Military Embedded Systems

Special report: MAE show, Ascot (UK)


December 01, 2006

Hermann Strass

European Analyst

OpenSystems Media

For the first time, on September 26, 2006, the Military & Aerospace Electronics (MAE) Technical Conference and Exhibition presented The Future of Electronic Systems for Military and Aerospace at a historic venue west of London.

The UK has Europe’s largest military equipment and services market. Each year, record numbers of visitors attend the Farnborough Air Show in southern England. However, so far there was no military aerospace electronics show. For the first time, though, on September 26, 2006, the Military & Aerospace Electronics (MAE) Technical Conference and Exhibition    presented The Future of Electronic Systems for Military and Aerospace at a historic venue west of London. The Ascot Racecourse site, close to Windsor Castle, has large facilities for conventions and exhibitions that are also used as the venue for the world-famous horse races. The traditional red brick style buildings (see Figure 1, courtesy of Technology Consulting) contrast with the modern grandstand (see Figure 2, courtesy of Technology Consulting) where formally dressed gentlemen and ladies with fancy hats would watch the horse races. Obviously, there were no horse races during the time of the military and aerospace electronics show.

Figure 1: traditional red brick style buildings

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Figure 2: modern grandstand

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This inaugural show was well received by attendees and exhibitors. More than 30 companies demonstrated hardware and software, and several trade magazines including Military Embedded Systems and VMEbus Systems supported the event. Other supporters included SAE-UK and VITA. There were 18 presentations organized into three tracks (in three theatres) throughout the day. Conference topics included:

  • Designing with COTS
  • Development tools
  • Lead-free issues
  • Microprocessors, controllers, and FPGAs
  • Networks
  • Obsolescence management
  • Power electronics
  • Real-time operating systems and middleware
  • Reliability
  • Rugged electronics
  • Using open standards to design net-centric warfare systems
  • Test and measurement

Presentations were carefully selected by an independent, neutral panel of experts from many applications. The main focus was on the latest developments, technical issues, and implementation decisions for secure and reliable systems in harsh and mission-critical environments. The event was packed with real case studies, practical demonstrations, and highly technical information. A brief overview of selected presentations indicates the wide range of topics covered during this future-directed event.

Cooling: Paul Rose, Flomerics
Paul Rose gave a presentation on the sim-ulation of cooling of electrical/electronic comp-o-nents on boards and in systems. Devices and systems are getting smaller all the time, but performance and power stay the same or increase. This means heat is concentrating in smaller volume and has less surface area for dissipation. In military systems, space-limited and environmental conditions are harsh. Cooling (deheating) methods used on commercial systems are therefore in-sufficient. It would be extremely expen-sive and time consuming to test many possible configurations by producing real systems, because several iterations would be needed.

Flomerics Ltd., UK, the leader in computer simulation of deheating and cooling methods and designs, has developed FLOTHERM, a Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) simulation program and toolset to solve heat transfer design issues without a need to produce real components or systems. CFD is the analysis of systems involving fluid flow, heat transfer, and associated phenomena such as chemical reactions by means of computer-based simulations. A set of (NavierStokes) equations is solved to fully simulate the physics of flow. Only a subset of the possible equations is required to iteratively calculate solutions for electronic systems. It may take about one night to run each simulation. This is not too long, because it would take much longer to produce a board or a system, and to learn that the product still runs too hot. A virtual model can be repeated easily using different parameters.

In addition to adequate deheating, the solution will also be optimal in terms of energy to cool it, noise, and reliability. FLOTHERM software and toolsets are available from Flomerics Ltd. or under license, sometimes using company-specific names from manufacturers and electronic systems integrators.

COTS: Richard Jaenicke, Mercury Computer Systems, Inc.
Richard Jaenicke gave a detailed analysis of Intel versus PowerPC multiprocessor platforms. A comparison was presented on VMEbus systems meeting COTS industrial requirements. Topics included were Symmetric Multi-Processor (SMP) systems, Non-Uniform Memory Access (NUMA) systems, and other variants.

PowerPC-based systems showed much higher GFLOPS and in some cases higher memory bandwidth than Intel Xeon and Core Duo variants. Interprocessor bandwidth was almost the same for both platforms. PowerPC is enhanced when a large amount of floating-point performance is needed. The Intel platform is better when Multichip SMP is required.

Lead-free: Ken Hall, Triteq
Ken Hall discussed lead-free topics, which are of particular interest in Europe. Every contractor, manufacturer, or system integrator is confronted with lead-free issues. The market for electronic components in the military and aerospace industry is constantly declining. For instance,  the UK market share dropped from 9 percent in 1984 to 0.9 percent in 2005. Currently, Triteq estimates that components are made obsolete at a rate of 13,000 per month.

