Developing an Educational Platform for Research of Industrial Protocols Based on NI PXI

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"The modular architecture of the NI PXI platform and LabVIEW graphical programming environment allows development of a cost effective and advanced educational platform for research of industrial protocols and interfaces."

- Rafayel Ghasabyan, RAFA Solutions LLC

The Challenge:
Developing an educational platform for researching industrial protocols and interfaces with exercises and demonstrations of data transmission mechanisms to facilitate the learning process.

The Solution:
Combining the benefits of the NI PXI platform, NI device simulators, and LabVIEW to create an educational platform with support of the nine most popular industrial protocols and interfaces.

Author(s):
Rafayel Ghasabyan - Find this author in the NI Developer Community
Arev Hambardzumyan - RAFA Solutions LLC

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

Learning process is not always easy and interesting, especially when it concerns researching industrial communication protocols. Most of the industrial protocols and interfaces are very complicated, and students need to research communication on real hardware to better understand the working principles.

We developed a software and hardware platform to help students learn the basics of industrial protocols and interfaces. It features useful exercises and demonstrations to help them understand the structures and operation principles of protocols. The platform includes the nine most popular industrial protocols, which are Controller Area Network (CAN), General Purpose Interface Bus (GPIB), Inter-Integrated Circuit (I2C), Modbus, RS232, RS485/422, Serial Peripheral Interface Bus (SPI), Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), and User Datagram Protocol (UDP).

We chose NI PXI products for the platform’s hardware. The platform needed to include separate modules for each of the protocols and interfaces, as well as simulators to implement data transmission. We built the educational platform using the PXI-1042Q chassis and PXI-8108 controller, together with the PXI-8430/2 module for RS232 protocol, the PXI-8431/2 module for RS485/422 and Modbus protocols, the PXI-8231 module for TCP/IP and UDP protocols, the PXI-8513/2 module and CAN Device Simulator for CAN protocol, the NI Instrument Simulator for GPIB protocol, the PXI-7952R with NI 6581 FlexRIO adapter module, and the USB-8451 for I2C protocol and SPI interface.

We chose NI hardware so we could build the software application using the LabVIEW graphical programming environment, which helps to create easily configurable applications in a short time.

The educational platform is intended to facilitate learning the basics of industrial protocols and interfaces. We combined software with interesting and useful exercises and demonstrations, which delivers a unique opportunity to deeply understand the structure and operation principles of protocols. With this platform anyone can understand protocols and interfaces, their purpose, how they work, transmission and reception methods, error checking methods and mechanisms (CRC or parity check), and more.

We designed 1–3 exercises for each of the protocols that test the student’s knowledge and help them  get the full idea of protocols, their differences, and common points. We provided a demonstration for each protocol to help visualize working protocol mechanisms (data transmission and reception). The software can also make reports for finished exercises. This option can be helpful for trainers as well as for students to have information about a student’s progress.

The software also includes a user manual with full descriptions of all protocols and instructions for exercises in order to perform them correctly. This document gives an opportunity to fully understand the basics (data structures, transmission and reception modes, and more) of protocols. This software also has an option to open the user manual while working with protocols. This makes it even more convenient for students to refresh their knowledge of protocols while doing exercises. The software features a multilingual interface with options for either English or Russian.

After successfully delivering the platform, we have developed a second version that offers support of additional protocols for the aviation industry: ARINC-429, AFDX, and MIL-STD-1553. The second version of the platform for avionics protocols requires three additional PXI modules: PXI429-3U-4, AIT AFDX (ARINC 664p7) module, and 2-channel 1553 PXI interface module from AIT.

Solution Benefits

The main benefits of our solution include the existence of separate modules and simulators for each of the protocols, visualization of data transmission mechanisms, useful exercises, and report creation to help trainers follow students’ progress. We achieved our goals using NI off-the-shelf technologies and reduced development cost and duration while integrating the support of nine protocols and interfaces. We created a platform that students can use to develop their knowledge in industrial protocols, as well as create their own applications using NI hardware and LabVIEW.

Conclusion

We used NI technologies to provide the students with a software and hardware platform that satisfies requirements and can be used to facilitate learning processes for easier research of protocols, and  make it more interesting. We successfully installed the platform in several universities in Russia, including Moscow Power Engineering Institute. We successfully installed the avionics version of the platform in the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aviation Technical College.

Figure 1. Main Screen of the Software Application

Figure 2. CAN Protocol Exercise Screen

Figure 3. I2C Protocol Demonstration Screen

Figure 4. Laboratory View

Author Information:
Rafayel Ghasabyan
Find this author in the NI Developer Community

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