A high-technology supplier to several different markets, Barco defines its avionics business as the liquid crystal displays it provides for aircraft cockpits. The company jealously guards the process by which it produces the ruggedized LCDs.
"We do the ruggedization of the LCD display. We don’t depend on any external ruggedization house," said Kristof Vierin, Barco’s marketing director. "We buy industrial LCD glass complete with the mechanics. We strip the backlight source, we strip the filters, we strip the mechanics. The only thing we keep is the LCD glass and that’s a very fragile piece. If you put it in into an aircraft it will break. Our ruggedization process is a bit of black magic which took us about three years to master."
The ruggedization allows Barco displays to withstand the flying environment without the use of custom LCD glass used by many competitors. It also allows use of the latest LCD technology. All LCD know-how is shared among the company’s display departments (Avionics, Defense and Security, Traffic Management and Medical), promoting innovation and giving the company more leverage with LCD suppliers because of increased order volume.
Barco’s first color LCD was the video graphics array (VGA) CHDD-5.4, which appeared in 1999. It was a 5-by-4-inch display, which incorporated the company’s signature cost-cutting strategy — the use of commercial off-the-shelf LCD glass, modified and ruggedized by a proprietary process.
Since the CHDD-5.4, LCD technology advanced very quickly, bringing larger glass sizes to the market. In addition, resolution and optical performance improved markedly, allowing the technology to meet the demands of operators who want more and more information displayed to the crew.
Barco developed a 6-by-8-inch display and introduced a digital video input instead of the analog input of earlier units. This was done to meet the increasing use of digital video outputs in airborne mission computers and symbol generators. The LCD matrix lends itself well to digital control.
Today, the CHDD-6.8 and the MFD-6.8 are the dominant displays of Barco’s avionics LCD production. They are the main type of display in a variety of aircraft including Russia’s Beriev Be-200 amphibian, the United States Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft and the Pilatus PC-21 turboprop trainer.
However, not all video applications in the cockpit are digital. TV and forward-looking infrared (FLIR) video is likely to remain analog for some time. So Barco developed the CHDD-6.8/1-VP, which takes both digital and analog inputs. The company decided to develop a new family of CHDD displays. It gave the following reasons:
The need for dual analog/digital input is increasing.
The huge variety of configurations (format, bezel type, mission environment) means there are many small variations in every type of CHDD-6.8, which is expensive in non-recurring costs. A new standard unit was needed with standardized bezels, usable in both portrait and landscape format. As many types of analog/digital input as possible should be accepted. Future input formats (such as ARINC 817/818, Fiber Channel, etc.) should be accommodated.
Advances in electronics technology could be used to reduce back case size, weight and power consumption.
Use of the latest LCD technology would give top performance such as increased contrast ratio and viewing angle. Light emitting diode (LED) backlight technology would give enhanced brightness and greater mean time between failures (MTBF).
The LCD resolution should be at least 120 pixel groups per inch to anticipate the need for detailed background images and increased sharpness, especially with synthetic vision solutions and better analog video.
Level A certification for software (DO-178B) and hardware (DO-254) must be achieved, as this is mandatory for primary flight displays and high integrity applications.
The second-generation CHDD display’s internal and external architecture must allow a family of formats, such as 5-by-4, 6-by-8, 8-by-10, 9-by-12.
Infrared touch screen options would be offered on all but the smallest displays to maintain the efficiency of the human/machine interface.
At the Farnborough Air Show last July, Barco unveiled a new line of versatile primary flight and mission displays, the CHDD-2000 range. The "2" in the designation stands for second-generation active matrix LCD (AMLCD) and the following two or three digits gives the display width and height in inches. The first in the family — the CHDD-254 — succeeds the CHDD-5.4/1. The new unit is smaller and weighs 2.3 kg compared with 3.5 kg.
The CHDD-254 can be installed in a 6.25-inch standard radio/weather radar display rack using a dedicated bezel. The CHDD-254 is only available in landscape mode. It has a 20-button bezel as standard with rotary encoder(s), a Night Vision Imaging System (NVIS) backlight option, more video interfaces (four analog inputs and two DVI digital video inputs which can be lightning protected), and ARINC 817/818 digital video interfaces as an option.
The next member of the family being developed is the CHDD-268. Added features include a high brightness LED backlight, a future touch screen control option, lightning protected DVI inputs as standard and extensive basic and optional video input mixing with advanced image processing.
Picture In Picture
The CHDD-268 and larger members of the family will feature a picture-in-picture (PIP) mode, combining analog and digital video inputs, while rotating, scaling or cropping the image. With extra dithering algorithms for FLIR applications, configurable video inputs and on-screen display (OSD) options, it is the most versatile 6-by-8 cockpit display on the market, Barco says.
All CHDD-2000 displays can be used for a variety of applications, such as FLIR, mission, weather, Enhanced Vision System, or moving map, and for primary flight applications. For the latter, Barco can offer its PU-2000 as a symbol generator source and its Modular Open System Architecture (MOSArt) platform for third-party software development
France’s Thales SA chose Barco’s CHDD-254 for the electronic warfare upgrade of the Belgian Air Force’s C-130Hs.
"We are progressively becoming the avionics display market aggregator — we are trying to convince the large systems integrators to consider using Barco video displays in the cockpit," Vierin said.
"They recognize we can do the development more effectively. They are in some circumstances doing their own displays, but they are thinking — is this a core business for the system integrator?"
Barco Displays On UK Merlins
Lockheed Martin UK selected Barco to supply more than 80 of its TL-361 rugged displays for use in the Royal Navy’s Merlin Mk1 helicopter.
The 24-inch TL-361s are a new member of Barco Defense and Security’s family of thin, low-weight displays especially suitable for airborne platforms. They will be part of the mission display system in the helicopters, an element of the Royal Navy’s Merlin Capability Sustainment Program (MCSP).
The first TL-361s for the MCSP are expected to be delivered in May 2007.
Reggy Mortier, displays product group manager in the Barco Command and Control division, said the company developed a track record in the UK with a 20-inch display on Sea King Mk7 helicopters.
"Racal qualified [the display] to a lot harsher environment than we qualified it to, and I guess that helped us on the Merlin," Mortier said.
At A Glance
2005 sales: $914 million
Markets: medical imaging, defense and security, traffic management, avionics, media, broadcasting, digital cinema, simulation, surveillance, utilities, process control, textiles, plastics
Architecture Accepts, Protects Applications
Barco developed a Modular Open System Architecture allowing customers to integrate their software on a Barco hardware platform while preserving the intellectual property of their core technology.
The modular architecture, called MOSArt, is based on a computing kernel compliant with ARINC 653, the specification for space and time partitioning of multiple applications sharing a single processor. With MOSArt, every partition can have a different criticality level, up to DO-178B Level A, for minimal certification cost, Barco says. The default real-time operating system is VxWorks AE from Wind River Systems, Alameda, Calif.
Barco partnered with EuroAvionics, a German specialist in moving map and task management systems, to develop a MOSArt software module called D-Map. The product can reside in the Barco PU-2000 modular avionics processing unit beside other applications in different ARINC 653 partitions.