Embedded Software IP & Technology Transfer in Power Electronics Applications

How to design a custom electric motor drive system using COTS components

If you are an electric motor drive designer, you might be interested in getting my brand new eBook:

alizem_ebook_200kThis eBook provides guidelines to make the process of designing a custom electric motor drive faster and easier. Hence, whether you are a project manager, a system / mechanical / electrical / software engineer, you will find in this document relevant informations to help you achieve your objectives.

TABLE OF CONTENT
1- Why would you design a custom electric motor drive system ?
2- Reasons to use Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) components
3- Anatomy of an electric motor drive system and COTS component selection
4- Bottleneck is software: how to plan the software development ?
4.1 – Application Software
4.2 – Commodity Interfaces Software
4.3 – Motor Control Software
5- Embedded Motor Control Software: Expertise needed !
5.1 – Developping from scratch
5.2 – Developping from reference design
5.3 – Developping from 3rd-party software
6- Development of a custom electric motor drive: A 5 steps process
6.1 – Step #1: Requirements
6.2 – Step #2: Design
6.3 – Step #3: Prototype
6.4 – Step #4: Product development
6.5 – Step #5: Production
7- How can Alizem help you achieve your business and technical objectives ?
Format: Powerpoint presentation, 64 pages.

You can download a FREE copy on Alizem website, just click here !

Impacts of an embedded software bug in power electronics applications

We all know software is a difficult skill to master and there are tremendous differences in developping software for:

  • PC/desktop applications
  • mobile/tablet applications
  • … and real-time embedded control applications such as power electronics applications

While in all cases a software bug may lead to important financial and human losses (directly or indirectly), the case of embedded software for power electronics application is special since it is meant to directly control the flow of energy from a source (battery, solar, etc.) to a load (electric motor, power network, etc.), not a flow of informations/signals/data is in a typical software application.

Impact #1: System component destruction

It means that a software bug may lead in the bad management of the flow of energy which can itself cause the destruction of components such as power stage (“shoot-through” faults), electric motor (“overcurrent” faults) or electric motor load (pump damage caused by cavitation for example).

impact of a bug power electronics software

Of course, proper installation of electrical equipement protection (i.e. fuses) can prevent most of the damage that may happen on the system components in case of a bug (overcurrent), but not all of them. For example, noise in a transducer may lead to torque ripple which may lead over time into electric motor bearing problems. This is the whole idea of electric motor “condition monitoring”, i.e. tracking over time the state of healt of the motor in order to : (1) detect faults (is there a fault, what component ?) and (2) diagnose faults (what is the cause of the fault, how severe the fault is). Those further interested in the subject may read this article.

Impact #2: Unique embedded motor control software development process

Hence, the development of motor control software needs not only software programming and digital signal processing skills, but it also needs deep “domain knowledge” experience related to power electronics, electric motors, transducers and the type of application where the software is going to run (in a home appliance or in an electric vehicle ?). More on this in a previous blog article. This point is not unique to power electronics software, the same could be same for embedded computer vision software (i.e. smart camera).

However, since motor control software bug may lead to component destruction, this has an impact on how the motor control software development and testing process is going to be made. Blowing a power stage is expensive and takes time to repair : it means you cannot afford to simply “develop some code and test” just like you would while developping a PC/mobile software application. It means you need to be sure that when you are going to turn the power switch on, you are not going to destroy your system.

How can you do that ? Well, you know my pitch on this.

IECON2014 – Call for Papers – Electronic System-on-Chip for Power Electronics Applications

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CALL FOR PAPER

Special Session on:  Electronic System-on-chip in power electronics applications

 organized and co-chaired by:

Dr. Marc Perron, marc.perron@alizem.com

Dr. Éric Monmasson, eric.monmasson@u-cergy.fr

Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

1) FPGA/DSP/MCU-based embedded system design for power electronics applications such as motor drives and solar power conversion systems

2) Real-time simulation of power electronics applications

3) Embedded software development and Intellectual Property (IP)

4) EDA tools used in the development of power electronics applications

 Submission of papers:  Final Deadline           May 19th, 2014

 All the instructions for paper submission are included in the conference website:

http://iecon2014.org/

The Virtualization of Embedded Computing

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In September 2011, I have been contacted by CATA‘s Jean-Guy Rens who was doing a study regarding the embedded systems industry in Canada titled “The Other Computing : Is Canada ready for the Internet of Things ?“. You can freely access his full study here.

