The growing proliferation of mobile computing and wireless communications in every aspect of industrial life, including the advent of IoT-enabled connected machines and devices, is creating a growing need for ruggedized computing solutions that can stand up to the toughest and most harsh operating conditions. Especially in industries like defense, aerospace and rail, the need is growing for computing and network-centric solutions capable of operating under extreme pressures, temperatures, vibrations, dust conditions and other factors. Transparency Market Research, for example, forecasts an 8.1 percent cumulative annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2017 and 2025 in revenues for the overall rugged electronics market, with defense being one of the primary drivers of that growth.
This report by the Business Performance Innovation (BPI) Network looks at this growing market need through the eyes of a ruggedization innovator, Diamond Point International (DPI), a value-added provider of design, engineering and consulting solutions specializing in failure-resistant, highly-resilient, super-durable embedded computer systems. Diamond Point’s many design wins and specialized solutions across aerospace, defense and rail underscore the breadth of applications and needs for ruggedized computing in today’s marketplace.
Embedding Durability in Every Design
In the military, aerospace and transport industries, digital transformation frequently bumps up against some very harsh operating conditions. The need to ensure the reliability of information technology operating in extreme environments — especially when trying to use off-the-shelf technology to do it — is a science and an art that few have mastered.
For many world-class technical teams working in these industries, a company called Diamond Point International (DPI) has become the go-to resource for quickly and cost-effectively solving ruggedized, embedded system problems using a combination of in-house design and commercial off-the-shelf components.
DPI is a highly-specialized design, engineering and technical consulting partner that works with leading microelectronics manufacturers and enterprise customers to deliver highly resilient, failure-resistant embedded systems for transport and military applications in environments from tanks to jets and trains.
With 30 years of experience in applied innovation and strategic sourcing, UK-based DPI has emerged as a market leader in robust industrial/military computing solutions. Leveraging an Open Systems philosophy and a diverse set of engineering skills, they excel in delivering high performance enterprise-class storage and connectivity systems.
Its loyal client base includes blue-chip industry leaders like BAE Systems, Thales Defense, Harris Defense, GE Transport, Leonardo and the London Underground, as well as iconic hyper-performance engineering teams like McLaren Engineering and the Bloodhound SCC Project, which is seeking to not only set a new world land speed record but also create a vehicle that can exceed 1,000 MPH.
Tip of the Spear
Operating at the tip of the spear of industrial engineering, the company represents a new group of innovators that are responding to growing custom needs beyond off-theshelf products for defense and transport organizations.
John Vaines, Managing Director at DPI, says the firm’s diverse project portfolio, including hundreds of specialized designs, has created an institutional knowledge pool that customers find indispensable.
“We’ve worked on hundreds of different projects over the years, and so we’ve learned a wide variety of techniques which we apply to new projects,” he says. “What our new customers are getting is effectively 30 years of knowledge of conduction cooled embedded computing. There are lots of twists and turns in the business that we understand. When leading defense and rail companies face proper challenges with extremely harsh computing environments, they know we’re good people to talk to.”
Where larger companies struggle to provide rapid solutions or designs for limited-deployment embedded systems, DPI has developed a reputation as a value-added integrator among aerospace, defense and rail companies for delivering quick turn-around proposals and ruggedized computer solutions specific to customer needs.
Armed with the full suite of Cadence and Solid Works design tools, DPI’s in-house design department can seamlessly integrate COMexpress-based computing elements into its builds and own internal electronic designs; as well as its modular, robust mechanical designs.
Vaines adds: “A huge value add for our customers is our ultimate flexibility over design – if they have a physical goal to achieve: height; width; weight; fit, we can build the enclosures to fit the application, and add all the IO they need.”
He goes on: “We design and manufacture the equipment to make Internet connectivity to passenger trains possible; our aggregated modem bridge provides sufficient bandwidth to the rail company’s customers to allow solid Internet connectivity.”
In a very real sense: core strength itself is DPI’s core strength.
Handling Harsh Conditions
Wherever core embedded computing systems are required in applications that face tough conditions, such as extreme temperature, vibration, humidity to shock and moisture and more, DPI’s engineering and design teams are able to find smart, cost-effective, long-term custom solutions.
DPI’s design solutions range from incremental innovation to industry firsts.
