We designed the PXI-based system based on the StepWise platform to automate the assembly and testing. This platform enables two significant changes. These changes were made at each assembly cell by having the operator use a test PC and perhaps some measurement equipment as appropriate for the part(s) being assembled at that cell.
First, we replaced all the printed assembly procedures with electronic records so that any operator could review the latest version of the work instructions on a computer screen. This approach helped with version control, especially important since the client had various model revisions that came through the factor for rework, each with slightly different versions of assembly instructions.
Second, we displayed those electronically documented work procedures as steps in a test executive, allowing the results of each step in the assembly procedure to be captured electronically. When an assembly step was purely manual with no measurements, the fact that step was completed would be recorded, along with information such as the name of the operator performing the step, the duration that the step took, and so on. When a step required a measurement to be made, such as a functionality verification or a calibration result, the measurement would be collected. If the equipment making that measurement could be automated, we would collect that data automatically, and not require the operator to type the result into a computer form.
The outcome of this effort has enabled the client to get a snapshot of the status of parts in assembly, i.e., Works in Progress (WIP), quickly and accurately.
After these changes were made, many additional capabilities are now available with the advent of purpose-built queries into the appropriate MES database tables. The table below shows the overall efficiency gains achieved.
The key is the combination of the electronic test results obtained at the test equipment with information on work orders and manufacturing flow held in the various tables in the business MES database. This improvement happens even with manual or semi-automated test systems, and does not require a completely automated assembly and test system. Thus, the cost of the test system is much less than usually expected and, hence, the benefits are more easily cost-justified.