LabVIEW Consultants2024-02-12T12:26:35-05:00

LabVIEW Consultants / LabVIEW Programming Services | LabVIEW System Integration

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Need some existing code updated? Need a whole new LabVIEW-based test system?

While we go by many names (e.g. LabVIEW experts, LabVIEW system integrators, LabVIEW consultants, LabVIEW specialists, LabVIEW programmers, LabVIEW developers), the key takeaway is that we can take the software development and hardware integration off your plate.

We have one or more:

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Certified LabVIEW Developer

Certified TestStand Architect

Talk to a LabVIEW Consultant.

We’ve helped teams at some of the world’s most innovative companies

Testimonials

“Very impressed…kudos to Viewpoint”

I really want to thank you for all your help getting us to this stage in automating our testing. We had our customer in this week to oversee some testing and they were very impressed, which is definitely kudos to Viewpoint.

David, An Aerospace & Defense Company

“Significant value”

The Viewpoint team provides significant value to our projects, and I really enjoy working with Viewpoint.

Jerzy Wolujewicz, PhD, Nammo Pocal Inc.

“Valuable part of our global team”

I have been working with Viewpoint for 15+ years on multiple projects. They have always provided creative and quick solutions to all of the problems we have placed in front of them. I have always considered them a valuable part of our global team.

Engineering Group, A Global Manufacturer

LabVIEW Case Studies | Projects

Custom electronics and COTS hardware combine into a unique torque measurement system

Custom electronics and COTS hardware combine into a unique torque measurement system

Custom electronics C Series module designed for pulse detection.

A combined custom and COTS Compact RIO solution provides simpler maintenance and longer lifecycle.

Client

Large international supplier of motors, coupling components, and related equipment

Challenge

Our client had an existing torque measurement system that was designed and developed many years ago. Components for it were obsolete and remaining inventory was limited. Tech support for their world-wide clients was about to become a critical challenge. A replacement torque measurement system needed to be designed and built.

We were contacted to leverage our expertise in four areas:

  1. Custom electronics design and build,
  2. NI’s embedded Compact RIO (cRIO) systems,
  3. Expertise in reverse engineering, and
  4. Operator application development.

An important part of the challenge was that we needed to reverse engineer the existing system because of incomplete documentation about the operation of the system under the wide range of use cases.

Also, the client wanted us to update the operator application used for:

  • real-time display of measurements,
  • configuration of the measurement system,
  • and initial system installation checkout,

among other features.

Finally, and importantly, the hardware needed to be Class 1/Div 2 compliant for operation in a hazardous environment, along with CE and UL conformance.

Solution

We decided to use the NI cRIO platform since it was ready for use in an industrial setting, having specifications such as extended temperature range, large shock and vibration capability, a small physical footprint, and the required Class 1/Div 2 certifications. This approach reduced the review for Class 1/Div 2 compliance, and the certifications from CE, FCC, and UL, to be mainly focused on our custom electronics, although, of course, the entire system needs to comply too.

The NI cRIO selected for this project consisted of:

  • a controller,
  • a chassis,
  • and various COTS C Series modules for signal measurement and communications I/O.

Significantly for this project, the cRIO platform offered a hardware development kit, which enabled us to design and build a custom C Series module containing the custom electronics to convert signals output from the customer-supplied sensors into torque measurements.

Benefits

Besides the obvious benefit of relieving our client’s tech support urgency, caused by the shrinking parts inventory, this new system is:

  • more maintainable due to much of the hardware being off-the-shelf,
  • customizable since much of the functionality is provided by software, and
  • supportable since the components are reconfigurable and modifiable.

Because most of the system “smarts” are delivered by software in this redesigned system (not by a specific hardware design), feature updates and tech support are simpler and more manageable than with the previous system. In fact, when it was found that some of the initial requirements were not well described by the client, we leveraged this flexibility during system debug to maintain the delivery schedule.

Since most of the system is made from off-the-shelf components, the client benefits from NI handling much of the hardware lifecycle management. Now the client only needs to focus on the custom C Series module we provided, a much smaller task and one which we can help them monitor as needed. An important consideration in our design was component life cycle so the client need not worry about obsolescence for many years.

System Overview

The signals from the two position sensors are manipulated by our custom electronics to convert them to digital pulses. The essence of this manipulation is signal-amplitude-dependent thresholding combined with de-bouncing hysteresis. The custom electronics uses an on-board FPGA to communicate with the cRIO chassis and, with custom VHDL interface code, to provide data to LabVIEW FPGA I/O nodes. That data is then passed to the cRIO FPGA to detect the edges of the two digital signals and timestamp them with high resolution.