In one project for the London Underground, DPI became the first firm to take standard, lab-based data acquisition cards and make them rugged enough to bolt onto the underside of trains in one of the harshest rail environments anywhere. Not having to re-compile software to work with a different hardware saved LU a lot of time and money and allowed them to continue employing NI’s easy-to-use graphical programming interface LabVIEW.
The result was a highly innovative system, with a rugged conduction-cooled IP67 sealed housing for a shock vibration and noise analysis system for trains, which collects data on track faults and contributes to preventative maintenance by detecting G-force changes with extreme precision. Other parts of the system included the recording of eight high-resolution infrared camera feeds and developing a Central Control Unit (CCU) for power and all optical communications.
For another railroad network, DPI created a very low cost yet robust alternative: a conduction-cooled system called the “bump box.” This is already enabling critical data streams via dozens of trains in the UK, where the precise longitude and latitude of possible track cracks are transmitted via 3-G/4G, and are then augmented with data from other trains moving over the same spots to create heat maps of potential problems.
For security and proprietary reasons, Vaines can’t discuss the specifics of many of their highly successful embedded computing projects for defense organizations. But his team is proud of its communication and storage system projects with a major aerospace organization.
“DPI was able to create “even more rugged products than the customer originally thought they needed,” says Vaines. “In one case, we took all the cabling out, improved reliability, designed (for shock and vibration), tackled cooling challenges, and made it as modular as possible – a total solution we were very proud of. Defense companies are genuinely wowed by the solutions we can create in short time. We’re quite a small company, so to work on projects from a national aerospace company is quite an achievement on its own,” he says.
Filling a Critical Niche
DPI also fills a critical niche in being able to produce custom systems in small quantities; a service that defense companies otherwise find hard to source.
Even for very low quantity builds, DPI will have an answer. One military customer recently needed a completely fanless embedded computer system with its own power supply for a small number of units. DPI’s design team produced the system, which uses a Kontron processor card, data acquisition boards from Diamond Systems, a solid-state drive and a Tri-M power supply, and is encased in a robust Tri-M CanTainer. And it was able to deliver on the small volume order by using PC 104 cards and negating the use of hundreds of cables by creating one simple IO printed circuit board.
One clear value-add the company offers occurs at the project assessment phase. “When someone comes to us with a problem or a project, we try first to see whether it’s possible to do it with existing equipment. If not, then there will be the second stage, where 80 percent is off-the-shelf and we’ll do the peripheral design,” says Vaines.
“For London Underground, for instance, the core products came from MEN (Mikro Elektronik). But the customer had to overcome large voltage swings between trains, so they wanted all fiber optic links between all the systems, and isolated power supplies between the trains. That is truly where our value came into play,” he notes.
Recently, DPI has worked with a leading motorsports engineering company – one of the world’s most cuttingedge performance engineering brands. Vaines says: “They are among the most exacting companies I’ve ever had the privilege of working with.”
“Customers appreciate the fact that we speak the same language as manufacturers’ engineers, and so we can configure those systems to proper specifications. In this case, they had a system that takes four modems. In the past six months, we’ve built a carrier card for them that uses 14 modems and SIM cards in the same size enclosure. We were told it couldn’t be done, but we’ve achieved it and we have it working for the customer.”
Customer-centric design agility is a major advantage of working with DPI. One customer needed multiple Ethernet fiber interfaces for its PCB system. Since CompactPCI processor cards “tend to have copper-based gigabit interfaces,” according to Vaines, then “if you want fiber-based cards this requires another expensive I/O card or the use of standalone media converters. So, we designed this with a dual channel media converter which converts copper Gigabit to Multi or Single-Mode fiber in a CompactPCI form factor.”
Replacing Legacy Systems
Many enterprise-scale military and transport companies are increasingly finding that the old, legacy brand systems they’ve used for years are either no longer fit-for-purpose, or obsolete because there are no modern matching components.
When GE Transport found that its old, Motorola 68K-based boards could no longer be manufactured for its centralized rail signaling system in the UK, DPI’s team designed and manufactured a new board using latest components and processors. However, they were still able to maintain GE’s form factor and provided identical IO and front panel indicators and connectors. They used a COMexpress processor form factor for the central processing giving the system maximum long-term availability.
“We provided a nice, rugged design that will last a long time,” Vaines notes.
He adds: “It’s a point of pride for us that once we get a customer, we’re good at keeping them. And each project just adds to our flexibility, skillset and insights for the next ruggedized technical challenge.”
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Diamond Point International (DPI) is a highly specialized design, engineering and technical consulting partner focused