We had an interview together to get my insights regarding future development of this industry. He finally decided to place this interview as the foreword of his study and called it “The Virtualization of Embedded Computing”. Here are some parts of this interview :

Being fluent in embedded software engineering is not enough

“Embedded systems are a horizontal technology, but their applications scopes are vertical. Many people are studying the embedded system itself, but the real challenge is to apply this knowledge to vertical applications. That is why I introduce myself as a software engineer who migrated to energy applications. I speak both “electric motor” and “embedded software”. Too often, electric motors specialists are not knowledgeable about embedded software and vice versa. Alizem’s expertise is to translate the needs of electric motor-based system designers into embedded software solutions. It is not sufficient to be an expert in C programming to be able to design an application that will fully satisfy a particular need. Too often, developers think they are able to create all purpose applications. That’s why the cost of embedded systems software development is skyrocketing. For my part I tend to consider that software programming is an engineering core skill. It’s like reading and writing: it is not because someone can write that he is equally capable of writing novels, political speeches and pamphlets for department stores. For an engineer, the challenge is to design solutions that encapsulate application knowledge (complex, rare and expensive to develop), within a short time to market, but without compromising product quality and performance. The technology of embedded systems is known and accessible to all. The challenge is to quickly and efficiently integrate modules that work first time around.”

Software now comes first, electronics second

“It is possible to compare the embedded system to a home. For centuries, it is the people who were makers of brick and cement that built the houses. The design, modeling and decoration of the house came as an afterthought. This process has changed beyond recognition when we started asking architects to make plans for our houses – or to program them virtually, if we are to continue our analogy. Even decorators – more often referred to as interior designers – are consulted from the start of the house project. It is they who define the plans of the house – the contractor comes later, to handle the actual construction.  Everything happens exactly the same way in the embedded world. The engineer in microelectronics is the contractor with the bricks and mortar. If a microelectronics firm persists in programming an embedded system application from ‘a’ to ‘z’, it behaves like the ancient contractor who made himself the bricks with which he built a house, then would seek the aggregate of the mortar on the side of the river and so on. Such behavior was probably justified for the early embedded systems when devices had limited computing power and range of applications. Developers who all belonged to the world of electrical engineering approached their various projects from a hardware perspective: they had to practically invent their work tools as well as the final product. The rudimentary software used, a few hundred lines of code, was a detail they did not care about too much. But times have changed and electronics has become a commodity: the bulk of the value is migrating towards the software side. Today, embedded systems are software-driven. It is up to the software engineer to be both the architect and the decorator – he is the natural project manager. This role reversal is hard to accept by traditional electronic engineers. The result is a culture shock.”

 

FPGA-based Motor Control and Embedded Motor Control Software IP – A review of 2013

Time passes and it is now the moment to make a short review of what happenned, in my opinion, in the world of FPGA-based Motor Control and Embedded Motor Control software IP in 2013:

New FPGA evaluation kits

Lattice has started the year with the release of its new iCE40 LP384 development kit. While not being explicitely targeted for motor control but controllers in general, this FPGA is small and very low cost: less than 50 cents per unit in multi-million unit quantities.  Even the evalutation kit is very low cost: both iCEblink40-HX1K Evaluation Kit and iCEblink40-LP1K Evaluation Kit are sold for 34.12$. Of course, those kits do not include any power stage, motor or transducers: you need to have your own.

A month later, Altera has annouced the release of its new Cyclone V SoC development kit. Built around a 800 MHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor and provided with all interfaces needed for maximum connectivity, this new device is clearly positionned in the same segment than Xilinx’s Zynq device (also built around ARM Cortex A9 dual-core processor) previously released in 2012. This kit interfaces with the FalconEye 2.0 motor control board.

Embedded Motor Control Software IP

In February, Texas Instrument (TI) has announced the release of their new INSTASpin-FOC sensorless motor control software. The pitch is “Identify, tune and fully control your motor in less than 5 minutes and eliminate the need for a mechanical rotor sensor” and meant to be used on TO C2000 Piccolo microcontrollers. According to TI, this helps saving months of design time which is inline with a topic previously addressed on this blog. To my knowledge, TI is currently the only motor control chip manufacturer offering such advanced motor control design tool. Note that this tool is meant to be used in sensorless applications, i.e. applications where near zero speed performance is not a requirement.

