Engineers Earn 2010 Graphical System Design Achievement Awards

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Table of Contents

  1. Additional Resources

Humanitarian Award

Biorep Perifusion System Automates Cell Secretion Analysis

The Challenge: Improving throughput and repeatability in cell secretion analysis, which is routinely conducted with pancreatic islets in type 1 diabetes research.

The Solution: Creating an automated perifusion system to stimulate cell types with total environmental control and the ability to collect secretions using NI LabVIEW and CompactRIO.

Using LabVIEW and CompactRIO, we created the Biorep Perifusion System quickly and cost-effectively.

Biorep Technologies designs the equipment necessary to isolate specific cells in the pancreas (islets of Langerhans cells). This complicated process features more than 20 different devices, five of which require significant automation. These machines have been automated using different platforms and programming languages. As our company expanded, this became problematic because having multiple learning curves, lengthy documentation, and different communication protocols between platforms became inefficient.

After considering the impressive evolution of NI products, we started using LabVIEW for all of our automation, which created a single platform for most of the applications with only one learning curve and a simplified supply chain. Sophisticated debugging tools and remote troubleshooting features have saved more than $10,000 USD in time and travel costs.

In only three months, our lead software engineer used LabVIEW and CompactRIO to create a complex automated instrument that consists of multiaxis motion control (stepper motors), accurate incubator chamber temperature control, and complex fluid handling (electronic valve array control). We developed the software architecture using the LabVIEW Real-Time and LabVIEW FPGA modules. We also used the LabVIEW NI SoftMotion Module to simulate our system with actual motion profiles, which we used to visualize and optimize the design and evaluate different design concepts before incurring the cost of physical prototypes. With LabVIEW and CompactRIO, we reduced our development time from 12 to three months and avoided having to develop custom control software and drivers.

We initially developed the Biorep Perifusion System as a tool to test the in-vitro competence of pancreatic islets. Since then, its usefulness has grown to include measuring secretions of differentiated cells derived from pancreatic progenitor stem cells, and it has become an integral part of the drug discovery process in the pharmaceutical industry.

– Felipe Echeverri, Biorep Technologies Inc.

 Editor’s Choice Award

Monitoring Atmospheric Ozone on the Global Hawk UAV With CompactRIO

The Challenge: Developing an ozone instrument that communicates to the ground, stores data onboard, and synchronizes NTP time while operating in the NASA Global Hawk Unmanned Aeronautical Vehicle (UAV).

The Solution: Using CompactRIO to provide the command, control, and communication for our Unmanned Aerial System Ozone (UAS O3) instrument payload.

The ozone instrument based on CompactRIO has successfully flown on the NASA Global Hawk UAV, pictured at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, works to predict atmospheric behavior by understanding the processes that govern the chemical reactions of the earth’s atmosphere and long-term climate changes.

The ozone instrument previously used was 22 years old and weighed 57 lb. We needed to update to a lighter and more Internet-capable instrument.

Our new UAS O3 instrument is a dual-beam ultraviolet (UV) absorption photometer. One beam measures the ozone in air sampled from the atmosphere and the other beam passes through the same air that has had the ozone removed by a scrubber. The instrument weighs only 37 lb, runs on 28 VDC power, and has a variable sample frequency of 0.5 to 10 Hz.

The CompactRIO controller provides the processing speeds, low power consumption, ruggedness, and size necessary to successfully collect and communicate unpressurized atmospheric data at altitudes of 64,000 ft aboard unmanned aeronautical platforms like the NASA Global Hawk.

– Laurel Watts, NOAA 

Green Engineering Award

Controlling an Echogen Power Systems Waste Heat Engine

The Challenge: Creating a real-time application for controlling and monitoring an Echogen Power Systems waste heat engine and a Windows OS application for remote and local monitoring of the overall system.

The Solution: Developing a LabVIEW application to control the waste heat engine using the CompactRIO platform to provide deterministic system control with multiple PID control loops.

The Echogen Power Systems waste heat engine can recover thermal energy from a variety of sources and is targeted to recover industrial waste heat. We helped develop the controller and unit health monitoring system for the nominally rated 250 kW net power heat engine.

We selected the CompactRIO real-time controller based on the need for tight I/O synchronization. The heat engine is primarily designed for testing; system requirements include acquiring data from more than 75 sensors and controlling more than 40 devices through Modbus, analog, and digital signals. Additionally, we used multiple PIDs to control the system based on various readings including system pressure, fluid heat, and turbine load.

We architected the system to run remotely, but we designed an HMI for local control and monitoring. Also, we implemented network-published shared variables for processing data communication and message-based communication across the Ethernet connection between the controller and the Windows PCs running the custom LabVIEW applications.

Also, the LabVIEW Real-Time application running on the CompactRIO controller consists of multiple core processes. Using the NI Distributed System Manager during development gave us a central location for monitoring systems on the network, managing published data, and accessing network-published shared variables and I/O variables without needing a custom LabVIEW application. Also, we can write to network-published variables to remotely tune and adjust process settings without the explicit need for a dedicated user interface. Using the NI toolkits and modules, we quickly adapted the system to our customer’s evolving requirements.

– Darryn La Zar, Wineman Technology Inc.

1. Additional Resources

Read the overall winner’s paper, featured in the Q3 2010 issue of Instrumentation Newsletter.

Learn more about the 2010 winners and submit your application paper to the 2011 contest.


This article first appeared in the Q4 2010 Issue of Instrumentation Newsletter.

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