Embedded Software IP & Technology Transfer in Power Electronics Applications

New ebook: Step-by-step design of a basic embedded system using an Intel MAX10 ® FPGA

Are you new to Intel FPGA-based embedded system design? Make sure to download my new ebook: it contains all steps to design a basic FPGA-based embedded system from scratch including a (1) NIOS II processor-centric system in Qsys, (2) MAX10 FPGA pins assigments and (3) software running on the processor.

While going through this ebook, you will be able to identify key steps in designing your own system using Intel FPGA free EDA Tools. This is a great way to save time and to quickly put your efforts in building your own FPGA-based embedded system! This ebook is great not only for people designing FPGA-based embedded control systems, but to any people planning to design a new electronic product with a Intel FPGA for the first time.

TABLE OF CONTENT

  1. Starting things off. EDA Tools and MAX10 Development kit.
  2. Basic concepts.
  3. First Step: FPGA/hardware part
  4. Second Step: Software part
  5. Third Step: Program & Play !
  6. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
  7. How Alizem can help you achieve your business and technical objectives ?

Format: Powerpoint presentation, 59 pages.

Power electronics innovations 2015 Review – M&A, IoT, GaN

Happy new year 2016 loading concept2015 has been a big year for power electronics innovations, both from a technical and a business point of view. Of course, Elon Musk has been making the news every week regarding Tesla or other new home battery project closing the gap between its solar power generation business and its EV business. Paris treaty on climate change (#cop21) is also probably a good long-term news regarding the increasing necessity to generate power from renewables sources (=> power electronics) and to reduce energy consumption in every sector, including aerospace ( conversion of hydraulic actuators to electro-mecanic actuators => more electric aircraft, solar powered airplanes => Solar impulse, etc.). Otherwise, here are specific topic/news that got my attention in 2015.

1- Chip vendors: Mergers and Acqusitions (M&A)

The big news of the year for FPGA-based embedded system designers is obviously the acquisition of Altera by Intel last June and closed last month. It has been rumored since a quite long time, especially by journalist Kevin Morris, and it will probably significatively change the dynamic in the FPGA technology business, i.e. the 30 years battle with rival Xilinx. Regarding Xilinx, there also have been rumors to be acquired by Avago (May) and later by Qualcomm and IBM (November).  According to this article, “2015 has become a perfect storm for acquisitions, mergers, and consolidation among major suppliers, which are seeing sales slow in their existing market segments and need to broaden their businesses to stay in favor with investors. Rising costs of product development and advanced technologies are also driving the need to become bigger and grow sales at higher rates in the second half of this decade. The emergence of the huge market potential for the Internet of Things (IoT) is causing major IC suppliers to reset their strategies and quickly fill in missing pieces in their product portfolios“.

Among other M&A relevant to power electronics applications are: (1) acquisition of Freescale by NXP (March), (2) acquisition of IRF by Infineon and finally (3) acquisition of Fairchild by ON Semiconductors but the last one is not closed yet.

2- Internet-of-things (IoT)

As indicated above, communication between objects – IoT – is now driving a lot of change in the semiconductor industry, including of course in power electronics applications such as power generation, industrial automation and automotive. It has never been more easy to acquire data and to pipe it out onto a SaaS platform to store it and analyze it (check this 5$ Raspberry PI or this 19$ per unit Photon). Value created by this process is amazing: you now have access to data you didn’t have before and this data allows you to take better business decisions and also to create completely new functionnalities. The challenge is now to analyze this data and build high-value information out of it: condition-monitoring and fault detection of PV panels is certainly a good example. If you want to learn more on the industrial IoT (IIoT), McRock Capital – a canadian VC firm specialized in this sector – has compiled 30 reports available for download on the subject.

Among the available IoT platforms out there, one did catch my attention: Initial State. This Nashville, TN, startup has managed to build a very easy to use web-based platform where you can stream your product data and quickly analyze it. My firm – Alizem – has even released a new IoT product based on this platform that allows you to connect existing electrical equipment to this platform. The same module has also been integrated as an option to Alizem Motor Control Software for Altera MAX10 FPGA devices and it is – to date – the only IoT software/IP solution available on Altera website.