The time delay between the two edges is converted to a torque measurement through a calibration procedure. The calibration information is supplied by the client and can be modified to account for different mechanical configurations of the couplings and shafts used by their clients. The environmental temperature, measured by a COTS C Series module, is incorporated into that calibration correction.

The measurements available from the system are:

  • torque,
  • speed,
  • temperature,
  • and horsepower.

These values are held in the system’s Modbus registers. Various other parameters are sent back and forth between a PC and the cRIO controller for configuration, system status, and troubleshooting as needed.

We developed a LabVIEW Windows application for a PC through which the users interact with the torque measurement system. This PC application handles the communication between and configuration of the cRIO as a Modbus Slave device using TCP and/or 485 signals. A PLC also communicates with the system for controlling their motor, monitoring their equipment, and performing safe shutdown if needed.

LabVIEW was used for the applications on the Windows PC and the embedded cRIO. Part of the cRIO embedded app used LabVIEW RT and part used LabVIEW FPGA. The latter was needed to tap into the cRIO’s FPGA for its 25 ns resolution for the time delay measurements. That resolution, some signal processing, and the sensor calibration resulted in excellent performance.

SOFTWARE DEVELOPED
LabVIEW Windows application for configuration, troubleshooting, and real-time display.
LabVIEW RT and LabVIEW FPGA application to interface to the sensor waveforms and produce torque measurements.
Modbus communications for connectivity to the Windows PC and to a PLC used for monitoring, control, and safe shutdown.
HARDWARE USED
Custom signal conditioning electronics to convert sensor waveforms to digital pulse trains.
Custom c-series module enclosing the signal conditioning electronics.
cRIO chassis containing custom C Series and temperature measurement module.

Automated production test of EO/IR imaging subsystem

Automated production test of EO/IR imaging subsystem

Assessing quality of mission-critical electronics for imaging

Increased throughput by automated signal skew adjustment and pixel verification

Client – Worldwide supplier of products for aerospace and defense

Challenge

Our client wanted a test system that would significantly increase production rates for a very specialized focal plane array (FPA) and associated readout integrated circuit (ROIC) electronics.

In broad strokes, the system needed to support the following:

  • Increase production test throughput as much as reasonably possible within budget and schedule constraints.
  • Provide some low-code or no-code way to create new test protocols.
  • Protect the DUT using hardware and software interlocks.
  • Verify the correctness of test image(s) and all its pixels.

Solution

The FPA and ROIC testing for this client used many of the same techniques we have implemented for FPA/ROIC testers at some of our other clients. Thus, the solution was built around our AEDIS platform and some custom connectivity hardware which paired the DUT to the AEDIS hardware.

Specifically, the test needed to:

  • Send digital signals from the AEDIS hardware to initiate and coordinate the test steps.
  • De-skew bitstreams from the DUT.
  • Organize and rearrange the bitstreams into image pixels.
  • Provide custom “personality” modules to connect the DUT and AEDIS hardware.
  • Protect the DUT from connection and power faults.

Benefits

All the bulleted items above are common requests from our clients and are supplied with the AEDIS platform or easily accommodated by design of the platform. Consequently, AEDIS often meets 80% or even 90% of typical client needs.

Thus, the client was able to cost-justify an AEDIS-based solution for two main reasons:

  • overall system costs for an AEDIS-based solution were significantly less than a completely custom system and
  • the increased production rates provided plenty of schedule buyback.

Furthermore, the script-based, low-code capabilities offered by AEDIS enabled:

  • Support of different test images.
  • Control of image transfer initiation, handling responses from the DUT, and flow.
  • Version control (by the client) of script-based test configurations.
  • Defined parsing of bitstreams to create the image pixels to simplify downstream image collection.

System Overview

The test system was built around AEDIS, which is a combination of five major components:

  • NI FlexRIO PXI modules and chassis.
  • Signal conditioning hardware.
  • A REST API interface for the client’s test sequencer and LabVIEW FPGA for the hardware interfacing.
  • An out-of-the-box browser-based app to interact with the AEDIS system.
  • A source measure unit to supply and test the DUT’s power needs.

With this design, AEDIS acts as an instrument to incorporate into the client’s overall test system.

The NI FlexRIO modules use Xilinx FPGAs for digital I/O at the rates and channel counts required to fully test the FPA on the DUT. Some digital lines were used for commands to the FPA while most were used to receive output from the FPA.

