Automotive

The automotive category contains case studies and blogs related to ITM’s engineering and testing services for automobile design and manufacture.

Mobile Data Acquisition Key to Vehicle Component Testing at ITM

ITM delivers mobile data acquisition solutions to capture real-time feedback under actual conditions

Whether we are testing a new component on a truck that’s a thousand miles away or putting an off-highway vehicle through its paces right in front of us, it’s our mobile data acquisition products that often lead to ITM’s successes.

How have ITM engineers employed mobile data acquisition to create successful tests and find solutions for their clients? Here are two recent examples:

Example 1: Custom in-vehicle data logging solution captures CAN bus information alongside analog sensor data

The R&D office was filled with our client’s application engineers as they eagerly awaited a first-ever view of their product — a fan drive— as it performed under the hood of a commercial truck more than a thousand miles away.

A display of gauges, needles and dials showed precisely how our client’s product performed during everyday over-the-road stresses. The mobile data acquisition feeds showed fan speed, temperatures around the fan drive, and CAN bus data including engine speed and torque along with coolant, air and oil temperatures. It was an impressive view they had never seen before.

For years this global powertrain technologies company has turned to ITM to gather data for engine-cooling components. Thanks to software innovations at ITM, the firm has taken mobile data acquisition to the next level. Important vehicle information from the CAN (Control Area Network) bus alongside sensor data can be collected and shared real-time, which allows their client to remotely monitor tests as they happen.

“Not only are we correlating information that is broadcast by the vehicle with analog sensor information,” says ITM VP of Operations Ryan Welker, “we can gather data and feed it back to our customer in a way that is configurable to their needs. We can also incorporate GPS technology, which is very valuable. Now they can see if a vehicle is traveling up and down steep hills and see what influence it has on duty cycles of their product.”

To perform the tests, ITM used a RAC-88 data acquisition package that consists of a National Instruments cDAQ chassis and associated hardware as well as an embedded PC that runs ITM’s off-the-shelf iTestSystem DAQ software application. The package is equipped with a broadband router and cellular air cards for remote data connectivity and transmission.

From a pragmatic perspective, Welker points out that the constant monitoring also allows for a far more efficient testing process. Not only do their customers get data quickly (instead of waiting months until a test is complete to begin analysis), but also, any issues that disrupt data collection are brought to light immediately.

Beyond having the ability to build more efficient tests, Welker reiterates the importance of being able to gather more complete data by accessing the vehicle’s CAN bus network.

“This opens the doors to a lot more opportunities for customers that build engines and components,” he says. “Those vehicles are spitting out all kinds of valuable information over the CAN system that we can now correlate with analog signal test data. This allows us to provide customers with a far more accurate picture of exactly what is going on with their equipment.”

Example 2: In-vehicle testing employs mobile data acquisition to assess exhaust system

ITM was challenged with creating a rugged and flexible in-vehicle testing solution to determine the vibration levels of an on-highway vocational vehicle’s exhaust system during operation.

ITM engineers chose the high-performance and rugged NI cDAQ-9139 stand-alone system with NI C Series modules along with our LabVIEW-based data acquisition software, iTestSystem, to create a rugged, high-performance and portable exhaust test system for large vocational vehicles. Our solution provided a wireless interface to the stand-alone NI CompactDAQ system to allow the operator remote control and monitoring of the embedded acquisition and logging system.

“The new stand-alone NI CompactDAQ system provides a high-performance and portable system for demanding in-vehicle testing applications,” says Mark Yeager, ITM engineer and lead programmer. “Our iTestSystem software, based on NI LabVIEW, combined with stand-alone NI CompactDAQ allows us to build flexible mobile data acquisition systems faster than using traditional logging systems.”

ITM has used USB and Ethernet-based NI CompactDAQ systems, and its iTestSystem software, based on NI LabVIEW, for years to build high-performance mobile data acquisition and test systems for our customers in the transportation and in-vehicle space. The stand-alone NI CompactDAQ systems provide a new line of portable and flexible hardware from National Instruments by combining an embedded processor with the modular NI CompactDAQ platform.

Since these new NI cDAQ-913x systems can be used with the same NI LabVIEW system design software, NI DAQmx driver and 50+ existing NI C Series modules, ITM can build new flexible logging solutions for its customers in a very short amount of time.

