Why car testing is going social

Today’s technology is all about making connections. While computer networks, email and the web have been around for decades, recent years have seen a huge growth in interactions – between people, as well as with network-connected devices.

This revolution has a significant impact on tests and measurements. For example, in battery testing, it is not enough to test a single battery cell in isolation – we now have to manage tens of thousands of cells in validation and millions in production simultaneously.

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Testing and measuring gets personal
In the latter part of the 20th century, personal computers became affordable, powerful, and ubiquitous in the workplace. Bus technologies such as PCI and PCI express have enabled modular and expandable hardware designs.

This PC technology has helped engineers overcome the limitations of boxed instruments. It was possible to quickly and cost-effectively create customized and customized test and measurement devices, reducing costs, increasing productivity and maximizing flexibility.

This technological shift towards PC-based testing meant that the focus was often on a small team of test engineers, creating custom test and measurement stations. It became easy to define and redefine what a test station did, simply with software changes, and this flexibility was facilitated by the use of rapid application development environments. Likewise, it was quick and easy to expand the PC’s hardware, adding more performance and additional interface cards.

The web of things
The personal test and measurement approach has been extremely effective, but as the systems they test become more complex and interconnected, the test environment must have the ability to share data widely.

As a result, test and measurement systems have become more connected, with network connections added to our personal test and measurement devices. We can think of them as now part of a network of things (NoT), which could reach every test system in our lab, our entire factory, or beyond.

In the age of NoT, network technology is becoming perhaps the most important part of a test system. Network bandwidth, latency, and QoS define overall system capabilities and limit what can be achieved with hardware or software upgrades. Processing can be consolidated, if desired, into high-performance server nodes where the software is easier to scale and maintain, further reducing cost and complexity.

Vendors like NI have taken the best of networking technologies developed by the wider computing industry and applied them in the test environment. By taking advantage of the economies of scale of high-volume standards such as Fieldbus, CAN, and PXI, test equipment can provide fast, reliable network connections at an affordable cost.

Networking devices and test stations is not just about sharing test results. They can also publish data that is used to compare the quality of results between different devices, and therefore assess their health. This can be used to detect any issues at an early stage, reducing operational costs such as service and maintenance.

Process data
By connecting multiple test devices, there is a bigger story to tell: what can we do with our test data, now we can consolidate and compare results from multiple sources?

At NI, we’ve found that nearly 90% of all test data ends up just being stored on a disk somewhere. This is before we even start thinking about the additional data we might have from a NoT approach.

Social media technologies, which are more familiar with our consumer gadgets, are actually a great place to start tackling this data problem. Social technologies can represent people and their actions, as well as automate the filtering and prioritization of the streams of data they produce.

Instead of focusing on acquiring measurements and transporting data, we can think of the test and measurement infrastructure as a social network of people and things. This allows the interaction of engineers, operators, managers, measuring devices, test stations, designs and products. Working together, these elements can all lead to effective decisions.

To enable this test-and-measure social network, we need good connectivity and the ability to effectively connect to every device and every person. The focus is on software, allowing systems to be deployed and reconfigured quickly to meet changing needs.

Each participant in the NoT will need some sort of interface to the network, right down to the embedded sensors and actuators. This interface should be software controlled, to provide the necessary flexibility. For example, smart sensors and actuators offer digital interfaces, supplementing raw measurement data with context, such as weather or ambient conditions.

Another valuable tool is the digital twin, which is a software representation of both units under test (UUTs) and test systems. Digital twins are the primary means of describing expected system behavior in a way that computers can understand.

If an engineer or automated system needs to know if a UUT or test system is behaving correctly, they can compare the measurements to the predictions created by these digital twins. In short, digital twin technology is crucial to making sense of all the data we generate and to automating the processes to do so.

The social test moves us forward
To increase performance in products, operations, and engineering, we need to evolve testing and measurement beyond traditional personal systems.

As systems become larger and more complex, we must move to a social, cross-functional, and evolving network of people and things: test and measure as a social network. This will bring together engineers, test and measurement equipment, simulations, and UUTs to make decisions that improve the quality of product design and production.

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