The AEDIS interfacing hardware acts as an ITA while converting the FPA/ROIC signals to types expected by the FlexRIO. A custom “personality” module provides the physical connectivity from the client’s hardware cabling to the ITA. The AEDIS software handles the test configuration setup, data acquisition, and data storage via high-speed RAID drives.

During development of the test system, AEDIS hardware and software were also used to emulate the actual FPA and electronics to verify, before deployment, that the test system was working as required. This same setup can also be used for periodic verification as might be needed for an annual equipment performance audit.

Finally, configuration files were built from user-created scripts to give the client flexibility for adding new test capabilities for the DUT.

Some of the significant hardware and software challenges mitigated by this combination of PXI FlexRIO and AEDIS are:

  • Interface to tester: The AEDIS system is treated as an instrument managed by an overall test system. The client developed some custom C# code to interface to the AEDIS REST API interface to automate their test procedures.
  • DUT interfacing: Standard (keyed) cabling ran between the DUT and the custom AEDIS “personality” card to match cabling to the DUT. The output of this personality module went to the AEDIS LVDS modules.
  • Channel skew: The high-frequency digital LVDS signals from the DUT can develop noticeable timing skews between channels upon arrival at the FlexRIO inputs due to signal path length differences. The test system had to detect and accommodate for these skews before combining the bits streams into bytes, then pixels, then an image.
  • High data rates: Not only were the digital data output at high frequency but many channels were needed to accommodate the full frame rate of the DUT. The FPGA and the PXI backplane needed enough processing and transport bandwidth to accommodate the throughput.
  • Interlocks: Keyed cabling and “signal present” software checks assured proper connections between the DUT and the AEDIS hardware before testing would begin. These safety checks were justified due to the high cost of each DUT.
  • User-defined scripts: Scripts created and edited by the user provided flexibility to address future test types and system obsolescence. For example, the scripts defined details such as a) the DUT-specific commands (some of which could not be shared with us for secrecy reasons), b) when the image is being captured (or ignored), and c) if the image is stored to disk or RAM.
SOFTWARE FUNCTIONS
Browser-based app for manual operation and recipe creation and editing
REST API interface for support of automated operation
Configuration of the test via scripts
Pre-test interlock checks
Data collection, bit stream processing, and mapping digital bitstream to pixels
HARDWARE USED
Standard AEDIS components for signal buffering, conditioning, and signal acquisition
Custom personality hardware for connectivity and physical connection interlocks
Signal test points in AEDIS breakout ITA modules enabled use of a logic analyzer for troubleshooting and further verification

Automated Measurement System – Verifying Flow Rate Performance in a Medical Device

Automated Measurement System – Verifying Flow Rate Performance in a Medical Device

Assessing quality and managing traceability of a medical device
Automation increases throughput by testing multiple units independently

Client

Worldwide supplier of products for surgery

Challenge

Our client wanted to perform detailed quality checks on the performance of some of their fluid dispensing products. These products dispense fluid over long periods of time (hours) so rigorous testing of each unit in production would take too long. But, being medical devices, these products need to follow ISO 28620 standards and FDA 21 CFR Part 820 regulations, so a rigorous test process is helpful to fulfill these needs. The automated test system below is part of that overall fulfilment.

The client came to Viewpoint with the following high-level desires for a system to test the product:

  • Support independent configuration and testing for up to 6 units.
  • Simplify overall test setup by copying the configuration from one unit to another.
  • Handle different volume amounts supported by assorted models.
  • Measure from each unit the weight of fluid dispensed as a function of time. (Weight was converted to volume using the fluid density.)
  • Compute the “instantaneous” flow rate (volume vs time) as the test progresses.
  • Keep track of the calibration status of the weight scales at each of the 6 positions in the test system.
  • Enable some measurements to be excluded at the start and end of the run for calculations of average flow rate.
  • Provide graphs and metrics of results to enable faster review of the data during the test.
  • Add ability to comment on each unit while testing is in progress, and after, and track these for compliance.
  • Print (PDF) a report on each unit’s results along with its identifying info, such as subcomponent lot numbers, the test datetime stamp, and the operator’s ID.

Solution

The client had an initial version of the testing application which they developed for testing their various initial design iterations. Viewpoint enhanced this existing application with the features listed above. The motivations for this enhancement were to:

  • Automate testing of the initial production units more thoroughly than the existing application allowed.
  • Enhance the user experience for easier testing.

A major aspect of the user experience was to support testing of multiple units independently from each other so that unit testing on one device could start/stop while other devices were installed in (or removed from) the tester without interrupting tests on other units.

