Hardware in the loop not just for auto aerospace

by Andre Girard | 05/22/2013

Hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) is a simulation technique that allows for the rapid development and testing of intricate, real-time control systems.  Since such testing can be done without the creation of a physical prototype, HIL reduces product-related development costs and time-to-market, while increasing the overall quality and reliability of embedded control systems.  Given the relative complexity of developing a HIL platform, this technology has traditionally been relegated to the development of capital-intensive equipment in the automotive and aerospace industries.  However, the energy industry has recently taken notice of the benefits of HIL.

With global concerns stemming from the pollution emitted by coal burning power plants, wind power has quickly become an attractive alternative to traditional energy production.  State and federal governments have recently increased their efforts in assisting energy companies research more efficient ways of developing new wind turbines.  Enter – hardware-in-the-loop technology.  Producers of wind power have begun utilizing HIL to test their turbine control systems in real-time.  In fact, National Instruments, a leading supplier of test, measurement, and control systems, is currently partnering with Siemens Wind Power, a world-renowned wind turbine manufacturer.  Siemens is leveraging National Instruments’ LabVIEW, an HIL application platform, to develop its own HIL simulator for the testing of turbine control system software.

Using LabVIEW, Siemens can test and simulate mechanical (wind speed, blade pitch) and electrical (voltage, current) variables, among others, on its control systems.  Performing these kinds of simulations during the development stage offers design engineers the ability to tweak and optimize the control system software.  Engineers can then apply the same code used in the HIL simulation process towards the development of the control units of the actual turbine.

With the increasing emphasis on wind energy expected in the near future, the ability of HIL technology to reduce time-to-market while increasing dependability will be a boon to wind turbine manufacturers worldwide.

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