SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory Saves Time and Money Using
Corelis Boundary-Scan Tools
Corelis Boundary-Scan Tools Reduce
Prototype Debug Time.
Information Systems Specialist
Chris O’Grady is a member of the development team for the
Reconfigurable Cluster Element (RCE) initiative, headed by Mike
Huffer, at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at the
University of Stanford. The RCE is cutting-edge technology which
provides electronic data storage for extremely fast detectors.
In fact, the detectors that the RCE reads out are so fast they
can transmit snapshots at roughly 100 femtoseconds (a
femtosecond is 10-15 or one quadrillionth of a second).
You might be wondering why anyone would need to take snapshots
at such mindboggling speeds. SLAC National Accelerator
Laboratory is home to the worlds longest linear accelerator, a
whopping two-miles in length. The linear accelerator is best
known for accelerating protons at close to light speeds and
smashing them together in a colossal collision. The RCE modules
record these collisions at miniscule time scales and allow
scientists to dissect the results piece-by-piece.
To take such measurements requires serious hardware. The RCE
combines multiple PowerPC® processors, numerous Xilinx FPGAs,
and massive amounts of RLDRAM and Flash memories.
One of Chris’ tasks is to perform proper bring up and validation
of each RCE module. The task is no simple chore with the highly
complex BGA circuitry involved. Until recently, Chris relied on
his trusty oscilloscope to manually probe and debug problems.
This was a time consuming and daunting task. On average, Chris
spent two days of effort on each problem board.
With the RCE design gaining popularity in other applications
beyond just proton smashing, his predicament was only going to
grow. The technology is being considered for the Very Large
Telescope (VLT) Array in Chilé, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)
at the CERN research center of the Swiss/French border, and the
Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) in Chilé which will study
Dark Matter and Dark Energy.
“Two days of troubleshooting per board is excessive, especially
when highly skilled personnel need to be involved,” explained
Chris. “When five boards are bad, two weeks of my time is tied
up causing major delays on other projects. It simply got to a
point where we needed to either reduce the debug time or assign
the task to someone else.”
Reducing the debug time didn’t seem possible with his existing
test process and assigning someone else meant finding and
training a capable body. So Chris started investigating
boundary-scan technology to help aid his problem. He initially
purchased a low-cost tool, but quickly found out that it was not
robust enough to solve his challenge. After weeks of little
results and discouraged feelings, Chris consulted with Corelis
to seek out a more elegant solution.
“The hardware controller on the low-cost tool was a major
weakness,” claimed Chris. “Being aware of the issues, the first
criteria we evaluated with Corelis was whether their hardware
could meet our requirements. The Corelis hardware was
surprisingly powerful. They were able to support multiple TAPs
with a single piece of hardware and we were able to customize
the interface voltage for each connector.”
With money already spent on boundary-scan tools, Chris was not
about to throw more dollars at an alternative solution without
seeing results first. Corelis confidently invited Chris to bring
his test bench and boards to develop the boundary-scan test
procedure. Corelis even assigned a dedicated application
engineer to Chris during his visit, but Chris insisted on taking
the driver seat during test procedure development even though he
had no previous experience using the Corelis tools. In a couple
hours, Chris had his test bench set up in the lab, wrote the
complete test procedure, and successfully executed the test
procedure on the RCE board.
“The initial experience with our first JTAG tool made me
skeptical that Corelis could deliver better results,” said
Chris. “It turned out that the Corelis software was extremely
user friendly and much more robust. Everything was very
intuitive in how it worked. The program literally guided me from
point A to point B.”
Chris anticipated being at Corelis at least a full day, but he
was able to leave just after lunchtime feeling satisfied.
“The tools put me at ease,” continued Chris. “I literally was
able to accomplish everything I planned on doing at Corelis in
under four hours.”
Chris is also excited to know that his Corelis purchase will be
put to good use for his next design project as well.
“The Corelis tools have allowed me to recover lost time. When
five boards have problems, not only do Corelis tools save me two
weeks worth of work, but I can deliver five boards that much
Corelis, Inc., a subsidiary of
Electronic Warfare Associates, Inc., offers bus analysis tools,
embedded test tools, and the industry’s broadest line of JTAG/boundary-scan
software and hardware products combining exceptional ease-of-use
with advanced technical innovation and unmatched customer
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