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Testing top column modules

In this article, ITgroup introduced its end-of-line system CastleIT for testing top column modules (TCM) and takes a general look on today’s quality standards in automotive. CAN and CAN FD also play a role.

CastleIT: Array with single castle unit and its supply unit (Source: ITgroup)

Quality standards in automotive have risen continuously in recent years. In order to meet such quality targets, it is crucial for suppliers and manufacturers, to schedule manufacturing processes in detail, and to maintain suitable quality tests. Quite often, quality can only be assured by automated tests - independent from manual labor.

Quality assurance of safety-relevant control elements in vehicles, such as top column modules, requires specific testing technologies. Testing of these modules relates to testing of a functional unit, mounted behind the steering wheel. Functions include e.g. turn signal and wiper switches, cruise control, high beam / low beam, or steering column adjustment. On top, further safety-relevant features can be related to multifunction steering wheels, such as airbags, horn, steering wheel heating, ignition lock/steering column lock, or immobilizer.

The end-of-line test system developed by ITgroup represents a solution for testing TCMs. Such fully automated systems are able to test all relevant functions of this module, explained the company. Customer’s benefit: Pro-active avoidance of potential recourse claims and product recalls.

What exactly guarantees such a process reliability? The company explained, that it’s the combination of the various functional tests in one single test system: Simulation of manual switch actuation by lightweight robot including real time recording of switch signals and simultaneous 3D-force-position-measurement or 6D-force/torque-position-measurement, whilst position can be determined from 6D robot-coordinates. Correct haptic feeling can be evaluated from recorded force-position-contact diagrams, in particular from recorded detent- and end-positions.

Testing of top column modules: Robot operates CAN-coded switch – testing of switch signals and force-position-measurement (Source: ITgroup)

Complete electrical adaptation of the supply lines and communication signals of the module takes place via automated contacting. The system software also manages the entire network communication regarding the test subject (CAN, CAN FD, LIN, Flexray and other signals, both analog and digital), as well as the evaluation of resulting data, taking cybersecurity and authentification Autosar 4.0 Zenzefi into account. Extensive use of Capl programming of the vector components also enables a system structure with a uniform interface to a higher-level test bench, which enables multiple serial bus systems such as CAN, CAN FD, LIN, or Flexray to be combined with multiple channels.

The production-accompanying service „life-cycle testing system for top column modules“ represents a similar application. As the name suggests, life-cycle of different top column modules can be tested there, supported by CAN FD, Flexray, Capl-programming, and authentification AutoSar 4.0 Zenzefi. But what exactly is the result of that, how can product quality be improved and which advantages can be found for the customer?

The company explained

Extreme climatic conditions are simulated with the help of climate chambers to test the function of a TCM. In addition to product qualification and life-cycle testing, these systems are also used to accompany series production in order to be able to identify batch-dependent errors at an early stage. A continuously repeated actuation of all lever functions, and the steering wheel rotation function of the module is carried out, if necessary, even with several test objects at the same time. Constant control of the test objects and the safeguarding or monitoring enables durability errors due to component or manufacturing tolerances to be recognized and by that the manufacturing process to be improved.

Test item high-voltage heater (HVH): Device with CAN cable connector (Source: ITgroup)

In addition to the components already mentioned and customer-specific Capl programming, network communication behind it, ITronic also uses its own systems, such as CastleIT system, which is a so-called intelligent bus node. This module works, among other functions, as a translator or bridge, for switching the DUT supply, measuring supply voltage and current consumption, autonomous monitoring of current messages in compliance with tolerance limits, as well as for the evaluation of various message protocols, remaining bus simulations and Diag messages.

Communication between test items and the company’s product, can take place via different communication types and interfaces. CastleIT provides two CAN interfaces, which can be configured differently (CAN_H, CAN_L, single-wire CAN). LIN, K-Line, and EIA232 are also integrated. Up to 20 CastleIT can be controlled from a single PC via a Backbone CAN with 1 Mbit/s.

Communication between CastleIT and test items is defined in configuration files (communication matrix) on the PC and transferred to the product by CAN via download. In addition to the message catalog, functions such as remaining bus simulation, event-triggered communication sequences, and signal status monitoring are available. Additional special functions, message counters, checksum-tests, or similar features can be integrated at the customer's request. Control, evaluation, and visualization can be done via the company’s MP-WIN lifetime software, optionally libraries for integration into other systems can be offered.


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