In October, my company Alizem has announced that our previously released Motor Control Software IP for Servo-Drives applications has reached a new level of performance on 100kW motors which has led into a licensing agreement with a major industrial OEM. At the same time, we have announced the signature of an agreement with the Canadian Space Agency regarding new motor control software technologies (stay tuned for the release shortly).

DesignNews Webinar

In May, I have had the pleasure of being invited to participate in a Webinar on the specific topic of FPGA-based motor control and sponsored by Altera.  The discussion has been held around the following questions:

• What are the typical steps and challenges faced by system designers when designing motion controllers?
• From a motion control design point of view, how do FPGA/SoC devices and design flows compares to other devices?
• Communication networks are clearly critical: What are some of the challenges of Industrial Ethernet?
• What design tools and flows are needed to maximize system designer productivity?
• What is needed from device providers to enable designers to go further in their product innovation?
• What factors can reduce the overall cost of ownership of motion control development platforms?
The webinar is still available for off-line consultation if you are interested.

 

Is there anything else missing ? If you think yes, please let me know ! You can also contact me on any topic you would like me to address. Thanks for reading my blog!

ISIE 2014 – Special Session on “Industrial Applications of FPGAs and Embedded Systems”

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 ISIE 2014 – IEEE International Symposium on Industrial Electronics

June 1-4, 2014, Istanbul, Turkey

Website: http://www.isie.boun.edu.tr

Call for papers: Special Session on Industrial Applications of FPGAs & Embedded Systems

The Special Session seeks papers describing original research or application aspects of FPGAs and Embedded Systems in the area of industrial electronics. Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

– Design and test/debug methodologies for ES/SoC
– Architectures for ES
– Reconfigurable platforms
– Embedded software development
– Formal methods and ES design
– Industrial experiences
– Case studies

All the instructions for paper submission are included at the conference website: http://www.isie.boun.edu.tr/

Submission deadline (extended): 30 December 2013
It is possible to accommodate an extension of some extra days if authors contact organizers in advance. Special Session Organizers:

Luis Gomes (lugo@fct.unl.pt)
Juan J. Rodriguez-Andina (jjrdguez@uvigo.es)

EDA Tool in the cloud: A web-based IOPT Petri Net Editor

A few weeks ago, I have been pleased to attend IECON2013 in Vienna and had the chance to meet my friend Luis Gomes from the University Nova of Lisboa, Portugal. While discussing together, he took some time to give me some details about a web-based framework that he designed with his team. This framework is called “IOPT-Tools” and this is a on-line Petri Net editor. Petri nets are useful to modelize any type of process and are used in many different applications (e.g. workflow management or UAV fault diagnostics).

What’s cool about this tool (other than being web-based, i.e. not having to install it on your desktop computer) is that once your have modelized your system, you can run all sorts of analysis to validate system behavior and even automatically generate VHDL code or C code to embed your model inside a controller. Here is a screen shot of a model used for BLDC motor commutation:

ioptbldc

This tool in totally in line with current discussions in the EDA community regarding the migration of EDA tools in the cloud (see Cadence blog or Synopsis blog on this). EDA in the cloud in the idea of having tools for chip/embedded system design being offered as Software-As-a-Service (SaaS) and running on powerful servers so that even small teams could leverage important computing power they could not afford otherwise. With the rising complexity of chip design, it is well known that always more computing power is needed to compile designs and the solution won’t come from the standard computing solutions.

Congrats to the team of Dr. Gomes for their vision in developping this new tool ! You can access it and use it right now for FREE by following this link.

For more information regarding this tool, you can also consult some publications on the IEEE Explore. If somehow you use this tool and want to publish an article at the next IEEE IES IECON2014 conference in Dallas, TX, watch for the Call for Paper here.

IECON2013: Electronics System-on-Chip in Power Applications

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Are you registered for the next IECON2013 in Vienna ? It’s still time to plan your trip !

If you happen to be there, I invite you to attend the Technical Session on Electronic System-on-chip in Power Application that I will chair with Dr. Éric Monmasson. Here is the program:

TT04 1 – Electronics System-on-Chip in Power Applications

Room: D – 358 / 359 , Day: Wednesday 13th of November. Hour: 08:30, Duration: 120 minutes.  Chair/s: Eric Monmasson, Marc Perron.