Designing a Flexible Logging Solution for Exhaust Testing

For this mobile data acquisition application, ITM engineers chose the high-performance and rugged NI cDAQ-9139 stand-alone system with seven NI 9234 accelerometer modules and one NI 9229 module to interface directly to the sensors we leveraged in this application. The standalone cDAQ-9139 was bundled with a cellular network interface and packaged inside a rugged carrying case. For the sensors, ITM mounted 28 piezoelectric accelerometers to the exhaust system and connected them to the seven NI 9234 accelerometer modules. Engineers also installed a magnetic pickup sensor and connected it to the simultaneous, differential NI 9229 analog module to determine rotational speed that would be used later in a post processing order analysis algorithm.

Yeager says they leveraged the Windows Embedded OS running on the NI cDAQ-9139 to make the transition from using NI CompactDAQ USB-based systems connected to a laptop or PC a seamless process. The team used ITM’s iTestSystem software, based on NI LabVIEW system design software, to stream data from staged events and operation directly to the NI cDAQ-9139’s non-volatile hard drive in a TDMS file format. They were able to control and monitor the daq systems remotely via Remote Desktop by connecting the cDAQ-9139 to a Wi-Fi network using a high speed cellular broadband modem and router with Wi-Fi.

After conducting the mobile data acquisition, all of the TDMS data files were transferred to a computer for post processing and analysis. The analysis for this project included calculating the overall vibration levels for each accelerometer using the order analysis plug-in for iTestSystem software that leverages the built-in analysis functions within NI LabVIEW. Additionally, with the iTestSystem software, they were able to provide the customer with a professional report containing overall vibration levels and order analysis graphs that identified which sensor locations failed or met the design criteria.

Leveraging the stand-alone CompactDAQ systems and  iTestSystem software for this project was a huge success, and the customer was amazed at how quickly ITM was able to integrate new technologies including both NI and third-party hardware and software. With this system, ITM was also able to reduce the overall cost of their test by reducing the manpower needed to perform the test and providing them with instantaneous feedback of the system functionality by utilizing new technologies.

In the end, the customer liked the mobile data acquisition system so much that instead of sending the system back to ITM, they redeployed it onto another on-highway vehicle to solve a different problem.

Contact Ryan Welker via email at ryan.welker@itestsystem.com for more information about our mobile data acquisition products or iTestSystem.

High Channel Count Synchronous Datalogging

Faced with the challenge of testing a large and complex on‐highway vehicle, engineers from Integrated Test & Measurement knew it would take hundreds of channels…

Railcar Structural Testing Case Study

Obvious signs of fatigue — cracks at the corners of doors — had begun to surface on an in-service Railcar. A railcar structural testing case study.

Engine Test Cell Vibration Monitoring

Check out this video of a Lego Test Cell Model that is controlled with an NI CompactRIO.  ITM implemented an embedded vibration health monitoring application at an engine manufacturing company in Texas.  The distributed system monitored and reported damaging engine dyno vibration levels on 10 engine test cells.

Process Optimization with Embedded Monitoring Systems

Finding efficiency improvements and uncovering hidden unsafe conditions in a process can prevent injury and save your company millions.

7 Tips for Estimating Test Engineering Services Costs

If the COVID-19 pandemic has proven anything, it is that we live in a business climate where efficiency and accuracy have never been more important. In other words, none of us can afford to make costly mistakes.

With that in mind, I’d like to share some tips for you to consider when it comes to this important question: How Do You Estimate Test Engineering Services Costs?

For engineers, testing engineers and managers who find themselves estimating jobs, getting this step right will prove crucial not only to the success of your projects and bottom line, but also to the trust you build with your clients.

Define the project scope of work

The most important requirement is to properly define the project scope of work. This will not only help you determine the necessary hardware, software, and resources required, but it will also help you identify the customer’s expectations and project deliverables. Properly defining the scope of work will help eliminate or minimize overall project time, as it will prevent delays both during the preparation phase and testing phases. Defining the scope of work will require a deep-dive discussion with your client to fully understand their challenges and goals. Remember not to leave vague language in your proposals. In other words, be sure to define who is responsible to provide all that will be needed to fulfill the project. Without a clear definition of the requirements and deliverables, it leaves a lot open for misinterpretation and expectations.

Materials costs are key

With a properly defined scope, we next must determine what, if any, materials we need to procure. These include sensors, DAQ hardware and other installation supplies. Don’t forget to include the amount of time that will be required to prepare all the materials and hardware. Think through such things as what it will take to package the DAQ hardware for any special environmental requirements. Also, be sure to consider the time it will take you to set up the software configuration file and test all the hardware and sensors prior to deployment. 

