Why and How VME Continues to Be Used for Military and Industrial Applications
Versa Module Europa or Versa Module Eurocard bus (VMEbus) was developed in the early 1980s for Motorola CPUs. In computing terms, that makes VME solutions ancient. People unfamiliar with VME might assume the platform is antiquated to the point of being useless, but they would be mistaken.
VME is still a preferred architectural solution in system designs that require:
- Multiple processors
- Shared memory
- Resource-intensive intelligent I/O
- Open standards
Not every commercial application requires VME’s robust capabilities, but many industrial, aerospace and defense applications still rely on the fundamentals of this 40-year-old technology.
Although the broad operational attributes of VMEbus applications bear striking similarities to those early generations and applications, the environments in which they’re now deployed are markedly different.
There are some defense and industrial applications that don’t require ruggedization, like a board tucked away in a safe, temperature-controlled operations room. But then there are boards that are embedded in missiles that travel on the underside of a fighter jet’s wing. The end user’s needs for VME technology, and the capabilities and ruggedization those defense or industrial applications necessitate, vary greatly.
Ruggedization of applications often depend on:
- Temperature of environments, sometimes ranging from -40-degrees Celsius to 70-degrees Celsius
- Size and weight constraints
- Shock and vibration levels
- Length of technology lifecycle
In addition to varying applications and ruggedization needs, there’s also the matter of accessibility for maintenance and replacement. This is frequently an issue in edge applications where solutions may be deployed in remote, sometimes hard to reach locales.
In some cases, single-board maintenance and replacement may also result in downtime and compromise productivity or security, which can potentially be problems in industrial, security and defense applications.
Replacing VMEbus cards may necessitate more than the disconnection of the single card. Other connected cards on a rack and their cables may need to be removed just to get room to reach the VME card. Depending on available space, this may or may not be an easy task to accomplish. In avionics systems, for example, there’s a real risk of reconnecting hard to reach and see cables in the incorrect places.
Industrial Applications Where VME Boards May Be Deployed
While nearly half of VME applications are defense/COTS related, there are a number of industrial applications where their rugged reliability makes them ideal for industrial controls.
A constant risk in sawmills is the presence of nails, spikes or other metal embedded in logs entering the mill. Logs must be X-rayed to identify foreign metal and locate knots in the wood. VME boards facilitate the identification of knots, nails and calculate optimal board yield of each log. They then assist with sorting of cut logs through various chutes where they can then be stacked and dried.
VMEs are also installed in various railroad maintenance technology, such as specialized engines that can unilaterally replace rotted, broken rails. The automated equipment can do everything from quality inspection to ballast bed cleaning and distribution to installation.
They’re also found in semiconductor manufacturing plants where they cut and polish silicon wafers and control volatile hydrogen gas and oxygen ovens.
VME boards are also integral in auto manufacturing where they monitor body sensors, actuators attached to brakes, transmissions and accelerators and all sorts of dynamometers readings. A VME-powered system can run a new car a simulated 50,000 miles much more efficiently than any human tester could.
Today’s VMEbus Technologies
VME boards available for modern defense, aerospace and industrial applications may bear an aesthetic resemblance to their original single-board VME ancestors in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but their computational capabilities are worlds apart. Modern technology, like Penguin Edge’s MVME8105 single-board computer, boasts robust hardware like:
- NXP QorIQ P5020 2.0 GHz processor
- 4GB DDR3-1333 Mhz ECC memory
- 512KB MRAM
- Two PMC/XMC sites
- 8GB eMMC Embedded NAND Flash
- Two USB 2.0 ports for peripherals
- Three Ethernet ports (two front)
- Up to five Serial ports
- Two GPIO
- BSP support (Wind River VxWorks, Linux and Green Hills Integrity)
These single-board computers offer long-term flexibility with the ability to meet future network privacy and data security needs through a processor-enabled supplementary encryption engine. The 4GB of DDR3-1333 MHz offers stable, non-volatile memory, while the 8GB of eMMC NAND flash replaces rotating media/removable flash, increasing both performance and life cycle.
The support of BSPs like Wind River VxWorks, Linux and Green Hills Integrity makes the MVME8105 a superior solution to previous VMEbus generations for high-end industrial control, such as photo lithography and SPE. It’s also reliable for safety critical applications.
Both this MVME8105 and the MVME250x were released as replacements for the previous generations (the MVME5100 family processor boards) to deliver greater power at a competitive price point/performance ratio.