Why OEMs serving motorsports steer towards industrial memory

By 11/11/2020Blog

Electronic systems tend not to like high vibration levels or G forces, but sometimes they just can’t be avoided; they’re just aspects of the harsh Motorsports steer towards industrial memoryenvironments. It’s no surprise therefore that when removable industrial memory devices are used in motorsports – for quick data transfer in the pits for example – that industrial grade (test to MIL vibration specs) solutions are trusted.

In motorsport, racing cars experience extremely high G forces. For example, in Formula 1, up to 5G can be experienced during acceleration, braking and cornering, and in NASCAR up to 3G can be experienced in the banked turns. Rally cars also experience high G forces during acceleration, deceleration and cornering plus the vertical forces associated with jumping into the air and landing. Velocities can exceed 3m/s

The Racing Line

Motorsport vehicles have many electronic systems onboard, and their PCBs and components are subjected to intense shocks, vibrations and G forces. Also, many systems also employ removable industrial memory devices to facilitate quick data transfer (e.g. in the pits); even when wireless transfer is available it’s much quicker to remove one device and insert a replacement. The challenge here then is having a removable memory device that won’t have its electrical connection compromised by vibration or shock, but which is still easy to insert and remove.

At Nexus, we have several customers in the motorsport industry. One of which makes engine control units (ECUs). They rely on removable industrial memory devices and told us that conventional USB or SD simply doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to data logging under high levels of G force, shock and vibration.

The MD told us: “We quickly overcame all these issues with the [Datakey] RUGGEDrive into our next generation ECU, designed specifically for use in motorsport. The token is ultra-rugged and was held firmly in place by its unique connector. It continued to read / write under rally racing conditions. We were able to reliably log engine data throughout the rally, giving valuable insight which has led to improvements being made to the set-up of the car. The rugged DFX Token and IP-rated connector are now built into the new production versions on our latest ECU system.”

Leading Technology

Motorsports steer towards industrial memoryAnother of our customers also serves the motorsport industry with ECUs and other custom products, that include engine control units, paddle shift systems and electrical power distribution units. Data loggers are used to record important information needed for the development of these systems, and for in-race diagnostics.

Large volumes of data are collected as, for event logging (where an event might, for example, be a critical aspect of achieving optimum engine timing), data is sampled several thousand times a second.

This customer uses Datakey DFX memory tokens because of their rugged form factor and low mass. They recently told us: “We spent a considerable amount of time researching removable industrial  memory devices, needed for datalogging purposes on race cars. The DFX was the only one suitable for use in the harsh environment that is motorsport. Its low mass and the integrity of the device-receptacle connection makes it ideal for withstanding the vibration levels and linear forces experienced by a car on a racetrack.”

The durability comes as much from the receptacle as it does the token. For example, Datakey’s SR4310 series of panel-mount receptacles have been vibration tested to MIL-STD 810F, Test Method 514.5 which involves subjecting an operating product (i.e. token being written to / read from) to 15G in three axes.

Train of Thought

High vibration levels are also common in the rail sector. One of our rail customers is Bombardier Transportation. Some of its products use Datakey Railways on track towards industrial memoryproducts and are mounted close to the track. As such they are subjected to a wide range of vibrations, the amplitudes and frequencies of which are governed by factors that include the speed of the train, carriages and rolling stock (passing over that track), their weight, bogie spacings and suspension types plus the properties of the track ballast.

Again, rugged solutions are required and a senior engineer at Bombardier Transportation told us: “For me, it’s the fact that Datakey has the same built-to-last philosophy as Bombardier which made them the ideal partner for this project.”

In summary, removable memory products (devices and their corresponding receptacles) are available for harsh environment applications in which high vibration levels and forces will be experienced. Also, whilst some devices might be left in place for years at a time (as is the case for off-shore wind turbines) in many cases they will be inserted and removed several hundred times.

In this respect, it is worth noting that commercial form factor (e.g. USB) receptacles are only rated for 1,500 connect/disconnect cycles. Some Datakey products on the other hand are rated at up to 200,000 cycles.

Granted, whilst even USB’s 1,500 cycles might be more than enough, the fact that Datakey devices have such a higher rating is testimony to the integrity and durability of the physical connection; and that’s what counts most in high vibration level environments, and is why our customers steered away from commercially-available, non-industrial products.