Onsite costs are relative

We also need to consider the onsite testing requirements and location specifics. Costs can mount quickly to cover general travel and living expenses, particularly when the job will take your team to remote places for extended periods of time. You need to think about daily commutes to and from the facility as well as the cost variance for different geographic locations. Flights, vehicles, hotels and meals are crucial to estimate as accurately as possible, and that’s going to take extra research on your part. Keep in mind that travel costs are NOT one-size-fits-all.

Build in the value of analysis

Some projects require analysis support and some do not. It all depends on the customers’ resources and requirements. We serve customers by providing raw data files and allow them to perform their own analysis, but we also have experience providing a complete turnkey solution including data analysis. This requirement obviously needs to be defined up front in order to accurately estimate the opportunity.

Hidden costs are crucial

You need to consider everything when estimating a project, and this commonly involves “access to the instrumentation areas” for our projects. We typically work on large, complex equipment that sometimes require additional tools and resources to access the sensor locations. This could include manlifts, scissor lifts, cranes, rope access and scaffolding. Since the equipment is quite large, you need to think about the amount of signal cable required and evaluate that against deploying a network of DAQ chassis which may be a cheaper solution than routing all sensors back to a single DAQ system. It will also be key to build in language and costs in your estimates to address unforeseen delays. For example, include factors that lie outside of your team’s control  — resources not being available, no access to equipment, or even poorly performing equipment that will not allow your team to record good data.

All sensors and gauges are NOT created equally

Sensor installation can vary from a couple minutes to a couple hours depending on the application. The same is true of strain gauges. Depending on the testing environment, strain gauges can be installed quickly or become an arduous task. Some applications involve very high temperature and moisture concerns and may also need to survive for long periods of time, which may require a more robust epoxy that requires a heat cure before data can be recorded from the strain gauges. Some applications involve no environmental concern and are only needed for a very short duration. In these cases, the gauges can be installed quickly after surface prep using an industrial type fast curing epoxy.  Similarly, some applications may benefit from using weldable gauges that can simply be tack welded to the specimen. This eliminates any challenges and reduces installation time by using special epoxies. These are typically much more expensive, so you must evaluate the economics of this option. In either case, the surface must be properly prepped (ground, sanded, polished) to the base material to ensure a good bond to the test piece.

Consider variable labor and expense rates

Our labor rates vary by skill level. Senior engineering and programming labor, for example, costs more per hour than our regular engineering and programming labor. Similarly, sending a senior technician will cost more per hour than a technician. Finally, as is common, materials and expenses are estimated at cost plus 10%. Labor Rates Link

For more information about our testing services, contact Ryan Welker @ (844) 837-8797 x702.

Ryan Welker is a 25-year veteran in engineering, procurement and project management. Ryan currently serves as a Vice President of Operations at Integrated Test and Measurement (ITM) in Milford, Ohio. In this role, he oversees the daily operations and monitors all phases of project fulfillment, including customer inquiries, proposal development, scheduling and manpower, employee training, on-site installations, customer follow-up, and support.

Recent News: Ohio University Asphalt Cracking Prediction System Project

Another Successful Condition Monitoring System Installation

Last week our team successfully and safely installed another Boiler Monitoring System (BMS).  This system, a Sootblower Fouling Detection (SFD) system, monitors structural and vibration sensors that quantify the boiler’s response to sootblower operations. The SFD system analyzes the boiler response data and outputs Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) such as fouling level, sootblower efficiency, and sootblower health to automated boiler cleaning systems.

This boiler uses over 50 sootblowers located at different elevations to clean soot build-up from boiler steam tubes.  Since the vibration measurement locations are relatively far apart, the SFD system requires a distributed monitoring system consisting of several junction  boxes that monitor and process data for groups of sensors.  One team of engineers mounted the vibration sensors to the sootblowers and confirmed communication back to a local junction box containing the National Instruments condition monitoring hardware.  The other team installed the junction box panels and terminated the sensor cables.

After all the sensor installations and terminations were completed, each sensor’s location and calibration were verified.  While the sensor verification was being completed, one engineer worked with the mill IT department and the controls engineer to establish remote connection to the system and confirm communication with the mill’s automated cleaning system.

After commissioning the system and returning to our home base, our engineers are now monitoring the system through a VPN connection and assisting boiler operators with optimizing their cleaning process.

For more information about our boiler condition monitoring systems, contact Ryan Welker via email at ryan.welker@iTestSystem.com or phone @ 1.844.837.8797 x702

Machine Failures Caused by Intermittent Damaging Events

Over the years we have been tasked with identifying the root cause of machine structural failures. In many cases, we can determine the failure mode through strain and vibration testing, order analysis, modal analysis, and operating deflection shape analysis.  What tests can you run when the damaging conditions are intermittent and not easily identified?

