Automated Testing of Instruments
Today after JonnyMac's great presentation on working with Stepper Motors using the Propeller P2, the group continued talking about topics related to using Stepper Motors, 3D Printers and related technologies.
My contribution to the conversation was a feeble description of the automation system that was developed when I was working for HP's Microwave Instrument division. I thought I would post this to do a better job of describing of what I was talking about.
During my tenure at HP I helped create/maintain Test & Measurement Software used in Manufacturing of HP RF/MW Instruments. We created Test processes that would use automated testing/equipment to align and verify the operation of the manufactured instruments. A few of the local HP Engineers came up with the idea of developing a system that would take Automated Testing of Microwave Instruments (RF/MW Signal Generators, Network Analyzers, Spectrum Analyzers, etc...) to the next level.
The next level consisted of creating a way to physically move the instruments through the various test processes automatically. Besides just moving the instruments, the system could make the needed (Signal, Power) connections to the instruments and even have them tested at temperature (55c). This new automation system allowed the production line to load up a line of instrument to be tested and have the shop floor controller/software pull them into the overall test process without any further human interaction. The various tests were run (some which could take a few hours to complete), the performance data was collected, pass/fail determined as the instruments flowed 24x7, without any humans even being around.
The beginnings of the automated system was done frugally (unusual for most HP projects). The extruded aluminum supports they used in the super-structure did cost a bit, so they found other innovative ways to keep costs down. Like using Sledge-Hammer heads from the local hardware store when they needed counter-weights for the safety-gates and using roller-blade wheels from local sporting goods stores to be used for the Instrument transport carriages.
The system that was developed worked very well, so well in fact that it was turned into a product itself and was put to use in other HP Instrument divisions and for outside customers.
HP split off its Instrument Divisions to Agilent Technologies, who eventually split them off to Keysight Technologies. Checkout the current Keysight Video to see an example of the automation system in action. Keysight has developed an entire Industry solution for automated manufacturing.