Software Platform for Universal Testing Machines Based on Single-Board RIO

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"The small form factor and powerful FPGA of the Single-Board RIO allows development of a cost effective and advanced software platform for the automation of UTMs."

- Arev Hambardzumyan, RAFA Solutions LLC

The Challenge:
Developing a universal software platform to fully automate universal testing machines (UTMs) and control test procedures including generation of test profiles with microsecond resolution and control of different actuators using proportional integral derivative (PID) loops.

The Solution:
Combining the benefits of Single-Board RIO hardware and an FPGA to create a universal system for data acquisition, control, data processing, and data logging to automate material testing processes.

Arev Hambardzumyan - RAFA Solutions LLC
Rafayel Ghasabyan - RAFA Solutions


























































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































About RAFA Solutions

RAFA Solutions, established in 2012, is a systems integrator that provides robust and flexible advanced solutions for machinery control and automation. The company, an NI Silver Alliance Partner, develops and manufactures daughterboards for Single-Board RIO, FlexRIO, and CompactRIO products. RAFA Solutions also provides market-ready products and services for the development of custom modules and solutions.

Our team offers expertise in embedded design and development in many industries including material science, oil and gas, food, and mining.

Problem Background and Solution

UTMs, also known as material testing machines, are most commonly used for static and dynamic testing in a tensile or compression mode. They can also be used for tension, compression, shear, flexure, peel, tear, cyclic, and bend tests. UTMs differ in size, capacity, number of axes, and more. Each type of machine requires different software applications to support corresponding sensors and actuators. The need for several software configurations increases development cost and duration.

We have developed a universal software platform for testing machines. The software application can be easily reconfigured to support different testing machine configurations. The system can support electromechanical and hydraulic motors and control temperature chamber boxes working with serial protocols. It can also perform data acquisition from analog sensors, digital encoders, video, and digital extensometers. We equipped the UTM with a list of digital I/O intended for different purposes, such as control of grips, alarms, buzzers, and more.

We chose the Single-Board RIO for the system’s hardware. The system needed to include a powerful FPGA and processor to implement accurate data acquisition, waveform generation, and PID control for testing machines with at least two axes.

We built the automation system using the sbRIO-9606 device featuring a 400MHz processor, 256 MB DRAM, a Xilinx Spartan-6 FPGA, and 96 digital I/O lines, all of which we used in the system. We used the sbRIO-9606 with a daughterboard, which implemented signal conditioning for the sensors, level shifting for actuators’ signals, control of analog actuators, and more. We used Single-Board RIO to develop a highly reliable automation system that could work for long periods of time. We intended to run tests continuously for durations as long as a month, so this was one of our main requirements.

One reason we chose NI hardware was the ability to build the software application using the LabVIEW graphical programming environment, which helps to create easily configurable applications in a short time. We developed the application using LabVIEW software, the LabVIEW Real-Time Module, and the LabVIEW FPGA Module.

We used the LabVIEW FPGA Module to implement PID control of the actuators for two independent axes of the machine with 32-bit accuracy. As actuators digitally controlled servo motors, and analog control hydraulic motors were used. We could generate 11 types of waveforms on a point-by-point basis: sine wave, square wave, sweep sine, tapered sine, monotonic ramp/haversine (up/down), duotonic ramp/haversine, and constant. We implemented waveform generation independently for two axes. The FPGA part of the software was responsible for data acquisition from the four analog sensors (Analog to Digital Converters were implemented on the daughterboard), four digital encoders, extensometer, grip, and digital I/O control. We implemented 32-bit reconfigurable low-pass filters on the FPGA for data processing from analog sensors. It also worked with EEPROMs, which we used to keep some sensor data.

We used the real-time part of the software application for data conversion and logging, control of the actuators working with Ethernet or serial protocols (RS232), real-time measurement performance,  transfer of configuration data to FPGA, and transfer of data from sensors to the host application for real-time representation. As data should be logged for considerably long periods of time, we used an external hard drive to store data.

We also equipped the system with a tablet and developed special software that works directly with the sbRIO-9606 device. We connected the tablet to the system through a WiFi network. The real-time part of the software also handled data communication with the tablet, which represented test data and control in real time.

The host part of the software application had over 30 screens, which we divided into three main parts according to the user’s privileges. The software featured supervisory control and supported three types of users: OEM, admin, and operator. The platform could support any kind of sensor (load cell, strain gage, encoder, extensometer, and more) as we implemented data conversion using calibration data. The software allowed the creation of custom parameters, units, and measurements.

One of the main software screens is the Test Profile Edition screen, which can quickly create test profiles and configure data acquisition methods, test termination conditions, and pre- and post-condition of the test, and more. The main screen of the application is the Test Control and Real-Time Viewing screen, which represents real-time sensor data on graphs and as numbers. Users can also see custom measurement results, as all measurements were performed on the Single-Board RIO processor during the test.

Two other two major screens of the software are the Offline Analysis and Report Creation screens. We intended for these screens to perform analysis and create Excel reports for logged data. We included the most popular measurements, such as signal filtering, spectral analysis, phase delay, amplification, energy, and more, on the list of analysis. We also used the software to create custom formulas to calculate in real time, as well as offline, using logged data.

We tested the system on-site using the customer’s testing machines with different configurations.

Solution Benefits

The main benefits of our solution are the small form factor of the hardware and the easily configurable and user-friendly universal software application. We achieved the goals we set for the solution using NI off-the-shelf technologies while reducing development cost and duration. We created a software application that users can reconfigure to support any kind of sensors and actuators.

The powerful FPGA of the Single-Board RIO can implement data processing, waveform generation, and PID control of the actuators on the FPGA with the highest possible accuracy and speed, thus increasing machine efficiency.


We used NI technologies to provide the customer with a software platform that satisfies requirements and can be used for automation of different material testing machines. We successfully installed the universal software application on machines with various configurations and significantly increased test flexibility and productivity.

Author Information:
Arev Hambardzumyan
RAFA Solutions LLC
Hovsep Emin 123
Yerevan 0051
Tel: (+374)10219769

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