Developing an Embedded Fire Suppression System Using LabVIEW and NI Single-Board RIO for FedEx Express

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"We were able to rapidly prototype our system for FedEx with LabVIEW and CompactRIO and create a final deployed solution with NI Single-Board RIO – all in under a year."

- Jeremy Snow, Ventura Aerospace

The Challenge:
Prototyping and deploying a cost-effective and reliable control solution for a fire suppression system for the main deck of FedEx Express freighter aircraft while meeting a very aggressive deployment schedule.

The Solution:
Developing an intelligent fire monitoring and suppression control system for FedEx Express using NI LabVIEW software and NI Single-Board RIO hardware to prevent catastrophic fires within freight aircraft and keep pilots, packages, and planes safe from fires that may start in the shipping containers.

Jeremy Snow - Ventura Aerospace
Troy Ingram - Ventura Aerospace

NI Single-Board RIO devices act as the primary control system in the fire suppression application we at NI Silver Alliance Partner Ventura Aerospace created for FedEx Express. Within each plane, we have two devices that use NI Single-Board RIO: the Fire Control Unit and the Fire Control Hub.

Fire Suppression System Architecture

The Fire Control Hub is the center of the system. It contains an NI Single-Board RIO device, a power supply, a signal conditioning daughterboard that we built, and an Ethernet switch. The Fire Control Hub is responsible for checking safety interlocks, power distribution, and communication.

The Fire Control Unit contains an NI Single-Board RIO device and our own daughterboard. It reads temperatures from 16 infrared sensors, processes the data, and records it. Inside a cargo airplane sits an array of cargo containers. For example, in an MD-11 airplane, there are 14 rows of containers and each row of containers has its own Fire Control Unit. Thus, with the Fire Control Hub and the 14 Fire Control Units, we use a total of 15 NI Single-Board RIO devices for the MD-11.

The Fire Control Unit and Fire Control Hub devices are designed to be aircraft- and location-independent. We have built them from the ground up to function in any type of aircraft. With LabVIEW, we have programmed intelligence into both the Fire Control Unit and the Fire Control Hub to be able to self-identify aircraft type and position based on the installation. This allows for greater interchangeability and the ability to work on any plane.

The system runs with full autonomy and requires zero operator input; each unit continuously monitors its own health. In addition, the system is fault-tolerant – it continues to function to the best of its ability if a fire or fault should occur. The system also sends a notification and the location of the fault after every flight. All of this is possible because of the reliability of the real-time processor, field-programmable gate array (FPGA), and I/O featured on NI reconfigurable I/O (RIO) hardware products along with the flexibility of LabVIEW. Our system monitors the temperature and controls the suppression system that deploys foam into a container if a fire is detected.

Rapid Prototyping with CompactRIO and LabVIEW

Getting a reliable solution to market quickly was really important to us. Using the RIO deployment curve, we were able to rapidly prototype our system for FedEx with LabVIEW and CompactRIO and create a final deployed solution with NI Single-Board RIO – all in under a year. Because of the flexibility of the embedded CompactRIO system, we were able to quickly develop a working prototype of our suppression system using LabVIEW graphical tools along with CompactRIO and NI C Series analog and digital modules. While this was our first experience with CompactRIO and the LabVIEW FPGA Module, due to the quick learning curve of LabVIEW FPGA, we were able to complete a working prototype in three months.

Fast Deployment with NI Single-Board RIO

Because of the small size and low cost of NI Single-Board RIO, we decided to deploy with an NI sbRIO-9612 device for the final solution. The sbRIO-9612 contains an onboard real-time processor, reconfigurable FPGA, and analog and digital I/O. We implemented our control algorithms, along with the networking and data logging of the application, on the real-time processor. The sbRIO-9612 onboard analog inputs are connected to the infrared sensors via some custom signal conditioning.

The transition from prototyping to deployment was seamless due to the common hardware architecture shared between CompactRIO and NI Single-Board RIO. Creating our final deployed solution was simple because we were able to reuse our LabVIEW prototyping code without any major coding changes. The fact that NI provides hardware and software to quickly prototype and deploy embedded systems was crucial for us. We are quite sure we would not have hit our aggressive deadlines without NI tools.

The Advantage of a Solution from National Instruments

In addition to the technical advantages of using NI hardware and software, we received invaluable sales and technical support – including direct engineering support from Austin, Texas, as well as local technical support from sales and engineering – from NI during our development process. This support and the partnership from NI have exceeded our expectations.

Author Information:
Jeremy Snow
Ventura Aerospace

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