University of Waterloo Kinesiology Simulates Spinal Disk Herniation With LabVIEW

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"NI LabVIEW system design software provided an ideal platform for the development of this DAQ and control system. The existing hardware was quickly incorporated into the new software, resulting in an application that was faster, easier to use, and expandable to accommodate upgrades as needed in the future."

- Patrick Allen, Enable Integration

The Challenge:
Upgrading the control software for a disk herniation simulation system from an older, Microsoft Visual Basic application, to a more modern, easy-to-use application with better graphing and data recording capabilities, and an additional axis of control incorporated into simulation routines.

The Solution:
Using NI LabVIEW software to redesign the graphical user interface and extend the capabilities of the original program, and incorporating hardware integration elements already developed and tested for years with the original software.

Patrick Allen - Enable Integration

Enable Integration, a division of National Instruments Silver Alliance Partner Enable Training & Consulting, focuses on software development, support, and training using NI LabVIEW system design software. Enable’s certified LabVIEW developers, architects, and professional instructors, integrate sound engineering approaches with 60 years of combined experience in National Instruments software and hardware to develop solutions for local and international customers in many industries, ranging from start-up support to fully customized software.

The University of Waterloo Kinesiology Department performs many different experiments regularly. These experiments often rely on PCs with custom software to acquire, analyze, and present data in a way that can be easily interpreted by the system’s users and by those that use the data generated.

The university staff and students originally created the spinal disk herniation simulator in-house. The system developed over time to fit a very specific set of needs for the department. 

Users place sections of spinal column samples into a machine and subject them to compression, rotation, and torsional forces during both repetitive motions and jarring actions. The motions and the external forces simulate the multiple forces and complex motions that living spinal columns experience under various circumstances. The system captures compression, rotation, and torsional force data, as well as positional data, and plots to live graphs during the test. The system also saves the data to disk for later interpretation.

The original software solution incorporated many disparate pieces of specialized hardware, which added a layer of complexity that made the system difficult to replace. When the PC running the original software was due for replacement, the existing project proved to be incompatible with the latest Windows OS. This was the catalyst for replacing the existing software with a more modern system.

Ben Zimmer, Enable Integration President, previously worked on projects with the department. The university contacted him about providing a software upgrade to its system.

One of the university professors developed the original software application several years ago using Microsoft Visual Basic. It incorporated a common two-axis motion control card and an NI multifunction PCI data acquisition (DAQ) board. The university developed specialized motion routines for this motion control board. A key selling point of the new LabVIEW software was the ability to reuse these routines.

Enable promised this code reuse with confidence as some of Enable’s software developers had previously used the same motion control cards with LabVIEW successfully. Additionally, LabVIEW was an ideal platform for the new control system in this case. The university was already using NI hardware to handle analog inputs from two load cells and a linear variable differential transformer. The same DAQ hardware also controlled two digital outputs for pneumatic cylinders.

Using NI-DAQmx software and LabVIEW, this same hardware provided much more flexibility than with the original program, without spending a lot of time developing the code.

Figure 1: Setup Screen

Previously, the department used the Galil motion card’s built-in amplifier to configure the rotational torque and position inputs, as well as the compression load, position, and pressure inputs. The new LabVIEW application kept this hardware configuration and achieved better performance than the original, which saved the client time and money.

The new application offered a number of benefits over the original software. The university upgraded to a new PC running the latest Windows OS and applications and incorporated the existing DAQ hardware into the new system. Furthermore, the new system incorporated hardware that previously required two separate control systems into a single application.

The new LabVIEW application user interface was more modern, intuitive, and user friendly than the original. The four different graphing options used multiple colors to provide the maximum visual feedback for system operators.

Figure 2: Live Screen

LabVIEW system design software provided an ideal platform for this DAQ and control system. We quickly incorporated existing hardware into the new software, and in the end, the customer had a faster application that was easier to use and could be expanded and upgraded to meet future demands. 

Enable Integration also provided a user manual and documented LabVIEW source code with the application, so the university could use the completed code as a learning resource and make changes to the software on its own.

Author Information:
Patrick Allen
Enable Integration

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