3- Rise of GaN technology

While this blog is on power electronics, we mostly talk about digital control / software innovations related to power electronics applications and it is rare we see true / game-changing innovation on the power electronics device side. 2015 is not like other years with the rise of GaN technology. According to Alex Lidow’s led startup EPC, GaN-based transistors “have characteristics very similar to the power MOSFET, but with improved high speed switching, lower on-resistance, and a smaller size than their silicon predecessors. These new capabilities, married with a step forward in high-density packaging, enable power conversion designers to reduce power losses, reduce system size, improve efficiency, and ultimately, reduce system costs.” Hence, this is no big surprize that some GaN players are actively involved into Google’s Littlebox challenge, including Canada-based GaN Systems who raised 20M$ for its development in May 2015. According to the contest website, we should know about the winner pretty soon (January 2016).

What’s up for 2016? With all those major changes in the air, there is no reason to think that 2016 is going to slow down ! Thanks for reading this review and let me know of anything you think I should add up. Meawhile, we are now all set for a new  year of innovation in the crazy world of power electronics !

Monitoring, Fault Diagnosis and Increasing the Lifetime & Reliability of PV Systems

Solar panel on a red roof reflecting the sun and the cloudless blue sky

Have you checked the November 2015 issue of IEEE IES Transactions on Industrial Electronics ? There is a special section on the precise topic of “Monitoring, Prognosis and Techniques for Increasing the Lifetime & Reliability of Photovoltaic Systems“. Here are the titles of the seven articles selected for this special section:

1- “Operation of cascaded H-bridge multilevel converters for large-scale photovoltaic power plants under bridge failures”

2- “Online two-section PV array fault diagnosis with optimized voltage sensor locations”

3- “Photovoltaic systems reliability improvement by real-time FPGA-based switch failure diagnosis and fault tolerant DC-DC converter”

4- “Model-based degradation analysis of photovoltaic modules through series resistance estimation”

5- “Dual-Kalman-filter-based identification and real-time optimization of PV systems”

6- “A survey on mismatching and aging of PV modules: The closed loop”

7- “Innovative automated control system for PV fields inspection and remote control”

In the context of the rise of PV systems for solar power generation and also the Internet-of-things (IoT), the timing for this publication is very good. This is exactly the type of information that needs to be generated by controllers (and sent to operators via IoT) to maximize energy-efficiency of PV systems AND also reduce any chance of unplanified downtime leading to loss of revenues.

Internet-of-things (IoT) interface for electrical equipment manufacturers

Smart appliances in network. Concept for Internet of Things showing many different connection between device

You certainly know already a lots of things about IoT (if not, read this or this), but do you know about the Initial State’s IoT platform ? Briefly, that’s a web-based platform (SaaS) to which you can stream data out from your electronics devices. The platform is then going to store this data for you and enable you to visualize/report it quite nicely, always through your preferred web browser.

They have had quite success so far in the hobby/consumer space, enabling to easily pipe data out of a Raspberry PI for all sorts of cool applications. The need to pipe out informations from controllers is everywhere, especially in industrial electronics (that’s Industrial IoT, IIoT). Hence, this type of feature is a perfect fit with Alizem embedded motor control software products enabling to pipe out informations regarding electric motor’s states: temperature, currents, rotor position, speed, etc.

For those reasons, I am pleased to announce the release of Alizem IoT Interface software that’s meant to connect new and existing electrical equipment products to Initial State’s IoT platform. This new product is now available in two versions: standalone (great for existing products) and integrated into Alizem embedded motor control software (ideal for new products). Both versions include a reference design based on Altera MAX10 FPGA Development kit.

