What goes on under the hood with a machine’s circuit board may not initially seem noteworthy, especially if you’re not a technician, but optimising the production of the GeoCore X10 is the result of countless hours spent in R&D. Faster assembly, greater reliability and a future-proof platform are the aim of refining the machine’s electrical system.
To find out what it means to go from “100 metres of cables to intelligently interconnected control boards”, we talked to Stefan Hellgren, Senior Software Engineer, at Orexplore’s headquarters in Stockholm.
— Why are you working on a new electrical system?
The electrical system we have today is not optimised for production. To be able to ramp up the number of produced machines we are now updating the electronics in the machine. We are integrating a lot of cables and of-the-shelf modules into circuit boards, hoping to reduce the more than one hundred metre cabling by a factor of ten, and eliminate about 20 off-the-shelf modules. The modern way to get rid of cabling is for all the devices and circuit boards to communicate in a defined way over one cable, a so called communication bus. We are actually using the CAN Bus, as in modern cars.
The first design was a way to get an industrially proven solution and to get things going. We knew it was subject for later optimisation, but first things first.
— What does the new electric system control?
It controls about everything in the GeoCore X10, but in short: power distribution, the X-ray source, various motors, sensors, also communication and synchronisation between them.
— How has the process been developing this new system?
We knew that we had to update the new electrical system and spoke to an external partner and explained our wishes and demands. We met, sat together to make several design sketches and then our partner went home and developed the first prototype. After that, several versions of prototypes have been developed during an 8-month period together with the associated software. We have run several integration tests together with the GeoCore X10 software to verify low-level functions like motor control, sensor reading and board communication. The next step is to connect more boards in the system and integrate higher-level functions like sample loading and sample scanning.
There are, in total, 5 circuit boards in the system and over 1000 lines of code per board have been written. To meet real time requirements, some functions like decoding incremental encoder signals requires the usages of the co-processor core available in the used micro controller.
The development of this system is a complex process, which takes time, sweat and team effort to get all parts of the system working and communicating. The whole process of designing, prototyping, testing, integrating system functions, making new board revision and writing high level software functions will now be finalised by us. The old system will be replaced and and the new system will be introduced to production.
— What does this mean for the production of the GeoCore X10?
The subsystems done by our contractors will be simpler to produce and we will have better quality and less defects in the parts reaching our production line. Today, this takes time and interrupts the production.
It will be a good platform to build upon. It will be so much easier to add, say, a new sensor, to measure a new set of data, that suddenly turns out to be needed by the customers.
— What does this mean for your customers?
We already have the ability to remotely retrieve failure logs and status from the machines, through telemetry. The new system has the potential to add to that, for even better failure reporting, making problems on machines in the field easier to find.
One of the reasons for the redesign was to make the system modular. This means that service will be much easier, the modules can be changed one by one, in the field, instead of having to change a whole section.
Now that we are changing to a modular system, with a so called communication bus between them, the system design looks much more like functional boxes, interconnected, instead of lots of lots of signal cables going here and there. It actually gives a better overview and understanding.
— Who was your partner for this project?
We are proud to say that we always try to find Swedish suppliers and manufacturers, something that is not always possible of course. This time we were happy to be able to team up with Grepit, which is a consultancy firm in north of Sweden that develops embedded systems.— Read More → How to integrate new technology