  • This need was especially important since some models might take twice as long to test as other models or the setup of one unit might need additional adjustments before starting. This meant that starting and stopping all at the same time could reduce utilization of the tester, and it made sense to have independent and parallel operation.
  • Furthermore, with parallel testing, the tester was not constrained to having a full set of units to begin testing operation, since the tester could run with only 1 unit installed.

The other major enhancements focused on the user experience by offering real-time data of a particular unit’s testing, as well as real-time graphs to show progress. These graphs were useful because the operator could clearly see when a unit was not performing as expected and the test for that unit could be aborted without affecting testing on the other units.

Since this testing needs to follow the requirements in the ISO 28620 standard and 21 CFR Part 820, it was important for the application to be aware of the calibration status of each of the 6 weight scales, one for each position in the test system.

Benefits

The main goal of this project was to augment the test operator’s ability to set up the testing of products while providing real-time visual feedback to the operator about the testing status.

Some of the benefits of this automated test system were:

  • The test automation provided consistency resulting from the software-enforced test process.
  • Test status via the visual feedback helped increase the efficiency of the operator.
  • Enhance the user experience for easier testing.

System Overview

The application was developed in LabVIEW and measurements were made via RS-232 communications to each of the 6 weight scales. Once a unit was installed in the tester and the operator started the test on that unit, the application:

  1. tared that unit’s scale,
  2. started the flow,
  3. and collected weight measurements frequently to build a curve of “instantaneous” flow versus time.

These “instantaneous” flow numbers were used to compute statistics such as maximum flow and average flow over the course of the entire test run.

Some of the primary functionality of this system includes:

  • Independent tests: testing a specific unit doesn’t interfere with testing of others.
  • Graphs of flow rate during the test execution: visualize the unit’s performance during the hours-long test time, not just at the end.
  • Calibration check: the next calibration date of each of the weight scales are maintained in a configuration file, so the operator can check that the test system is ready to run a test at a particular position.
  • Different volumes: since each unit is tested independently, the system can handle different volumes for each position in the tester.
  • Enhanced commenting: operators can enter comments about each unit (or all of them) and have these comments archived for compliance purposes.
SOFTWARE FUNCTIONS
Logging of weight versus time for up to 6 test positions via RS-232 communications to scales.
Manage the configuration and commenting of the test.
Save, recall, and copy configuration information to ease the operator’s setup effort and time.
Display graphically the curves of flow versus time while the test progresses.
Compute statistics on the flow after test completion.
HARDWARE USED
Multiport ethernet to RS-232 serial communications.

Custom Automated Test System – Quantifying Energy and Durability Performance for Refrigeration

Custom Automated Test System – Quantifying Energy and Durability Performance for Refrigeration

Automation reduces manual labor while improving traceability

Assessing performance for improved energy ratings and longevity

Client – Zero Zone – Commercial refrigeration systems manufacturer

Challenge

Zero Zone wanted to improve the capabilities and durability of their new reach-in refrigeration products.

You might think that refrigeration is a mundane product line, but that is just not true! So many innovations are occurring as manufacturers are redesigning their products to improve their environmental footprint through better energy efficiency, coolants, and durability.

Assessment requires an understanding of the performance of the refrigeration units under many conditions. Zero Zone was taking measurements with a datalogger with too few channels, and no synchronization, to other devices that feed into the system. Plus, they had multiple models of their reach-in refrigerators that needed to be assessed. Furthermore, simplifying the data collection and analysis would make it easier to validate against ASHRAE standards.

Zero Zone came to Viewpoint with the following high-level desires:

  • Expand the measurements by adding more channels and channel types (e.g., 4-20 mA, ±10 VDC and digital I/O).
  • Provide graphs and KPIs to enable faster analysis of the data during the test.
  • Minimize the chance of data loss during long test runs.
  • Synchronize data collection and actuation.
  • Automate storage of measurements per a user-defined period to eliminate manual start/stop of data collection.
  • Simplify the manual configuration setup.
  • Enable a way to find relevant data perhaps months or years after the test run.

Solution

Viewpoint developed a monitoring and control durability test system that could exercise Zero Zone’s refrigerators through hundreds of operation cycles over multiple conditions to simulate actual usage in, for example, a grocery store.

During initial conversations, we collaborated closely with Zero Zone to brainstorm on some potential approaches. We made some suggestions that could satisfy their desires while also managing their time and cost budgets.

