Automation hardware tools to test hardware products
If you’re planning to develop your own automation software and just need some hardware to interface to your product, here’s what you should know.
Data acquisition (DAQ) hardware tools for hardware test automation
These tools are often basic building blocks for automated test systems when more than just a few measurements need to be made. These measurements can be on properties such as voltage, current, vibration, strain, force, pressure, temperature, humidity, proximity, etc. The main DAQ hardware to consider is:
- NI PXI – see the PXI section in this guide on Which NI Platform is Right for Your Automated Test Needs? cRIO, PXI, cDAQ, sbRIO?.
- NI cRIO (and cDAQ) – see the cRIO & cDAQ sections in this guide on Which NI Platform is Right for Your Automated Test Needs? cRIO, PXI, cDAQ, sbRIO?.
- Keysight PXI – we don’t use Keysight’s PXI equipment, because NI offers a one-stop shop for both hardware and software, but it’s worth considering, since they have some unique designs and capabilities in their chassis. Keysight puts out high quality products. We do use some of their equipment, such as their DMMs, power supplies, and oscilloscopes, it’s just that we’re an NI Alliance Partner so we tend to start with NI’s platforms unless there’s a reason to look elsewhere.
Sometimes you might want to automate an existing manual test setup, in which case you likely already have some lab instruments at your disposal. We’re referring to instruments like network analyzers, oscilloscopes, logic analyzers, multi-meters, spectrum analyzers, power meters, etc. The main players here are Tektronix, Keithley, Fluke, and Keysight.
Assuming your equipment isn’t totally ancient (i.e. not manufactured before ~2004), chances are there’s a way to interface to the instrument to enable automation. The two critical pieces to understand are:
- Is there a driver and does it work? Check the instrument manufacturer’s website as well as your automation software vendor’s website (e.g., if you’re using LabVIEW, check the Instrument Driver Network). After you’ve found a driver, do yourself a favor and make sure it works for your scenario.
- What communication interfaces are available? Common options include Ethernet, RS-232, GPIB, and USB.
These testers are for testing stress/strain/load on materials or mechanical structures. Players here include the likes of Instron, MTS, Applied Test Systems, and Mark-10. Suppliers of these testers often have their own software to assist in automation, and you can often interface with external automation software (just be sure to check driver compatibility and physical interface capabilities).