For electrical equipement manufacturers, that’s a great way to integrate IoT features easily and quickly and also to:

  • Accelerate product development by detection bugs early
  • Easily share data between development teams working at different locations
  • Remotely monitor critical performance data such as power consumption, load motion profiles, current shape and temperature
  • Build new value-added services by bundling their electrical equipment products with SaaS based monitoring services and provide peace-of-mind to your customers by having them access to all their equipment operation data

For more information, please visit www.alizem.com/iot and/or feel free to contact me over this blog.

Best Regards, Marc.


This blog has been originally published here, on LinkedIn.

FPGA and Embedded Motor Control Software IP – A Review of 2014

iStock_000048509430smallDear reader, thank you for reading my blog. I take this opportunity to wish you an happy new year 2015, fulfilled with great new designs and hopefully as few bugs as possible. Like previous years, I will take some time to review – from my perspective – the last year in the excitating world of electronics innovation (device + software) related to power electronics applications.

2014: The SoC year

For me 2014 has been the “SoC” year with main FPGA manufacturers (i.e. Altera & Xilinx) heavily promoting their new ARM processor centric + FPGA fabric devices (the Cyclone V SoC for Altera and the Zynq for Xilinx). While the idea of having a hard processor connected to a FPGA is not new (Microsemi is doing this since a while with SmartFusion released by Actel in 2009 and Xilinx have had hard PowerPC processors in their Virtex II since 2002), the idea of positionning those devices as “software-centric” is new. What it means is: with those SoC devices (Cyclone V & Zynq), you are not buying a FPGA anymore: you are buying a software programmable chip that has a bunch of peripherals around two ARM processors plus some FPGA fabric. That’s a radical change of mentality from hardware companies that must be applauded. The typical embedded software guy can now program a “FPGA SoC” device without having to deeply know about FPGA first: they can start programming their application software of the ARM processor and then optimize I/Os & some hardware accelerated functions with FPGAs. This is without mentionning that those device now integrate in the large ARM software ecosystem and all synergies that it provides.

How this impacts power electronics apps ? From an system architecture point of view, a power converter (for motor control and solar power conversion) is only another type of peripheral inside a system (just like an audio or a video peripheral). Electronic product devices typically have three interfaces: (1) a human machine-interface (buttons), (2) a communication interface (for external world data exchange / IoT) and (3) a specialized interface (in the case of a surveillance system, that’s a camera in the case of an electric motor drive that’s a power stage). Hence, in my opinion, those SoC devices are going to accelerate a convergence toward standard system architecture that include standard interfaces (for HMI and communication) and specialized interfaces (like camera or power converter). In the example of a smart camera system, you can think to have one processor dedicated to the general management of the application, one processor dedicated to extracting image features coming out of the camera and part of the FPGA fabric dedicated to run the multi-axis smart camera motor controller.

For more reading on the topic, I invite you to read Kevins Morris articles on this topic (this one, this one and this one). Also, don’t miss Adam Taylor’s MicroZed Chronicles: he did an amazing job of releasing ~60 blog articles in the last year on using Xilinx Zynq SoC devices.

Google Little Box Challenge

Last July, Google has launched an amazing power electronics system design challenge called the Little Box Challenge. Basically it means to “figure out how to shrink an inverter down to something smaller than a small laptop (a reduction of > 10× in volume) and smaller than everyone else”. Cash price is 1M$. According to Don Tan – president of the IEEE Power Electronics Society (PELS) – “the inverter will have to have an efficiency greater than 95 percent and handle loads of 2 kVA. It also has to fit in a metal enclosure of no more than 40 cubic inches (655 cubic centimeters) and withstand 100 hours of testing“. This is a great opportunity for  wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductors device manufacturers to show their energy-efficiency benefits and for the best power electronics system designers to show their talent and creativity. The grand prize winner will be announced sometime in January, 2016.

