Embedded Avionics, Military

Astronics Corp., NI Expand Collaboration to Increase PXI Focus

By Woodrow Bellamy III | September 20, 2016
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NI and Astronics Test Systems introduce new suite of PXI test instruments for mil/aero programs
NI and Astronics Test Systems introduce new suite of PXI test instruments for mil/aero programs. Photo: Astronics/NI

[Avionics Magazine 09-20-2016] Astronics Corp. has expanded its relationship with technology solutions provider National Instruments (NI), to include a new collaboration agreement with subsidiary Astronics Ballard and the introduction of three new PXI-based digital test instruments. Avionics Magazine recently caught up with experts from Astronics Ballard and NI to discuss the new collaboration, new products and the two companies’ continued focus on leveraging test instruments and other technologies for the PXI platform.

NI’s new collaboration agreement with Astronics Ballard follows on the company’s existing collaboration with Astronics Test Systems, the automated test and measurement systems division of Astronics Corp. Under the agreement, NI will distribute Ballard’s OmniBus II avionics interface cards for use with PXI Express for MIL-STD-1553, ARINC 429, and multi-protocol data transfers. The agreement has also lead Ballard to develop an instrument driver designed to provide improved bus configurations and applications development within NI’s LabView system design platform.

“Getting the Ballard hardware supported in our LabView tool chain was a key step in making sure our customer base could leverage the Ballard Technology avionics buses as they develop these PXI instruments, so they’ve been working closely with our team on what those drivers should look like and what the configuration tools should look like,” said Reggie Rector, principal product manager for automated test at National Instruments. “There are two different application spaces for these avionics buses. One is on the manufacturing side: whether you’re testing a Line Replaceable Unit (LRU) or some other piece of support equipment, or you’re working on a simulation project. That’s where the Ballard PXI modules become very attractive for us, because we can use them in some of our hardware in the loop or simulation support. In order to do that we need to make sure they have the LabView support.”

Proctor said the two main classes of end users that will benefit from the Astronics-NI collaboration include Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), such as developers of LRUs, or aircraft components, as well as large-scale systems integrators building depot-level test systems or related products.

Astronics Ballard Technology Vice President Jon Neal said that the library of MIL-STD-1553 and ARINC 429 examples developed by Ballard and NI provide solid starting points for the purpose of developing avionics applications.

“End users can take those example applications, perform modifications to meet their specific needs, and deploy a final solution quickly. It’s a great starting off point with our new NI-certified LabView instrument driver,” said Neal. 

Ballard also included a configuration utility that allows users to graphically configure the hardware they are working on, which means that developers with just a minimal amount of databus experience can still program the devices. Using the new instrument driver, users no longer have to think about the procedural calls of software configuration from an Application Program Interface (API) perspective, instead they can specify how software components should interact using the instrument driver’s configuration utility.

“The collaboration agreement was also great timing, because we had just released a new PXI Express card that fits their platform perfectly. One of the unique aspects of that card that was attractive to NI was that we can host multiple avionics protocols on a single 3U PXI Express card, which reduces the number of slots needed in a PXI chassis. That can reduce the costs for end users because they can purchase less cards for that slot,” said Neal.

Along with the expanded Astronics Corp. agreement with Ballard, during the Autotestcon 2016 conference, NI and Astronics Test Systems introduced the Astronics PXIe-6943 digital test instrument, PXIe-3352 rubidium clock source, and PXIe-1209 pulse pattern generator. The three new test instruments are designed to provide PXI-based instruments with Test Program Set (TPS)-compatible software for existing legacy VXI instruments.

“In just about every digital subsystem on the market today, you’ll see parallel digital high speed serial standard and some of these bus communication protocols like the MIL-STD-1553, ARINC 429 or RS 485 serial communications. When you put all those things together into a subsystem, that’s where we see a lot of activity in the aerospace and defense community right now — the upgrade or migration to high speed digital subsystems,” said Proctor.

Going forward, Neal said the collaboration between Astronics Ballard and NI will continue to focus on combining Ballard’s avionics databus interfaces with the capabilities of the NI LabView software.

“The primary goal of the collaboration was to offer best-in-class hardware and software solutions. Ballard has our flexible and proven avionics databus cards along with NI’s powerful and easy-to-use LabView software, so it really was a great combination of these two product offerings into something … that makes a very good avionics test platform,” said Neal.

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