Save Time and Resources With the NI Single-Board RIO General-Purpose Inverter Controller (GPIC)

Publish Date: Aug 25, 2016 | 8 Ratings | 4.38 out of 5 | Print

Table of Contents

  1. Overview
  2. GPIC Application Areas
  3. Key Benefits
  4. Summary
  5. Next Steps

1. Overview

Continuous growth in the efficiency of electric power switching devices (namely, insulated-gate bipolar transistors and metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistors), combined with accelerated performance and price improvements in transistor technology, has ensured a rapid increase in energy-efficient power conversion systems for traditional and renewable energy sources. This increase in efficiency requirements has forced power-system designers to use power electronic devices and sophisticated control-system concepts that tax traditional design and analysis tools and techniques.

Watch an introductory webcast on GPIC

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2. GPIC Application Areas

National Instruments R&D has made significant investments to provide a new system-level design methodology and platform for FPGA-based power electronics control to improve the design, prototyping, and deployment of commercial digital energy products for a variety of applications.

Figure 1. Application Space for the NI Single-Board RIO GPIC


  • Grid-tied solar inverters (unidirectional DC>AC inverter)
  • Wind turbine power converters (unidirectional AC>DC>AC converter)
  • Unity scale energy storage systems (bidirectional AC>DC>AC converter)
  • Medium voltage motor drives and pumps (unidirectional or bidirectional AC>DC>AC converter)
  • Electric and hybrid electric vehicles, automobiles, trains, agricultural equipment (bidirectional DC>AC inverter

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3. Key Benefits

High-level software tools (NI LabVIEW, the LabVIEW FPGA and LabVIEW Real-Time modules, and NI Multisim software), combined with an embedded controller and a user-programmable FPGA, offer the rapid development and testing of control algorithms for grid-tied inverters; switched-mode power supplies (SMPS); uninterruptible power supplies (UPS); DC-DC converters; and motor/generator control applications. Tight integration between the software environment and hardware components provides a cost-effective, lower-risk path to high-volume commercial deployment for next-generation, FPGA-based digital energy conversion systems. The NI Single-Board RIO general-purpose inverter controller (GPIC) provides a direct path to achieve the following business goals:


According to Moore’s law, transistor density doubles every two years while increasing functionality and performance. In fact, transistor performance per dollar is doubling every 14 months. At the same time, designing a full-custom controller board for an embedded system takes, on average, 12 to 13 months (based on a 2012 embedded market study). In addition, developing an I/O interface for a custom FPGA board takes about 70 percent of development resources.

With the NI Single-Board RIO GPIC, you can reduce your engineering cost and risk by taking advantage of an off-the-shelf board with all necessary I/O for power electronics control and the latest FPGA and real-time-processor technology. National Instruments has strategic partnerships with leading technology entities such as Xilinx, Freescale, and Intel to include the latest chipsets and technologies in the NI Single-Board RIO GPIC.

You can significantly reduce the cost of custom hardware design and increase your product reliability by taking advantage of NI’s high-volume production capabilities and years of manufacturing experience. With flexible, volume-based pricing, NI can meet your controller-board price point so that you can meet your profit margin requirements.

NI Single-Board RIO GPIC hardware is tightly integrated with LabVIEW graphical system design tools for the rapid development and validation of power electronics control algorithms. Using the LabVIEW graphical system design toolchain, you can reduce the time and risk associated with a complete embedded design by improving design efficiency. LabVIEW provides a unified graphical system design environment for all product development stages— from design to prototype to deployment.

Product Differentiation

The NI Single-Board RIO GPIC integrates a real-time processor, a user-configurable FPGA, a full set of I/O for power electronics control, and communication I/O in a small size, giving you the freedom to design a multifunctional embedded power electronics control system. The NI Single-Board RIO GPIC is suitable for applications such as those that require the following:

Table 1. Potential Design Requirements for an NI Single-Board RIO GPIC Embedded Controller

FPGA technology is a key differentiator in the power electronics control market, which is currently dominated by ASIC and DSP-based designs. FPGAs are a cost-effective alternative to DSPs and offer several benefits such as field reconfigurability and higher performance at a lower cost per channel.


At the highest level, FPGAs are reprogrammable silicon boards containing a matrix of reconfigurable gate-array logic circuitry. Unlike DSPs, FPGAs are not constrained by a specific set of instructions or hardwired processing units. Using prebuilt logic blocks and programmable routing resources, you can configure these boards for your specific power electronics control application. In the past, implementing a DSP application (such as a PWM inverter control algorithm) on an FPGA typically took much more effort than implementing the same application on a DSP. It required familiarity with hardware description languages (HDLs) for programming the FPGA board. In addition, it required designing a custom I/O board to interface with the FPGA.

The NI Single-Board RIO GPIC addresses those challenges by providing an off-the-shelf board with all of the I/O you need for power electronics control, which you can program using the LabVIEW FPGA graphical environment. With LabVIEW FPGA graphical programming, you can define the logic in an FPGA board without knowledge of low-level HDLs (such as VHSIC HDL (VHDL) or Verilog) or board-level hardware design.

Figure 3. Using LabVIEW FPGA to Design an FPGA Board

With LabVIEW FPGA, you can integrate existing VHDL code, third-party IP, or IP cores from the Power Electronics IP Library into your LabVIEW FPGA application, so you can focus on application-specific features and code segments and use prebuilt cores for common tasks such as PWM, proportional integral derivative control, and Clarke and Park transforms. For example, the Figure 4 shows the performance improvement of an application-optimized FPGA-based PWM control versus a standard PWM block found in DSP boards:

Figure 4. An optimized PWM in an FPGA can reduce the total harmonic distortion by nearly 50 percent at a high modulation index, compared to the standard PWM in DSP blocks.

