The growing criticality of safety-certified software components

I have seen the relentless growth of safety regulations result in an ever-increasing number of products requiring certification. Examples include mature products that now require certification for the first time, and other products that will require product certification in the future. The challenge for software engineers is how to bring these products quickly and cost effectively to the market, whilst balancing the need to meet the rigorous requirements demanded by international safety standards.

One method of achieving this balance is to leverage the growing number of safety-certified software components. These are software modules that provide specific and well-defined functionality developed against a recognised design standard such as IEC 61508 or DO-178C. They can provide some of the basic operations required within the software architecture – for example, an RTOS to manage the scheduling of tasks or a diagnostic library that implements verification routines.

These software components should integrate into safety projects with minimum effort whilst maintaining their safety rating, resulting in a highly reliable software component that requires little additional certification effort.

For some, a drawback can be the price associated with safety-certified software components, as it is normally much more costly than commercial-grade alternatives. However, there are two significant advantages to buying safety-certified software components:

  1. Commercial versions are often missing key safety functions, or specific safety features.
  2. Safety-certified software can often be more cost effective – companies that specialise in the development of specific safety-critical software components will have the processes and experience in place to generate these products efficiently.

Over the lifetime of certified products, I believe considerable savings are achievable using safety-certified software components, resulting from increased reliability and quality coupled with lower certification and maintenance costs.

Andrew Longhurst is Engineering and Business Development Manager at WITTENSTEIN High Integrity Systems.

WITTENSTEIN High Integrity Systems