Case Studies

Hardware in the Loop (HWIL)

Hardware in the Loop (HWIL)

Customer: Fortune 100 Aerospace Company
Project: Missile Avionics Subsystem Testing
Challenges: Short Turnaround, Mission Critical

Introduction

If a rocket exhibits a design problem once it’s flying, you cannot recall it to the factory for repairs. When it comes to avionics hardware and software, especially for rockets and spacecraft, exhaustive testing must occur while everything is still on the ground.

The Challenges of HWIL

“Hardware In the Loop” (HWIL) provides the ultimate testing for flight avionics subsystems using a real-time simulation. The HWIL testing approach involves connecting exact hardware interfaces to every input/output connection of the avionics device under test (called the “Unit Under Test” or “UUT”). Each hardware interface is driven by a real-time simulation in order to present the UUT with high fidelity, real-world physics and interactions/responses. During the testing, the UUT actually “thinks” it’s flying in the vehicle while every interaction and special condition is exercised, logged, and observed.

When our customer needed an HWIL system “yesterday” to qualify a critical – and overdue – missile avionics chassis, they knew they had a significant problem: HWIL systems are notorious for being time-consuming to design and build, and they can also be technically difficult and expensive. One reason for this is that HWIL equipment needs to connect to every input/output interface of the UUT. The I/O interfaces often span a wide range of signal types (serial, analog, digital, high voltage/power, Mil-Std-1553, SpaceWire, etc.) and typically have high channel counts. In addition, the HWIL equipment needs to rapidly respond to interactions with the UUT to mimic the rest of the vehicle. Response time often needs to be less than 1 millisecond (guaranteed) and may also involve running a real-time vehicle/physics simulation to develop an appropriate response.

Coincidentally NetAcquire had provided several hundred HWIL systems of various types (for more than a decade) to another group at the same company just down the road. As the missile avionics team searched for solutions, one engineer told a colleague “you should give NetAcquire a call”.

Project Set-Up

With the short schedule, there was no time to waste. The customer provided a bulk download of vehicle and avionics interface specifications. The NetAcquire applications engineering team quickly analyzed the input/output needs and simulation requirements necessary for an HWIL test system. NetAcquire systems have an inherent benefit: they already support more than 50 different hardware-signaling interfaces as COTS ordering options. With mix-and-match provisioning of interfaces into a single chassis, the hardware design came together quickly. Of equal importance was the software. The customer already had a software simulation of the vehicle dynamics but, in order for this to work correctly, the NetAcquire system needed to guarantee real-time operation and low-latency responses to the UUT. Again, COTS product capabilities saved the day. NetAcquire systems were already designed from the ground-up with a deterministic real-time operating system and associated application software that provided fractional millisecond response time guarantees.

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) were a valuable asset to the success of this project. An FPGA is a logic device that can be reprogrammed by software in the field to “wire together” logic blocks to allow implementation of specialized interfaces such as custom serial protocols. NetAcquire has developed several high-density PCI Express FPGA boards that, in conjunction with downloadable firmware, can quickly implement vehicle-proprietary interfaces. In the case of this customer’s UUT, eight specialized serial interfaces were developed as downloadable FPGA firmware without incurring the cost or lead time of developing a custom hardware interface board.
To further expedite the integration and test schedule, the customer asked NetAcquire to design and integrate the HWIL equipment into two full-height 19” racks. These racks included a meticulous power distribution/grounding design, uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), GPS time synchronization, NetAcquire-developed signal conditioning/isolation circuitry, and multiple high power electrical loads.

Results

NetAcquire efforts and the resulting successful HWIL delivery made a dramatic difference in getting the customer’s critical flight hardware into production. This caught the attention of the division Vice President who personally presented NetAcquire with a special vendor commendation that included a thank you for “a superb job”. The DVP said the NetAcquire team and solution was “exactly what we look for in a partner”, and praised our “willingness to go the extra mile” and “dedication to first pass success”.

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Preston Hauck

President, Chief Technology Officer

Preston Hauck founded NetAcquire in 1993 with the goal of providing computer communications and processing systems that seamlessly operate with real-time performance over distributed networks.

During the early years of NetAcquire, Preston took a hands-on role in developing new products. He remains enthusiastically involved in helping customers solve complex real-world challenges.