In these cases, we like to install a cellular networked temporary data acquisition (DAQ) system that can autonomously log vibration and strain data along with machine status data. We have deployed two types of DAQ systems to collect data remotely.  An interactive system that includes an industrial PC running our iTestSystem software and National Instruments (NI) Compact DAQ hardware and a headless system that utilizes NI Compact RIO hardware.  Our test engineers prefer using the interactive solution for troubleshooting because they can view real-time signal waveforms and collected data files, and then adjust the test parameters accordingly without having to reprogram the hardware.

Rugged Measurement System

Figure 1: Headless networked data acquisition system

When potentially damaging events are identified in the vibration and strain data collected by these systems, it is important to know the machine’s operating status. Collecting the machine status information is just as important as collecting the structural data.  Many machines transmit these operating variables and operating stages over their network/bus.  Recently we have recorded process data from Allen Bradley Control Logix PLCs via Ethernet/IP, mining machine data from a Siemens controller via proprietary TCP/IP protocol, boiler condition data from a DCS via Modbus TCP,  machine pressures from PI historian via the UFL connector (TCP), and vehicle speeds and pressure via CAN.  Fortunately, we were able to use and adapt LabVIEW communication protocol tools to build applications and addons that allow this network tag data to be collected along with structural data.

LabVIEW Modbus to Shared Variable Code

Figure 2: Modbus to Shared Variable Tool

After the data collection phase, our engineers perform statistical analysis on the sensor and status channels in all data files and aggregate the results into a database for searchability. To identify the root cause probabilities, you can process the channel statistics data using your favorite correlation algorithm or application.  The image below shows an example data set containing related sensor data that was processed using a LabVIEW correlation test tool.

LabVIEW Correlation VI

Figure 3: Correlation Test Example vi

Contact Information: For more information about our remote data acquisition service, our LabVIEW development service, or iTestSystem contact:

Mark Yeager – Integrated Test & Measurement (ITM), LLC.  Email: mark.yeager@itestsystem.com or Phone: 1.844.TestSys

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Strain Gauge Installations for Field Testing

Image1: Shaft torque strain gauge installation example for field testing

Our engineers and technicians have epoxied, soldered and spot welded strain gauges for applications ranging from high temperature exhaust systems to miniature load cell measurements. Every application requires a unique understanding of the strain measurement requirements including installation environment.

If the strain gauge installation is to survive in the field you must plan for the conditions it will undergo. Three important variables that you should account for are temperature range, liquid exposure, and potential impact forces. These variables determine the type of strain gauge, epoxy, solder, wiring, coating, and impact/wear protection to use in the application. The table below shows which variables affect your installation choices.

  Gauge Epoxy Solder Wiring Coating Covering
Temperature  
Liquid Exposure      
Impact Forces      

Table1: Strain gauge installation variables

For more information about ITM’s strain gauging services contact Ryan Welker at email: ryan.welker@itestsystem.com or phone: 1.844.837.8797 x702

Roving Accelerometer Impact Tests with iTestSystem

3D Animator: Bike Frame Twist Vibration Mode at 26.2 Hz

In order to prevent or troubleshoot structural vibration problems, it is important to characterize a structure’s dynamic behavior using both experimental and Finite Element Analysis (FEA) technologies.  One method used to identify a structure’s vibration modes is to perform a roving accelerometer or roving hammer impact test.  In an impact test, engineers measure the response of a structure from an impulse delivered by a calibrated hammer using tri-axial accelerometers.

FRF View: Bike Frame Point 9 Coherence & Magnitude

Managing impact tests on large structures can be tedious and cost prohibitive, since they require collecting accelerometer responses at hundreds of locations to resolve the vibration motion.  Not only do test engineers need to keep track of the locations, they also need to keep track of the orientation that an accelerometer is positioned.

Our test engineers have found that the most efficient and cost effective solution for collecting impact data is to use a National Instruments (NI) cDAQ chassis with either NI-9234, NI-9232, NI-9231 or NI-9230 IEPE modules along with a calibrated impulse hammer and between 3 – 9 tri-axial accelerometers. To collect, manage, and visualize the modal data, our LabVIEW software engineers developed the Impact Test DAQ, FRF Viewer, and 3D Animator applications for our iTestSystem software platform. These applications incorporate tools that our test engineers need to manage and validate the quality of their modal data while in the field.

For more information about impact tests, modal analysis, our iTestSystem Impact Test applications, or to schedule a modal test contact Mark Yeager or Ryan Welker.

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