Some military components are exempt from Restriction of the use of certain Hazardous Substances (RoHS) com-pliance, but COTS components are not. There are many legal, commercial, and technical issues. A technically competent and quality-oriented partner may be required to provide cost-effective turnkey solutions to obsolescence redesign. Triteq is the only TUV-certified subcontract design house in the UK. It is one of a few design subcontractors in the UK with ISO 13485 certification for safety-critical medical design.

Networks: Bob Pickles, SBS Technologies, Inc.
Bob Pickles reported about Avionics Full Duplex Switched Ethernet (AFDX), a deterministic and failure-resistant version of Ethernet. AFDX was developed for the Airbus A380 and is currently used on the Boeing B787 Dreamliner. The Airbus A400M (military transporter) and Airbus A350 (civil transporter) will be next to use it. It is a replacement for ARINC 429, using a deterministic protocol as defined in ARINC 664 Part 7. This real-time Ethernet version is switched, eliminating data collisions. The transmission rate is bounded to eliminate loss of packets. Real-time, deterministic operation and a fully redundant transmission channel make AFDX usable in mission-critical systems. Jitter and latency are also bounded to ensure there are no hidden performance problems during operation.

The SBS system, AFDX-E1000, uses standard hardware components and a software stack running in an FPGA. The stack is written in higher-level language. It is very easy to add functions and to transport it to different hardware. A hardware solution would make upgrades lengthy, expensive, and subject to End-Of-Life (EOL) issues. The SBS solution makes the system hardware independent and dynamically upgradeable.

Reliability: John Jones, IGG Component Technology Ltd.
John Jones presented information about identifying counterfeit components, re-liability testing, lead-free issues, and long-term storage of COTS components. Clearly identified second source products, when properly tested and certified, are acceptable to use. However, counterfeit (nonoriginal) components of unknown or low quality are a severe problem in high-reliability systems because what you see is not always what you get.

Technical reliability issues may include corrosion, (silver) metallization migration, intermetallics (gold-aluminum and tin-copper), or fatigue. Quality and reliability testing may include Destructive Physical Analysis (DPA), life testing, accelerated testing, or thermal cycling. Preparation for a long-term storage of 20+ years includes stabilization bake at 85 °C for 48 hours, individually sealed components, and storage under specified humidity and temperature conditions.

Safety: Alex Wilson, Wind River Systems, Inc.
Alex Wilson gave information on MIL/ COTS op-erating systems requirements. Modern warfare is all about sharing in-formation using IP-based information networks. The Multiple Independent Levels of Security (MILS) architecture specifies compartmentalized hierarchical systems required by the National Security Agency (NSA). These systems include Non-bypassable, Evaluatable, Always-invoked, and Tamper-proof (NEAT). As-sured trust levels are required on a component-by-component basis. Chan-ges in noninteracting components need reevaluating of only the changed com-ponent, resulting in huge cost savings. The MILS concept benefits from ARINC 653 time and space partitioning, deterministic, predictable execution, and other requirements of this standard. Safety assurance is possible through DO-176B Level A certification. VxWorks RTOS with a MIKS Kernel Layer runs in kernel mode, provides separation and security, and controls information flow between partitions.

VITA’s presentation on standards
Representing VITA Europe at MAE, I reported on standards for industrial and military systems, which have more demanding requirements than commercial systems. They are used for much longer times in hard real-time and deterministic applications. VITA provides standards for products that have to operate under such conditions. VMEbus technology, which started 25 years ago, was standardized by VITA and is continuously enhanced to meet the increasing demands of military, industrial, and aerospace requirements. A recent major step forward is the introduction of the VITA 46 standard for increased speed (12.5 Gbps), number of transmission circuits, and I/O contacts (728 total). Cooling, reliability, and lead-free issues are also topics of VMEbus technology standardization by the VITA Standards Organization (VSO).

For about 20 years now, VMEbus technology has been and still is the leading open standard for modular computer sys-tems in real-time, high-availability, high-reliability applications. New or enhanced standards ensure this will be so for the next 25 years. One pro-ject that proves this is VITA 58 Electronics Integration for Level 2 maintenance. Systems will be packed into sealed standardized enclo-sures called canisters. These canisters can be installed or replaced by anyone without operator intervention or system shutdown. This is obviously a standard for very long-term usage. VITA and the VSO provide the standards for these long-term applications.

Figure 3: MAE show

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For further information, e-mail Hermann at [email protected].