U.S. Army Searches for Production-Ready ECUs to Avoid Costly Electronic Obsolescence
Electronic obsolescence can create business challenges for any manufacturer, but what’s causing it and how can you avoid it?
One reason is technological evolution. This evolution is driving new requirements that create technical desuetude in components. With increasingly shorter lifecycles of components, systems are becoming obsolete faster than ever before.
Additional factors for discontinued components are Environmental policies and legislation. For example, the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive 2002/95/EC restricts the use of materials used in various types of electronic and electrical equipment. This includes printed circuit boards. For many controller manufacturers, this type of regulation means the need for redesigned or upgraded product lines to meet these new standards.
Similarly, the discontinuance of various components is driven by a strategy called planned product antiquation. Here, manufacturers build the obsolescence of a product into its lifecycle in order to guarantee the sale of the next generation component.
However, this presents another issue. In order to continuously redesign control systems based on the changing availability of products, manufacturers have to allocate additional time and costs to their development process.
New Eagle’s Approach
To assist with solving electronic obsolescence, New Eagle has two approaches:
- Build a controller system to meet unique specifications
- Reverse engineer a system to create a representative part if product documentation is unavailable
The key to both of these approaches is through the use of our embedded Model-Based Development platform (eMBD) Raptor™. Our platform is a combination of rugged and production-ready tools, software, and electronic components that enables the efficient development of software on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) controllers and displays.
Our mechanical integration team designs and 3D prints enclosures and connectors systems to match to Raptor. By doing so, allows the team to reverse engineer an obsolete control system.
The United States Army’s regularly relies on its Rough Terrain Container Handlers (RTCH) vehicles used for moving standard shipping containers on rough, uneven ground. So when an Electronic Control Units (ECUs) and Display suppliers ceased production, the U.S. Army faced a difficult dilemma: how to keep their current fleet in operation.
Instead of discarding the fielded equipment, they decided to build replacement parts for the RTCH. To ensure it functioned exactly as it had under the control of the original ECUs, this decision came with the following requirements:
- The controllers need to employ all control function, display, and diagnostics while fitting into the existing RTCH architecture.
- The solution must use proven COTS controllers and customized software
To achieve these requisites, the new ECUs required upfitting onto the unit without altering the existing mounting points and connectors.
By proving we possessed the resources and expertise to provide a control system solution that met all of the military’s needs, Automation Alley awarded us the contract to re-engineer the form, fit, and function of the original ECUs. We immediately went to work on structuring a multi-phase approach that included saving the government time and money in modernizing control units. The first step of this approach involved the confirmation of high-level vehicle objectives and requirements, such as defining how the ECUs interacted with the other controllers on the unit.
Our engineering team then reversed engineered an existing RTCH to
- Understand the function of the original ECUs
- Monitor how the electrical interfaces were instrumented with the existing controllers
Once the control interfaces to the modules were reviewed in detail, the team redeveloped the system architecture to incorporate the ECU replacements and complete a successful system architecture prototype.
Reworking as needed to provide the best possible control, our team developed, tested, and refined the system. Once this was done, we assisted with the integration’s design and development work to meet the U.S. Army’s control goals and functionality expectations.
Upon delivering all three ECU’s to the U.S. Army, we demonstrated their functionality on the RTCH and ran test procedures to validate the controllers. In addition to this, our team assisted in the installation and testing of the ECUs at the Aberdeen Test Center. Here, they instructed their engineers on how to perform software updates based on testing and provided feedback.
Now, the U.S. Army is currently finalizing the Technical Data Package (TDP) to account for possibilities with competitive procurement.
Result and Impact
The United States Army has a reliable supply of proven ECU components, professional integration, and detailed documentation for a consistent, high-quality performing RTCH fleet. With working ECU replacements in RTCH, the U.S. Government will save millions of dollars by eliminating the need to purchase new equipment.