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February 9, 2017

For commercial and military aircraft manufacturers, accelerating the time to market and reducing costs are two sure-fire ways to beat the competition. Integrated Modular Avionics (IMA), a departure from the federated avionics architecture, allows aerospace companies to do just that. Organizations are therefore turning to commercial-off-the-shelf(COTS) based IMA systems, which have increased the usage of electro-mechanical or electro-hydraulic actuators. This will help industry players to adopt fly-by-wire (FBW) systems to reduce the weight of avionics systems and improve the human-machine interface. This shift to IMA is, in turn, driving better outcomes for the industry.

Integrated Modular Avionics is truly the next big thing

Avionic systems account for a significant portion of aircraft costs. They are responsible for various applications such as navigation, guidance, stability, fuel management, air and ground communications, and even passenger entertainment. By reducing the number of equipment items required in a conventional chipset, the IMA architecture generates significant savings in weight, volume, and power consumption, thereby optimizing acquisition and maintenance costs.

Leading airline companies such as Boeing and Airbus have successfully used IMA systems to eliminate discrete Line Replaceable Units (LRUs) and reduce the weight of the airframe by paring down the number of parts required for processor units. Both Boeings 787 and Airbus A380 leverage the following IMA features to achieve their goals:

  • Common processing subsystems for more efficient use of system resources, with room for expansion in the future.
  • Software abstraction to enhance the portability of applications between different platforms, enabling the introduction of new hardware to replace obsolete architectures.
  • Ability to maximize reuse of legacy code, reducing deployment time and cost of replacement and retesting, while simplifying impact analysis.

If you are looking to replicate the success of leading aerospace companies with IMA systems, there are some challenges that you will first need to understand and address.

Getting rid of the hiccups in IMA adoption

While enabling a new IMA architecture, you are likely to face three key challenges:

  1. Complex integration processes: In an Integrated Modular Avionics architecture, the base platform and the application are separated to enable parallel development. For instance, it allows manufacturers to procure the base computing platform and applications from separate sources, enabling greater flexibility in selecting the best-in-class suppliers. However, this complicates software engineering and systems integration processes. You can ensure smooth system integration by adopting industry standards such as ARINC 653, the recognized standard interface between the real-time operating system (RTOS) and the avionics application software. It enables application software to be developed concurrently and independent of the RTOS, with minimal impact on the underlying computing platform.
  2. Lack of clarity over IP rights: Integrated Modular Avionics architecture requires parallel development of platform blocks and applications. Since these two are inter-dependent, all information needs to be public. This brings in the challenge of intellectual property (IP) ownership – whether the rights should rest with the application developer or the system integrator. This issue has led to the implementation of stringent contracts between hardware and software suppliers, at both business and system levels. This can lead to complex negotiations between both parties in order to ensure efficient resource allocation. The results of these negotiations can impact the overall configuration of the shared computing platform. They may also require the platform supplier to provide more resources or distribute applications differently on the final system.
  3. Non-standard regulations for safety critical systems: While the guidance on airborne software certification is maturing, the issues concerning software reuse, military avionics certification, ground based software, and object oriented technology are still evolving. Amendments to various regulatory standards are proposed and the industry is moving toward an incremental certification process, where the retest of the entire platform may not be required. Instead, only a test of the scope of an application may be needed.

So, what next?

The commercial avionics market is expected to grow to US31.07 billion by 2024, representing a CAGR of 3.5% between 2016 and 2024. It is clear that IMA will play an increasingly critical role in this growth scenario, given the significant benefits it promises from decreased product cycle times and increased system value to superior aircraft performance and reliability. The important question from a business standpoint is: how is the aircraft industry going to adapt to the IMA scheme of things? Modeling and simulation of IMA architecture during the early stages of design is the best way to understand its impact on performance, enabling wise investment decisions and optimal results.

The avionics transformation is already underway. Are you ready to reap its sky-high potential?

Rahul Bhatia is the Subject Matter Expert (SME) for Avionics under the aegis of Engineering and Industrial Services (EIS) business unit at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). He is responsible for creating value-based solutions and services to enable accelerated product development and integrated manufacturing for clients across the Avionics industry. Rahul has varied experience spanning customer relationship management, program management, competency development, and people management. He has extensive experience in software requirement analysis, software design & development, software testing, system testing of safety critical systems in Avionics industry.


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