Designing an Automated Fuel Cell Validation Test Stand

Designing an Automated Fuel Cell Validation Test Stand

Verifying a New Fuel Cell Design Through Automated Operation

Client: A major automotive manufacturer

Problem Scope

Micro Instrument, an automation vendor that builds test and validation stands, has extensive experience with programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and stand-alone controllers for controlling repetitive motion, safeties, and other “environmental” parameters such as pressure and temperature. The company typically uses PLCs to reliably deliver discrete I/O control and standard PID loop control.

However, Micro Instrument’s customer, a major automotive company, was interested in investigating fuel cells as a power source and they needed to run these fuel cells under a wide range of conditions for extended durations, for both design validation testing and durability testing purposes. Furthermore, the client wanted to implement more advanced control algorithms than simple PID.

Challenge

The customer knew they needed control loops that predicted system response so we could eliminate overshoot and/or achieve a faster approach to a setpoint. But, because the customer did not know in advance exactly what such “smart” controls would entail, it was beneficial to have the full power of LabVIEW to develop such controls. Providing this functionality with a PLC would be cumbersome, if not impossible.

The customer had some Compact FieldPoint which they wanted to use for this project, so we needed to ensure that this equipment would be sufficient to deliver the required control performance and tolerances. Also, the system needed to conduct PID control in two forms – PWM and continuous control. Importantly, this Fieldpoint hardware had a real-time controller running LabVIEW Real-Time.

Solution

We developed a flexible control environment using NI Compact FieldPoint and LabVIEW Real-Time to meet the customer’s system control demands. For example, to predict system response, we programmed the Compact FieldPoint to run control loops that were aware of imminent system-state changes and changed their control schemes accordingly.

As with most validation test systems, we needed to monitor conditions for safety. New product designs are often operated near the edges of safe operation in order for the designer to understand how the product performs in extreme conditions. For this fuel cell application, destructive over-heating and over-pressure could occur. Both digital and analog signals were watched in real-time to assure operation within reasonable bounds and allow a safe shutdown if the fuel cell ran into out-of-bound conditions.

The application used the following independent parallel loops:

  • Seven for PWM-based temperatures control
  • Two for continuous pressure monitoring
  • Four for solenoid and sensor monitoring and control
  • 15 safety loops

Data collected during the validation tests were saved to a local PC for later performance analysis and anomaly detection.

The combination of Compact FieldPoint with LabVIEW Real-Time enabled the customer to run the required custom control algorithms and it surpassed the capabilities offered by standard PLCs.

2018-04-30T12:02:02-05:00