Fully automating the ECU validation: why the newest automotive trends drive a testing revolution

When we look into the near future and imagine ourselves driving (or being driven by) an autonomous vehicle, we have one thing in mind: please let it be safe! Although technology should be more reliable than a human, the simple fact of giving up control makes us more sensitive for the safety factor. Which is a good thing!

“Over the years, we have seen our customers’ engineers validating their ECUs with primitive methods, manually, using improvised equipment, skipping relevant testing steps. It did not only cost a tremendous time in testing itself, it also gave an insufficient insight into whether an ECU actually works at all times as intended! Partly because of old-fashioned processes, but mostly because of the lack of alternatives”, explained Ronald Kaempf – CEO , WKS Informatik GmbH

But in an autonomous vehicle you do not want to have components that MAY function! As validation and verification are the stages of the development process that ensure that the developed functions meet specifications and fulfill their purpose consistently and reliably. This process has to be done as thoroughly as possible. Because of this, the effort share for validation in the whole development process is increasing and will continue to increase as the ECUs will get even more complex. Therefore reducing testing times, while increasing the quality of the tests, is a very important aspect every validation team needs to consider.

So, we at WKS Informatik believed that it must be possible to create better testing equipment for our customers, that will allow them to:

  • Test faster
  • Test better
  • Stay flexible

Beside the time and quality concerns, which are obvious factors, flexibility is a crucial aspect. The software and electronics architecture in vehicles will (and already) see a major evolution.

There are three major driving forces in this evolution:

  1. ADAS capabilities
  2. Electrification
  3. Software experience

ADAS is an obvious reason. The rapid integration by every automotive manufacturer has put greater responsibility on the quality of the validation process. McKinsey expects for the development costs for ADAS ECUs to almost double by 2030, mainly because of increased effort in validation and verification. [1]

By separating the hardware and software in the ECU architecture, manufacturers can create standardized platforms and apply various software to customize the functionality. This means that a flexible testing environment becomes a key factor to enable efficient validation.

The electrification brings a whole new dimension for the time constraints. It all has to be developed quicker, mostly from scratch, for new platforms, for new architectures. This demands again a lot of flexibility from the validation teams and their process.

And by shifting the focus to software, a new factor comes in: the driving experience. People nowadays are surrounded with technology from the moment they wake up. The smartphone, the tablets, PCs, using apps to check in pandemic times etc. It has become a native part of our lives and this experience must be the same in a car. As Ralph Gilles, global head of design at Fiat Chrysler put it, a car has become an extension of our home. [2]

That means that the automotive manufacturers must be able to offer the same software capabilities as we have at home, plan for the capabilities that will come in the next 3 years and enable software updates for current products! A huge testing effort!

That is why standardized, but flexible testing equipment is the key to efficient and appropriate validation.

Some companies think that a shift from their current manual testing approach is too expensive, that purchasing a new state-of-the-art system and changing internal processes may be too complicated. Yet time lost through measurements that do not provide clarity and traceability, for re-testing, for  communication needed until an issue is clarified is immense. And products leaving the factory without adequate testing is not the safety standard we should aspire to.

The most successful WKS Informatik customers acknowledged this and decided to drastically change their previous validation processes. They got better testing results and reduced the testing times by 50-70% !  We did this by using the RTStand LV124 fully automated system for LV124 / LV148 validation testing.

The RTStand LV124 is a family of fully automated systems capable of supporting various ECU capabilities: from low pinners to devices with high number of pins, from CAN and LIN interfaces to automotive ethernet 100base-T1, virtually all ECUs can be tested with one system.

Image of RTStand LV124 test systems

Picture 1: RTStand LV124 systems for LV124 / LV148 validation

Built on a modular hardware base and supporting a modular framework, it supports a growing library of standards for LV124 / LV148 validation.

LV124 and LV148 (for 12V, 24V and 48V systems) standards are also known under various car manufacturer names: VW80000, MAN 3499, ISO 16750, VW 82148, VDA 320 etc. They are the most important standards for validation, defining clear test scenarios for the electrical validation.

Some critical requirements from these standards refer to monitoring all ECU pins at all times and doing so even for very dynamic tests such as us-short interruptions or superimposed voltages.

Manual testing approaches, based virtually on putting power supply and oscilloscope devices together are not suitable for monitoring more than two pins at a time. Moreover, for complex tests, such as short-circuits, backfeeds or pin interruptions, the engineering teams had to find a solution on their own, mostly improvised.

The fully automated approach of the RTStand LV124 is based on two devices designed for LV124/LV148 monitoring of many voltage pins and current in parallel. Additional bus communication monitoring can be integrated easily (e.g. predefined interfaces to tools such as CANoe or CANape) and thus enable a complete monitoring of the ECU, in a state-of-the-art way. The RTStand LV124 systems provide all the necessary setup for the validation tests, so that engineers can focus on performing and interpreting the tests and not on building up their test setup.

RTStand LV124 measurements on all ECU pins and current

Picture 2: RTStand LV124 measurements on all ECU pins and current

By being able to reconfigure itself around the ECU, the time needed to set up the system for testing is minimal. Moreover, due to the generic interface, the system can be used by various teams inside a company, thus reducing the overall setup costs over several departments.

The 24/7 capability allows the test engineers to use the setup in a very time-efficient way: run the tests over night or weekends and do the analysis during the day! No time is wasted!

Users reported  time reductions of 50 to 70%, while the quality of the measurements improved drastically!

The indirect benefits are even more valuable with improvements in quality, accuracy of measurements, documentation and traceability, which saves overall costs for companies.

Open for future challenges of the automotive industry, the RTStand LV124 platform allows easy integration of external tools or third-party systems, e.g. for simulation of operating modes etc.

“By moving away from old-fashioned, expensive and insufficient testing methods, we at WKS informatik developed a product that enables engineers to create automotive safety in an economical but highly quality way!” Kaempf continued

“By putting LV124 / LV148 at the core of our business, we will focus on further developing new tools and interfaces to keep up with the ever changing challenges of automotive validation!” he concluded.

 [1] https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/industries/automotive%20and%20assembly/our%20insights/mapping%20the%20automotive%20software%20and%20electronics%20landscape%20through%202030/automotive-software-and-electronics-2030-final.pdf

 [2] Netflix docu-series Abstract: The Art of Design

Authors:

Andreea Solomon – Business Development , WKS Informatik GmbH

Ronald Kaempf – CEO , WKS Informatik GmbH

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