Altera MAX10: Getting some A2D to PLDs

Back to the electronic device world. Last September, Altera has announced the availability of a new type of device: the MAX10. From my understanding, this device positions at the high end of the MAX PLD family and the low-end of the Cyclone family. Hence, this is a very low-cost device (as typical MAX PLD) but has full-featured FPGA capabilities (as Cyclone device) which means that you can embedded a NIOS II soft processor in this device (not possible with previous MAX PLDs). The most important feature – that is especially relevant to power electronics control system design – is that this devices integrates 1 or 2 analog-to-digital (A2D) converter blocks, depending on the device model. In the design of a FOC electric motor drive for example, those A2D can be obviously used to sample phase currents. Typical DSP and MCU have integrated A2Ds and this was missing into the low-cost FPGA space (the notable exception being Microsemi’s mixed-signal FPGAs, but those are not positionned as ‘low-cost’ devices).

Again, you can read Kevin Morris on this topic.

Alizem COTS software for mission-critical motor electric motor drives applications

You know my firm Alizem innovates in the field of power electronics embedded software. The goal being to help system/product designers to spend less time reinventing the wheel and spend more time and money building their true product differenciation by reusing pre-tested software. In 2014, Alizem has released a brand new product meant to reduce energy loss and increase fault robustness of PMSM and BLDC motors. This new product is based on a technology developped over the last 10 years at the Canadian Space Agency. This is a great fit in aerospace applications (i.e. “More Electric Aircraft” technologies) that are always looking for ways to reduce airplane fuel consumption (they can achieve same performance with 20% smaller motors, hence reduced weight, space and fuel). Same logic applies for automotive industry. This is a perfect example of how EDA/IP industry can help OEM to integrate more innovation (value) in their products while reducing developments costs, risks and time-to-market.

My ebook on “How to design a custom electric motor drive system using COTS components ?”

That’s something I wanted to write since a long time because there are a lots of books on the market on the different aspects of electric motor drive design (i.e. electric machine design, power converter design, controller design) but none treating specifically on the embedded software of this application with a practical approach. While it may be improved, I am glad of the result and I invite you to download it for FREE. I would be more than happy to receive your comments about it (send me an email).

This review is for sure incomplete but – in my opinion – it gathers important points of 2014. Please let me know if you think I forgot something important. Again, happy design for 2015!

FPGAs and power electronics in the IEEE TII of 11/2014

A new issue of the IEEE Transactions on Industrial Informatics is now available and here are the articles related to FPGA and power electronics/control applications:

FPGA Implementation of Model Predictive Control With Constant Switching Frequency for PMSM Drives

“Field programmable gate array (FPGA) implementation of a model predictive control with constant switching frequency (MPC-CSF) for a permanent magnet synchronous machine (PMSM) is proposed. The basic finite states MPC (FS-MPC) can be combined with a pulsewidth modulation (PWM) modulator because of an effective cost function optimization algorithm in which voltage vectors are dynamically selected and calculated through iteration based on the idea similar to dichotomy. Using model-based design (MBD), MPC-CSF is implemented on an FPGA with parallel and pipeline processing techniques in short execution time. Functionality simulation analysis presents that MPC-CSF is much robust to parameter variations. Experimental results illustrate that MPC-CSF has good dynamic performance for PMSM drives.”

MPSoCs and Multicore Microcontrollers for Embedded PID Control: A Detailed Study

“This paper presents different multiprocessor implementations of the proportional-integral-derivative (PID) controller using two technologies: 1) field programmable gate array (FPGA)-based multiprocessor system-on-chip (MPSoC); and 2) multicore microcontrollers (MCUs). Techniques to implement a parallelized PID controller, a multi-PID controller, and a self-tuning PID controller are proposed. These techniques are verified using hardware (HW) in the loop (HIL) simulations. Then, the paper presents a detailed case study of an embedded real-time (RT) self-tuning PID controller for a 1-degree-of-freedom (1-DOF) aerodynamical system. This includes controller design, parameters tuning, and implementation using a multiprocessor system. Results proved the effectiveness of the proposed techniques to improve performance and functionality. It is shown that customizing HW and software (SW) within MPSoCs provides higher RT performance. Moreover, using multicore MCUs can reduce design time, implementation time, and cost, while keeping adequate performance. Therefore, it is possible to realize and implement complex RT embedded controllers that employ advanced control algorithms in rapid, effective, and cost-efficient fashion.”

