced the test time of these devices by 25 per cent. “And because they required fewer test systems to meet product demand, Harman could use fewer test systems on the production floor which saved them space and meant they could reduce labour costs,” says Jeremy.
More recently an NI customer has developed an 8-UP device in parallel test platform.
By Will Stirling
Published by Centaur Media in December 2015