Hour: 08:30

Title: Industrial Electronic Control: FPGAs and Embedded Systems Solutions
Authors:
Prof. Luis Gomes, Univ. Nova Lisboa, Portugal
Prof. Eric Monmasson, University of Cergy-Pontoise, France
Prof. Marcian Cirstea, Anglia Ruskin University, United Kingdom
Prof. Juan J. Rodriguez-Andina, Universidad Vigo, Spain

Hour: 08:50
Title: Real-Time Embedded Control for Point-On-Wave Switching
Authors:
Dr. Anton Poeltl, Abb, USA

Hour: 09:10
Title: Medium Voltage 6-pulse Current Source Rectifier with a Novel Shunt Active Power Filter Connection
Authors:
Dr. Mostafa Hamad, Arab academy for science and technology, Egypt
Dr. Mahmoud Masoud, Sultan Qaboos University, Oman
Dr. Khaled Ahmed, University of Aberdeen, United Kingdom
Prof. Barry Williams, University of Strathclyde, United Kingdom

Hour: 09:30
Title: Rapid Prototyping Framework for Real-Time Control of Power Electronic Converters Using Simulink
Authors:
Mr. Bruno dos Santos, Faculty of Engineering, University of Porto, Portugal
Prof. Rui Esteves Araújo, Faculty of Engineering, University of Porto, Portugal
Mr. Diogo Varajão, Faculty of Engineering, University of Porto, Portugal
Mr. Cláudio Pinto, Faculty of Engineering, University of Porto, Portugal

Hour: 09:50
Title: Comparative of HLS and HDL Implementations of a Grid Synchronization Algorithm.
Authors:
Mr. Fco. Manuel Sánchez, Alcalá University, Spain
Dr. Raúl Mateos, Alcalá University, Spain
Dr. Emilio J. Bueno, Alcalá University, Spain
Mr. Javier Mingo, Alcalá University, Spain
Mrs. Inés Sanz, Alcalá University, Spain

Hour: 10:10
Title: Sliding Mode Direct Power Control of three-phase PWM boost rectifier using a single DC current sensor
Authors:
Ms. Marwa Ben Said-Romdhane, Enit, Tunisia
Dr. Mohamed Wissem Naouar, Enit, Tunisia
Prof. Ilhem Slama-Belkhodja, Enit, Tunisia
Prof. Eric Monmasson, Université de Cergy Pontoise, Tunisia

If you plan to be there and want us to meet, just send me a note ! See you there !

FPGA-based Motor Control: “The Brains behind the Motion Controller” Webinar

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I will be giving a webinar on the topic of FPGA-based Motor Control on May 30th 2013. Make sure to register by click this link.

Meanwhile, if you have any particular question you would like to be addressed during the Q&A session, feel free to contact me.

I look forward to talk with you on May 30th !

NOTE (June 3rd 2013): You can now here the webinar archive by clicking here.

Why developing power electronics embedded software is so hard ?

Here is a figure I did use in a recent presentation explaining why power electronics software is so hard to develop:

Hence, in order to create quality embedded software for power electronics applications, one must have advanced knowledge on :

  • the load (motor type, dynamics, etc),
  • the electrical source (topology of the power converter, devices technologies, etc.),
  • the electronics, i.e. the device on which the software is going to run and also transducers that are going to interface with the device and the system,
  • and embedded software development, of course.
Each of those topic is in itself a speciality and represent very different branches and cultures of electrical engineering (EE), i.e. ‘power’ vs ‘software’. Those cultures are so different that the following situation arises:
  • the ‘power engineer’ doesn’t know about software development and often minimize its importance (this most of the time leads to bad software development practices which makes the situation worse),
  • the ‘software engineer’ doesn’t know about power applications since this is way out of his traditionnal type of applications (web, internet, applicative) and neglect to consider that he is working with energy (i.e.  error is not leading to a blue screen but to a damaged system or to personel injury).
In a recent interview, I made an analogy with this situation naming embedded software for power electronics applications as the triathlon of electrical engineering. The best triathlete is not the perfect swimmer, the perfect cyclist or the perfect runner: he is the best at maximizing performance in those three sports.
It is the same with embedded software for power electronics applications and this is why it is so hard.