The ability to import code and reconfigure the functionality of the FPGA is especially beneficial for smart grid applications from the perspective of long-term support, maintenance, and interoperability with evolving standards and communication protocols. The reconfigurable nature of the FPGA means you can achieve high performance, reduce application development time, and reuse code.

FPGAs have a highly parallel architecture, so they exceed DSP computing power. In fact, modern FPGAs contain dedicated DSP slices that are best-suited for typical DSP applications. Spartan-6 LX45 FPGAs have 58 dedicated, full-custom, low-power DSP slices to combine high speed with small size while retaining system design flexibility.

Figure 5. Spartan-6 Versus a Generic DSP

When you compile your power electronics control application (custom high-frequency digital PWMs) for an FPGA device, the result is a highly optimized silicon implementation that provides true parallel processing with the performance and reliability benefits of dedicated hardware circuitry. Because there is no OS on the FPGA board, the code is implemented in a way that ensures maximum performance and reliability.

Completely parallel execution of control, integrated DSP cores, and protection interlocks eliminate competition for shared resources and simplify scalability of the application as it grows.

Cost and Time Savings

The highly parallel nature of FPGA data processing results in an order-of-magnitude increase in performance per dollar, compared to single-core DSPs. FPGAs also offer an increased performance per watt versus DSPs. FPGAs generally have a higher board-level power dissipation (DSPs typically consume 3 W to 4 W, and FPGAs consume 7 W to 10 W); however, FPGAs can handle 40X the channel density of DSPs, resulting in a much higher performance per watt.

Figure 6. The recent incorporation of minihardcore DSPs into the FPGA fabric has dramatically increased the performance of FPGAs, compared to single-core DSPs, as measured in multiply-accumulate (MAC) operations per second.

With the NI Single-Board RIO GPIC commercial off-the-shelf controller board, you can take advantage of FPGA performance and reliability with relatively low nonrecurring engineering, compared to custom hardware design.

In addition, you can increase your product differentiation by taking advantage of the data analysis and communication capabilities of an onboard 400 MHz PowerPC processor running a real-time OS and LabVIEW Real-Time. LabVIEW contains built-in data transfer mechanisms to pass data from the I/O to the FPGA, and from the FPGA to the embedded processor, via a high-speed PCI bus for real-time analysis, postprocessing, data logging, and communication to a networked host computer.

With an extensive library of prebuilt LabVIEW IP functions, you can create a smart power electronics controller for smart-grid protocol communication, event recording and alarming, web monitoring, and electrical power analysis

Development Efficiency

The LabVIEW graphical system design toolchain significantly reduces your development time and optimizes the size of your engineering design team. Table 2 shows that the development time of a typical embedded system is reduced by half when using the LabVIEW graphical system design toolchain versus traditional tools. Additionally, a team of five engineers (versus 12 with the traditional design approach) produced a complete embedded design.

Table 2. Effectiveness and Efficiencies of LabVIEW Versus General Market Based on a 2012 Embedded Market Study

LabVIEW graphical system design tools are the main reason for these dramatic improvements in design efficiency. These tools simplify the design process at all stages of development—from design to prototype to deployment—by abstracting the complexity of low-level development at different design stages.

The graphical system design approach begins with co-simulation, where you develop LabVIEW FPGA code within a high-fidelity simulation environment that captures the interaction between the digital control system and analog power electronics. LabVIEW FPGA and the NI Multisim power electronics circuit simulator automatically adjust the simulation timestep to capture the fast transient behavior of the analog circuitry and its interaction with the FPGA-based control system. For example, if the current in an inductor is ringing, the simulation automatically slows down to capture the effect on the digital control system.

You can abstract the complexity of HDL programming and generate an FPGA implementation from a high-level graphical environment, and easily integrate it into your simulation environment.


Figure 7. Analog I/O Implementation in LabVIEW FPGA Versus VHDL

One of the main benefits of graphical FPGA logic representation versus low-level representation, which is common for traditional model-based design, is that LabVIEW FPGA code can be developed within the simulation environment and moved to a physical FPGA target with little effort for a completely bidirectional development path. Changes made to the software at any stage—from prototype to postproduction—automatically update anywhere that code is referenced in the toolchain.

Figure 8. Model-Based Design Versus Graphical System Design

The goal is to write the embedded systems code on day one and continually improve it throughout development. You can design the power electronics circuitry in parallel with the FPGA software and the automated test code to help you evaluate the nonlinear design trade-offs between energy efficiency, cost, and component lifetime. This creates the opportunity to optimize for multiple design goals simultaneously, even given difficult trade-offs.

Because NI Single-Board RIO GPIC hardware is fully integrated into the graphical system design flow, you can focus your development resources on designing highly differentiated power converter control algorithms and minimize the time and resources spent on I/O interface design.

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4. Summary

NI Single-Board RIO GPIC and LabVIEW graphical system design tools offer the rapid development, testing, and deployment of advanced FPGA-based power electronics control applications. Integrating high-performance, prevalidated, and cost-effective hardware with industry-standard LabVIEW graphical system design tools into your power electronics controller design flow means you can stay on a Moore’s curve, increase profitability, reduce design cost, and accelerate the time to market of your power electronics control application.

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5. Next Steps

See product details of the NI Single-Board RIO GPIC Evaluation Kit 

Learn more about NI R&D investment of next-generation FPGA-based digital SMPS

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