As the company grew, Preston leveraged his information systems background to create tools that could automate business processes, increasing company efficiency, responsiveness, and scalability. In his current role, Preston oversees new product direction, manages company growth,works directly with clients and the engineering team on projects that call for his applications design expertise.

Prior to founding NetAcquire, Preston served as vice president of software engineering for Microstar Laboratories, a provider of PC-based test and measurement products. During his tenure, he helped the company grow tenfold in both revenue and employees. Preston developed an innovative real-time operating system from the ground-up, plus a data processing engine that powered all of Microstar's products for more than two decades.

Preston holds a bachelor's degree in computer science, graduating first in his class in 1984 from the University of British Columbia.  He was granted a U.S. patent for developing a novel approach to initialize one processor from another in a multi-processor system. He has published a number of papers on real-time computer systems and regularly teaches networked telemetry processing classes.

Preston was born in Canada. After many years living in Washington State, he proudly became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2003. He enjoys traveling, reading, photography, basketball, skiing, and movies with his wife Colleen and their two children.

John Bono

Engineering Vice President

John Bono, a Seattle area native, graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Washington.  John started his career with Boeing Aerospace Company, working in a variety of roles. He received personal recognition from Boeing’s CEO for his contributions to 767 avionics.  John designed hardware and firmware for a Mil-Std-1553 bus interface and was the hardware lead and system designer for a B-1B flight simulator’s computer generated imagery display.  After Boeing, John joined Advanced Technology Laboratories (ATL) as a signal processing engineer. He was promoted to the role of ultrasound system architect before becoming the software and systems lead for an image storage and network transport system. During John’s tenure at ATL, he received a Technical Fellow award, became a member of the Senior Technical Staff, and had a role in ATL’s achievement of ISO 9001 certification.  

When John joined the rapidly growing NetAcquire Corporation in 2001, his “big company” experience was leveraged to enhance configuration management and quality systems and processes. He soon became the Management Representative for the company’s AS 9100 certification efforts.  

Today, John is involved in the system, hardware, and firmware design of virtually every system NetAcquire ships.  While the majority of these systems are customer-specified configurations of NetAcquire COTS hardware and software modules, many other systems are rack-sized, challenging configurations involving complex interchanges of information in all forms.  The NetAcquire motto of “connect anything to anything” is John’s daily mission; he knows that, when applied to real-time systems, there will be a continuous stream of interesting problems to solve and challenges to conquer to best meet the needs of his customers and their mission critical projects around the world.

Steve Proudlock

Sales Vice President

For many NetAcquire customers, Steve is the initial face and voice of the company. While he has a desk at the company headquarters in Kirkland, Washington, quite often he’s in the air, flying to meet customers, discuss projects and set solutions into motion.

Steve joined NetAcquire in the summer of 2001. He sees his principal role as being the customer’s advocate. Steve thrives on opportunities to work on-site with NetAcquire customers to see first-hand the tasks and challenges they face.

In 2002, Steve joined the volunteer organizing committee for the International Telemetering Conference; he serves on the committee to this day. Steve also supports and participates in the meetings and industry standards efforts of several Range Commanders Council (RCC) committees.

Steve is an Army Veteran, having served in locations around the world in military law enforcement and personal protection roles. After graduating Pre Law from Central Washington University, he began a sales career in retail consumer electronics. The career choice was inspired by his favorite uncle, Ken Cartwright, a career tire salesman at Sears. Ken taught Steve the foundation principles of professional salesmanship: “Say what you are going to do, and then do it,” and “Get to know someone by showing sincere interest and earning their trust”.  

Steve’s Microsoft and Cisco certifications help him better understand the technical aspects of test range telemetry. While Steve is well versed in all aspects of NetAcquire technology today, he still learns something new on a daily basis from his colleagues.

Steve is a Seattle area native who enthusiastically gives his time and resources to a local charity dedicated to supporting foster children and their families.

Mark Roseberry

President

Mark Roseberry has been with NetAcquire since its inception. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science and Mathematics, graduating with honors from the University of British Columbia. Mark has almost 40 years of software development and business management expertise. He has been instrumental in  the Company's business development and growth while running the NetAcquire Canada engineering office in Vancouver since 2001 and has been involved in the design and implementation of many key NetAcquire software components.

Mark shares our founder Preston Hauck's hands-on philosophy and his user-centric approach makes him a frequent participant and advocate for strong technical solutions ranging from customer-driven requirements development to robust implementation to  top-notch technical support and responsiveness.