Q&A: How National Instruments cut Hyundai KEFICO's product test time by 15%

Automotive technology is accelerating faster than ever before. Trends like powertrain electrification, wide adoption of advanced safety systems, and enhanced driving and comfort functionalities significantly increase the amount of software needed. As a result, electronic control units (ECUs) are more complex and in higher demand. One of the most important of these is the powertrain ECU. Beyond ensuring proper operation of the powertrain that moves the vehicle, these ECUs impact the environmental performance of the vehicle, its economy, and driving experience, which are factors that buyers seriously consider.

Hyundai Kefico, a subsidiary of South Korean automotive manufacturing multinational Hyundai, has been providing powertrain automotive electronics since 1972. And like other automotive suppliers, Hyundai Kefico's engineers have faced continuously increased test demands and tighter emissions regulations while also managing budget and timeline challenges. When the company's powertrain ECUs reached 200 pins and the functional test needed to ensure quality stretched to 20,000 test steps for an increased variety of ECU types, it became clear that Hyundai Kefico could not use traditional test engineering approaches to keep up with the pace of vehicle electronics. Something had to change.

National InstrumentsNational Instruments has been helping clients achieve productivity goals by providing innovative test equipment solutions since 1976, including automotive testing solutions. I recently did a Q&A with Arturo Vargas, who is technical, field, and solutions marketing leader at National Instruments, to learn about how NI recently helped Hyundai Kefico slash its tester manufacturing period by 83%, single-test duration by 15%, and investment cost by 30%. See our conversation below:

Mike Hockett, Evaluation Engineering Editor-in-Chief: What were the challenges Hyundai KEFICO was looking to overcome?

Arturo Vargas: Technical, field, and solutions marketing leader at National InstrumentsArturo Vargas: Technical, field, and solutions marketing leader at National InstrumentsArturo Vargas, National Instruments: Hyundai Kefico needed to sustainably meet manufacturing test deadlines for increasingly complex powertrain electronic control units (ECU) with over 200 pins and 20,000 test steps, while ensuring that test times comply with throughput needs, and cost of tests is reduced to remain competitive in the market.

MH: What were the key factors Hyundai KEFICO considered when looking for a partner/solution? What were the results of using the new platform?

AV: Hyundai Kefico chose the NI PXI platform because it is better suited to deal with the complexity of its powertrain ECUs, with the benefits of NI PXI solutions including high and flexible channel counts (over 200 pins) with different layouts, I/O configuration with source and measurement capabilities, the ability to connect dummy loads (resistance and inductance) to properly test ECUs, a wide variety of switching options and ease of use with NI-SWITCH to increase I/O flexibility and the ability to customize I/O through FPGA to implement special sensor communication protocols such as SENT (Single Edge Nibble Transmission and SAE J2716).

By adopting a customizable user-defined test system using the NI automated test platform, Hyundai Kefico achieved the shorter development time and faster test speed required for functional tests of powertrain ECUs in manufacturing. Using the NI test platform to build a standard architecture, Hyundai Kefico achieved flexible test system configurations of all powertrain ECU types and reusable test scripts and procedures that guarantee test coverage alignment from R&D to manufacturing, while allowing global, standard test deployment and operation.

The NI PXI platform timing and synchronization features improved Hyundai Kefico’s test time by 15% and cut the test system cost by 30%. In addition, Hyundai Kefico can procure and assemble the CP-Tester at any of its manufacturing sites around the globe thanks to NI’s global presence.

MH: What was the state of Hyundai KEFICO's testing procedures before this partnership? What was theadoption process like for Hyundai KEFICO, implementing NI's test platform? Were there any disruptions/downtime because of it?

AV: In the past, an ECU functional tester required that Hyundai Kefico design sensor/actuator emulators, vehicle communication modules, test execution engines and applications, test procedures, and test result management tools for each type of ECU. In other words, Hyundai Kefico developed a new tester for every new ECU, with minimum reuse of test engineering assets and a negative impact to the cost of test.In addition, most turnkey ECU testers on the market require 10–12 months to adopt new test plans for new products, and they still require significant interaction with the vendors and high costs.

To solve this problem, Hyundai Kefico started with the development process and created the Common Platform Tester (CP-Tester) and the standardized ECU Functional Tester development process. Hyundai Kefico based the CP-Tester on standardized test assets called CP-Standard, which define sensor/actuator emulation, vehicle communication, test execution (test engine), operator interface (test application) and test result management. (See Figure 1)

With the importance of short development time, the company leveraged NI’s automated test solutions to develop its Tester within three months, ultimately resulting in an 80 percent reduction of development time, while providing the ability to add functionality like CAN with flexible data-rate in the future, as product requirements evolve.

Figure 1. Previous and Current Development Processes for ECU Functional TestFigure 1. Previous and Current Development Processes for ECU Functional TestNational Instruments

MH: Anything else our readers should know about this partnership?

AV: With the first 17 CP-Testers, Hyundai Kefico achieved a 45 percent better project ROI and saved over $1M compared to its previous solution.

Transformations like these are incredibly hard to make. While the situation is easily described, the challenge for Hyundai Kefico’s engineers was major, and they have become a great example of how casting a vision for a test strategy makes a huge difference. It’s not about what metrics to impact, but how to design something that’s sustainable in the future. We work with organizations in the automotive industry to help them get to that level in which they are prepared for what’s coming, and it is partnerships like this that motivate us to continue investing in a test platform that helps automotive companies achieve their objectives.

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