Physics-Based Device-Level Power Electronic Circuit Hardware Emulation on FPGA

“Accurate models of power electronic devices are necessary for hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) simulators. This paper proposes a digital hardware emulation of device-level models for the insulated gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) and the power diode on the field programmable gate array (FPGA). The hardware emulation utilizes detailed physics-based nonlinear models for these devices, and features a fully paralleled implementation using an accurate floating-point data representation in VHSIC hardware description language (VHDL) language. A dc–dc buck converter circuit is emulated to validate the hardware IGBT and diode models, and the nonlinear circuit simulation process. The captured oscilloscope results demonstrate high accuracy of the emulator in comparison to the offline simulation of the original system using Saber software.”

 

How to design a custom electric motor drive system using COTS components

If you are an electric motor drive designer, you might be interested in getting my brand new eBook:

alizem_ebook_200kThis eBook provides guidelines to make the process of designing a custom electric motor drive faster and easier. Hence, whether you are a project manager, a system / mechanical / electrical / software engineer, you will find in this document relevant informations to help you achieve your objectives.

TABLE OF CONTENT
1- Why would you design a custom electric motor drive system ?
2- Reasons to use Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) components
3- Anatomy of an electric motor drive system and COTS component selection
4- Bottleneck is software: how to plan the software development ?
4.1 – Application Software
4.2 – Commodity Interfaces Software
4.3 – Motor Control Software
5- Embedded Motor Control Software: Expertise needed !
5.1 – Developping from scratch
5.2 – Developping from reference design
5.3 – Developping from 3rd-party software
6- Development of a custom electric motor drive: A 5 steps process
6.1 – Step #1: Requirements
6.2 – Step #2: Design
6.3 – Step #3: Prototype
6.4 – Step #4: Product development
6.5 – Step #5: Production
7- How can Alizem help you achieve your business and technical objectives ?
Format: Powerpoint presentation, 64 pages.

You can download a FREE copy on Alizem website, just click here !

Impacts of an embedded software bug in power electronics applications

We all know software is a difficult skill to master and there are tremendous differences in developping software for:

  • PC/desktop applications
  • mobile/tablet applications
  • … and real-time embedded control applications such as power electronics applications

While in all cases a software bug may lead to important financial and human losses (directly or indirectly), the case of embedded software for power electronics application is special since it is meant to directly control the flow of energy from a source (battery, solar, etc.) to a load (electric motor, power network, etc.), not a flow of informations/signals/data is in a typical software application.

Impact #1: System component destruction

It means that a software bug may lead in the bad management of the flow of energy which can itself cause the destruction of components such as power stage (“shoot-through” faults), electric motor (“overcurrent” faults) or electric motor load (pump damage caused by cavitation for example).

impact of a bug power electronics software

Of course, proper installation of electrical equipement protection (i.e. fuses) can prevent most of the damage that may happen on the system components in case of a bug (overcurrent), but not all of them. For example, noise in a transducer may lead to torque ripple which may lead over time into electric motor bearing problems. This is the whole idea of electric motor “condition monitoring”, i.e. tracking over time the state of healt of the motor in order to : (1) detect faults (is there a fault, what component ?) and (2) diagnose faults (what is the cause of the fault, how severe the fault is). Those further interested in the subject may read this article.

Impact #2: Unique embedded motor control software development process

Hence, the development of motor control software needs not only software programming and digital signal processing skills, but it also needs deep “domain knowledge” experience related to power electronics, electric motors, transducers and the type of application where the software is going to run (in a home appliance or in an electric vehicle ?). More on this in a previous blog article. This point is not unique to power electronics software, the same could be same for embedded computer vision software (i.e. smart camera).

