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An A.T.E. Solutions, Inc. Internet Publication
Volume 9 Number 20 November 1, 2005

The Testability Director Version 3.2


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Your Opinion
Which of the following do you consider the most important selection criterion for automobile test systems?
Appropriate for product life cycle
Diagnostic interfaces
Emulation of complex signals
Heating up and cooling down time
Instrument bus selection
Number of units tested in parallel
Support of communication protocols
User friendliness of the software
X - None of the above

You may only vote once, but you may come back and check the results any time by pressing the View Results button.
  This Issue's Feature Articles

Engine Control Module Test System Selection

By: Jon Semancik, Marketing Manager, VXI Technology

How to select an Automobile Test System

 By: Manfred Schneider, GÖPEL electronic GmbH, Jena

Product/Service Focus

This issue's focus is Automobile Test Systems. You can view and add to our existing list of Test Products/Services, Test Literature, Test Definitions

 Also View/Participate in the Survey

What's New in Test
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  10/21/2005 National Instruments acquires IOtech
  10/20/2005 IEST to Award two Scholarships
  10/20/2005 Magma Accuses Synopsys of Antitrust Violation
  10/19/2005 Teradyne announces Q3 results - sales and orders up as loss narrows
  10/19/2005 Tollgrade Reports Increase in Third Quarter 2005 Revenue and Earnings
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  10/18/2005 SynTest secures U.S. patent for DFT technology
  10/18/2005 Tanisys Receives Patent Approval
  10/17/2005 Microsoft Selects National Instruments LabVIEW and PXI to Test Xbox 360 Controllers
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Engine Control Module Test System Selection

By: Jon Semancik, Marketing Manager, VXI Technology

The Engine Control Module (ECM) is directly responsible for the monitoring and control of essential automotive functions including ignition, canister purge control, air compressor control, automatic idle speed control, transmission control interface, and the monitoring of various voltage and battery conditions.  Typically, the ECM device has a microcontroller unit and memory, as well as built-in input/output controllers, to process signals from various sensors and switches.  The ECM then responds with outputs to drive various devices through relays and digital commands.

A typical ECM test interface will include digital and pulse inputs, analog inputs, digital and relay outputs, along with analog outputs driving inductive loads.  Various inputs to the ECM, such as engine temperature, speed, and battery voltage supplies need to be simulated while the timing and angles are measured by the test system.  For example, a major activity of the ECM is the ignition control; ignition control inputs to the ECM are engine load (proportional to air quantity), speed, engine temperature and throttle position.  

One way to pre-qualify new software developed for the ECM is to simulate the test prior to road testing the update.   A sample test requires the simulation of different input conditions for the ECM, and measures the variation in the ignition timing with reference to the crankshaft position.  The test involves varying the output coil conditions using a programmable load; the test could be carried out programmatically for different engine and vehicle conditions.  Variations in timing intervals are then precisely measured utilizing a digitizer and time stamp card.  

The ideal platform for ECM test and verification must be capable of generating test stimuli, measuring a variety of static and dynamic signals, switching test signals to the instrumentation, as well as switching simulated fault conditions.  The platform must be computer independent and based upon an open architecture design to ensure test station longevity.  Additionally, the open platform approach will ensure multi-vendor support and hardware availability.  

The high-density, modular nature of VXI-based test systems is ideal for this type of application, making it a favorite selection for many ECM manufacturers.  The ability to place high density switch modules in the same functional subsystem with signal sources and measurement instruments, such as digital multimeters arbitrary waveform generators, simplifies system configuration as well as reduces the overall footprint of the test system.

VXI Technology’s VMIP™ and SMIP™ family of high-density modular instrumentation and switching solutions are ideal for this application.  Three multi-channel instruments can be configured in a single slot, with flexible switching ranging from low-level signal distribution to high-current power routing.  One ECM test platform contained the following hardware in a portable 6-slot chassis, with space to spare (See Figure 1 and technical notes):

 VM3618 8-channel D/A
 VM1548 48-channel digital I/O
 VM3616A 16- channel 100kHz ARB
 VM7004 4-channel programmable load
 VM2616 16-channel digitizer
 VM2710A 6.5 digit DMM
 SMP2001 20-SPST 16A relay
 SMP4004 8x16, 2A matrix
 SMP5001 80-SPST 2A relay

Figure 1.

The emergence of the LAN Extension for Instrumentation (LXI) Standard, leveraging all of the advantages of Ethernet while adding several critical components necessary for true test and measurement compatibility, further expands the utility of the VXIbus open platform. An LXI-VXI slot-zero control bridge, such as VXI Technology’s EX2500, performs all of the functions expected of any VXI controller, in addition to providing the LXI interface functionality for the external network.  This includes providing a communications path for the host computer, facilitating instrument and switch card discovery (within the chassis), memory allocation, trigger distribution and generation, and error reporting.

Each of the instruments or switch cards within the chassis will function independently of the LXI interface, and retain all of the exceptional timing and synchronization characteristics that have driven wide industry acceptance of platforms such as VXI.  Internal backplane functionality is unaffected by the LXI bridge, and performance characteristics such as data transfer rates, device triggering, high-speed local bus, and power supply capabilities are retained.  

