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K-Line refuses to throw in the towel

Posted: 11 May 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:K-Line  CAN  Ethernet  ECU  UART 

The K-Line diagnostic protocol used to hold a significant role in new developments, but systems such as CAN and Ethernet have long taken over diagnostic tasks once performed by the K-Line. Even so, automotive OEMs, suppliers and service shops across the globe cannot overlook the fact that many vehicles and ECUs still use K-Line technology, and will do so for some time. ECUs with a K-Line interface are still used in passenger cars, the truck sector and in motorcycles.

In the past, the K-Line diagnostic protocol was the standard for diagnostic tasks in various vehicles, and it is still used widely used today. The age of this interface has not made it obsolete in today's diagnostics, development projects and service tasks for modern hardware and software. That is because it can be used to cover a wide range of requirements: from simple communication with the ECU to the support of proprietary K-Line variants on the byte level and finally simulations of entire K-Line diagnostic testers and K-Line ECUs.


Those presumed dead live longer

Millions of passenger cars and motorcycles with K-Line technology are still driving on the roads, especially in markets such as China, India and South Asia. They are generally vehicles whose level of technology is outdated by around 10 to 15 years. Many European vehicle developments of that time were and are still being built in Asia under license, although their production ceased many years ago here. It is still the usual practice, especially in cases of smaller production volumes, to continue to use proven ECU developments in subsequent or related product lines, and this too has extended the life of the K-Line.

Serial UART diagnostic protocol with bus characteristic

The K-Line is a diagnostic protocol that conforms to the ISO 14230 standard. Like the standard RS232 serial interface, it is based on the technology of typical UART circuits. In asynchronous transmission, the sender and receiver use start and stop bits for synchronisation purposes.

This means that the system does not need a supplemental clock line, and a single-wire line suffices. In contrast to RS232, the K-Line, like a bus system, enables communication with different ECUs by addressing them. The standard transmission rate is 10,400Bd, and speeds up to 115.2kBd are used for such purposes as programming of flash memories.

The K-Line is suitable for both on-board and off-board diagnostics, and it offers two special initialisation patterns: Fast-Init is based on a 10,400Bd standard, and it sends a wake-up pattern.

There is also what is known as the 5Bd Init pattern, in which the system sends an address byte at 5Bd, and the receiver detects this slow transmission rate. Also characteristic of the K-Line are special Key Bytes that are used to identify header formats and timing parameters.

One important task of automotive OEMs in the after-sales market is to support the service of all K-Line vehicles worldwide by providing service shops with suitable K-Line testers. In ECU development with K-Line, new functions are provided that need to be tested. Therefore, manufacturers and suppliers need powerful hardware and software tools that support the K-Line protocol for K-Line test equipment and ECUs.

More stringent requirements for test hardware

A basic prerequisite for any diagnostic or test process is a suitable interface hardware, which produces the connection between the diagnostic PC and the device under test. It is possible to use a PC's conventional UART/RS232 interface to test K-Line devices, but this method quickly encounters limitations. It lacks the advanced properties that are needed to check for conformity and to verify correct functionality. This also requires knowledge of how close the DUT is to operating at its specified limits, or expressed differently, the size of its functional reserves.

In contrast to RS232 solutions, efficient K-Line interfaces enable precise acquisition of communication timing. Both sent and received K-Line frames are provided with exact time stamps. They also offer automatic detection of baud rates, including fast initialisations and 5Bd initialisations, and it is also possible to manipulate K-Line timing and data and to send raw byte streams.

These interfaces can be connected to any PC via USB, and they work together with software tools ideally, e.g. over a specialised K-Line API, which enables easy access to all hardware functions in test scripts.

Vector Informatik offers a product line-up of K-Line components that are tuned to one another for the purpose of testing and simulating K-Line-developments; these components consist of high-quality interface hardware and high-performance software tools. The solutions cover all conceivable requirements and are flexibly scalable, from a single-channel K-Line monitoring tool to solutions that enable simulation of K-Line diagnostic testers and ECUs, and finally large HIL systems.

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