However, since motor control software bug may lead to component destruction, this has an impact on how the motor control software development and testing process is going to be made. Blowing a power stage is expensive and takes time to repair : it means you cannot afford to simply “develop some code and test” just like you would while developping a PC/mobile software application. It means you need to be sure that when you are going to turn the power switch on, you are not going to destroy your system.

How can you do that ? Well, you know my pitch on this.

IECON2014 – Call for Papers – Electronic System-on-Chip for Power Electronics Applications

iecon2014

CALL FOR PAPER

Special Session on:  Electronic System-on-chip in power electronics applications

 organized and co-chaired by:

Dr. Marc Perron, marc.perron@alizem.com

Dr. Éric Monmasson, eric.monmasson@u-cergy.fr

Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

1) FPGA/DSP/MCU-based embedded system design for power electronics applications such as motor drives and solar power conversion systems

2) Real-time simulation of power electronics applications

3) Embedded software development and Intellectual Property (IP)

4) EDA tools used in the development of power electronics applications

 Submission of papers:  Final Deadline           May 19th, 2014

 All the instructions for paper submission are included in the conference website:

http://iecon2014.org/

The Virtualization of Embedded Computing

iStock_000005420109Small

In September 2011, I have been contacted by CATA‘s Jean-Guy Rens who was doing a study regarding the embedded systems industry in Canada titled “The Other Computing : Is Canada ready for the Internet of Things ?“. You can freely access his full study here.

We had an interview together to get my insights regarding future development of this industry. He finally decided to place this interview as the foreword of his study and called it “The Virtualization of Embedded Computing”. Here are some parts of this interview :

Being fluent in embedded software engineering is not enough

“Embedded systems are a horizontal technology, but their applications scopes are vertical. Many people are studying the embedded system itself, but the real challenge is to apply this knowledge to vertical applications. That is why I introduce myself as a software engineer who migrated to energy applications. I speak both “electric motor” and “embedded software”. Too often, electric motors specialists are not knowledgeable about embedded software and vice versa. Alizem’s expertise is to translate the needs of electric motor-based system designers into embedded software solutions. It is not sufficient to be an expert in C programming to be able to design an application that will fully satisfy a particular need. Too often, developers think they are able to create all purpose applications. That’s why the cost of embedded systems software development is skyrocketing. For my part I tend to consider that software programming is an engineering core skill. It’s like reading and writing: it is not because someone can write that he is equally capable of writing novels, political speeches and pamphlets for department stores. For an engineer, the challenge is to design solutions that encapsulate application knowledge (complex, rare and expensive to develop), within a short time to market, but without compromising product quality and performance. The technology of embedded systems is known and accessible to all. The challenge is to quickly and efficiently integrate modules that work first time around.”

Software now comes first, electronics second

“It is possible to compare the embedded system to a home. For centuries, it is the people who were makers of brick and cement that built the houses. The design, modeling and decoration of the house came as an afterthought. This process has changed beyond recognition when we started asking architects to make plans for our houses – or to program them virtually, if we are to continue our analogy. Even decorators – more often referred to as interior designers – are consulted from the start of the house project. It is they who define the plans of the house – the contractor comes later, to handle the actual construction.  Everything happens exactly the same way in the embedded world. The engineer in microelectronics is the contractor with the bricks and mortar. If a microelectronics firm persists in programming an embedded system application from ‘a’ to ‘z’, it behaves like the ancient contractor who made himself the bricks with which he built a house, then would seek the aggregate of the mortar on the side of the river and so on. Such behavior was probably justified for the early embedded systems when devices had limited computing power and range of applications. Developers who all belonged to the world of electrical engineering approached their various projects from a hardware perspective: they had to practically invent their work tools as well as the final product. The rudimentary software used, a few hundred lines of code, was a detail they did not care about too much. But times have changed and electronics has become a commodity: the bulk of the value is migrating towards the software side. Today, embedded systems are software-driven. It is up to the software engineer to be both the architect and the decorator – he is the natural project manager. This role reversal is hard to accept by traditional electronic engineers. The result is a culture shock.”