Many applications, such as ECM testing, demand the performance of open-platform, chassis-based modular systems such as VXI, and providing bridge interfaces completes a logical link into these systems.  Engineers seldom appreciate having their design path dictated, and welcome the freedom to choose the solution that best fits the need.  Bridge interfaces and transition devices will ensure this freedom of choice and foster the adoption of the LXI Standard in a well thought out, logical manner (See industry solutions at

VXI Technology, Inc. headquartered in Irvine, California, is a global supplier of high-density modular test instruments and switching systems for both electrical and mechanical test applications. All solutions are based on open-platform, “computer independent” standards. For more information about these and other products, simply visit,or call 949-955-1894.

How to select an Automobile Test System

By: Manfred Schneider, GÖPEL electronic GmbH, Jena

  1. What makes an Automotive Tester special?

Automotive Test, or the functional test of electronic devices in vehicles generally refers to the vehicle control units or ECUs. The test system simulates the environmental conditions in which the ECU executes specifically assigned functions. The better and more complete the Automotive Test System simulates the ECU’s “original” environment (vehicle and its possible operation conditions), the better the functional test quality.

A vehicle represents a very special environment. On the one hand, there are communication and diagnostic interfaces such as CAN, LIN and K-Line. On the other hand, there are highly characteristic signals and telegrams, e.g. sensor signals, which have to be supplied to the ECU. Those signals can be emulated by conventional measurement technology such as pulse and arbitrary generators, but that takes some effort. When selecting an Automotive Tester one must consider the general possibility to create and receive particular signal waveforms and communication messages. Furthermore, the signal generation and evaluation process should be human-friendly, such as by menu selection and simple parameterization. 

  1. Fields of Application, continuous test support on all product development cycle stages

The usage of Automotive Testers spans the entire product life cycle of ECUs, from development/prototyping through production (end-of-line test and run-in) accompanying reliability and endurance test as well as after sales service. During each phase there are joint test requirements due to ECU functions but different demands for operation and test result evaluation.

It is important that the user software be able to select as many parameters as possible during development and prototyping. Programming of interlaced loops to verify automatically changing parameters automatically may be required. Also the efficient evaluation of measurement data is highly critical. A result reporting in html or xml formats should be standard.

Requirements for the production environment are different. Here, test step processing is executed sequentially. High output, i.e. short program runs as well as stability of the electro mechanical contacting is an important part of the system demands. Short program runs may require a test of ECUs in the “production mode,” a procedure in which time loops or compulsive processes of the internal software are bypassed. Communication between tester and ECU may vary from the standard protocol. Diagnostic tools in Automotive Testers, based on standardized methods such as ASAM ODX, complicate or even thwart such apparently diagnostic accesses. In order to guarantee the tester’s efficiency under these circumstances, direct access from operation level to diagnostic hardware must be made possible.

For production start-ups and security related ECUs, automobile manufacturers (OEMs) specify so called run-in tests, also called screening. They are meant to provoke early failures as a result of technological weak points or faulty components, and consequently, to statistically improve the reliability of the ECU delivered to the OEM. During a run-in test, devices and their functions are tested under all possible temperature conditions.  The parallel test of several (up to 100) ECUs is necessary because long heating-up and cooling-down times can adversely affect throughput. System architectures based on parallel operating µC-controlled I/O complexes, which are networked via Ethernet or field bus, are more applicable than conventional functional testers because of technical and economic limitations. Nevertheless, in order to adopt the end-of-line test runs for the run-in test, a hardware level of abstraction in the system software is helpful to simplify the porting of test runs between different hardware platforms.

  1. Communication and diagnostic protocols

Suppliers producing ECUs for OEMs face the problem of having to support various diagnostic and communication protocols. The communication interfaces (CAN, LIN etc.) performance must be given more attention. Despite the enormous efforts during the generation of user programs it has become impossible to program or execute the interface communication on a user level. This is primarily due to the timing requirements of actual communication protocols and special functions such as network management, transport protocols etc.. Intelligent communication interfaces with their own processors are indispensable. The required communication protocols are generated on the processor level, i.e. communication with the host PC is limited to the parameter and result transfer.  This drastically simplifies the user programming.

Because today’s product life cycles are comparatively short, modifications and extensions of the communication protocols are common. When deciding for a tester concept, the user is better off to pay attention to the possible integration of universal external diagnostic tools that keep up with the development of electronic platforms in vehicles, than to worry about the complete tester platform. The ability to directly read-in and process data bases provided by the OEMs in standardized formats (e.g. dbc or ldf files) is also important. This helps to avoid maintenance work for test programs when the communication matrix is changing.

  1. Modularity / system architecture based on open standards

Tester architectures based on open industry standards such as PXI, VXI and the like offer better extension possibilities and flexibility compared to vendor specific bus standards. Especially the PXI technology has become a standard system for PC based measurement data recording as well as complex superior meters.


In selecting an Automobile Test System, one needs to consider the diagnostic interfaces such as CAN, LIN and K-Line as well as the complex signals needed to emulate the ECU.  One should also take into consideration what part of the life cycle the tester is intended for.  The user software needs to be human friendly and appropriate for the selected test stage.  Long heating-up and cooling-down times dictate parallel testing of several units under test in order to achieve a reasonable throughput.  The tester must be capable of supporting all the required diagnostic and communications protocols.  Finally, standard and modular instrumentation, such as PXI and VXI should be utilized for standard PC based testing.

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