For example, by automatically populating the cells in an Excel template based on their original systems’ Excel spreadsheet, we provided streamlined report generation without having to rewrite all the calculation code embedded in their Excel file in another app. The compromises we jointly endorsed were:

  • Run an app on a PC to configure and monitor the test.
  • Use both NI Compact RIO and Compact DAQ to enable robust and synchronized data collection and control with the ability to expand channels by adding modules in both the cRIO and cDAQ chassis.
  • Store data on a local PC rather than a remote server to minimize the probability of data lost during the test run.
  • Save configurations into Excel files for recall, and cloning, of prior setups.
  • Write measurements automatically into the same Excel file for archive of the test setup and measurements.
  • Create, in this same Excel file through cell formulas, the summary report from the summary calculations. This approach allowed flexibility for changes to internal and external test standards.
  • Upload the summary data and test reference info into a SQL database for data management and long-term test statistics.

Digital outputs (DOs) were used to control various aspects of the test, such as door open/close and defrost on/off cycles. For flexibility, the user can specify the sequencing of these DO channels, in the Excel file used for the test, with various parameters that define the duty cycle, period, number of cycles, and start delay. The timing of these DO state changes was synchronized to the data acquisition by the real-time loop in the cRIO.

This system was deployed to 6 test bays, each one of which might be testing a unit for as little as a few weeks or as much as a few months.

Benefits

The main goal of this project was to reduce the effort and associated human error in the design and execution of the test run.

Some of the primary benefits for this automated system were:

  • Reduced Errors: pre-verified template files used for test configuration and data storage lent consistency to test setup and execution.
  • Less Testing Time and Effort: the automatic execution of the test and storage of measurements enabled running tests for multiple days (and nights) without technician interaction. Technicians could work on setting up other units for test rather than babysit the existing test. On average, based on the duration of the test time, testing throughput increased by approximately 25% to 40%.
  • Shorter Reporting Time and Effort: reports were available about 85% faster than the time previously spent creating manually. The quicker feedback saved costs through early detection of unit problems and faster teardown at the end.

Some additional major benefits were:

  • More details on refrigerator operation: “Wow! We never saw that before.”
  • Database consolidation: statistical analysis takes hours not days and includes all tests run in the lab, not just ASHRAE tests. This central database enables long term retrieval of all test data.
  • Reuse: techs embraced ability to reuse and modify previous setups.
  • Consistency: driving the test definition through an Excel file encouraged uniformity.
  • Traceability: documented and timestamped calibration measurements.
  • Flexibility: channel counts, acquisition modules configuration, calibration, and calculation formulas were straightforward to change for new test setups.

The test automation provided by this system greatly reduced the labor involved in configuring, running, and analyzing the test run. Furthermore, the customer benefited from the consistency that resulted from the software-enforced process.

System Overview

We developed the application in LabVIEW and LabVIEW RT combined with a cRIO connected to a cDAQ via TSN Ethernet.

The data acquisition modules slotted into the cRIO and cDAQ chassis handled the I/O to the customer sensors and actuators. The sensors mostly measured:

  • temperature,
  • pressure,
  • flow,
  • power, and
  • voltage.
SOFTWARE FUNCTIONS
Data logging of between 50 and 150 channels and control via digital signals
Interface with Excel files for configuration, data logging, and summary calculations
SQL database for summary and test setup data
Real-time loop for robust operation
HARDWARE USED
NI cRIO 8-slot chassis, TSN enabled
NI cDAQ 8-slot chassis, TSN enabled
Various NI cSeries signal conditioning modules

Custom Automated Test System – Characterization of Heat Transfer System Thermal Performance

Custom Automated Test System – Characterization of Heat Transfer System Thermal Performance

R&D testing required flexibility in control schemes and measurement I/O

Client – ATSI, a large-scale System Engineering Provider

Challenge

Our client, ATSI, Inc., headquartered in Amherst NY, designs and builds complex structures and process systems, from industrial construction projects to mechanical systems for power engineering. A previous, long-standing Viewpoint customer that does research and design of thermal energy systems approached ATSI to engage in the build of a specialized test skid that would be used to assess and characterize a heat transfer system. Our long-standing end-customer requested a data acquisition subsystem based on LabVIEW.

Furthermore, the end-customer requested a subsystem that supported flexibility in the data acquisition by channel count and type, since the R&D nature necessitated adaptability. The overall test system needed to automate progress through a sequence of setpoints and ramps.

Solution

ATSI designed the automated control and sequencing with a Modicon PLC. Viewpoint augmented ATSI’s engineering resources to provide the data acquisition subsystem and setpoint sequence editing. This sequence was passed to the PLC for automated sequencing thought the setpoint list. Because our mutual end-customer did not provide explicit design details, we had flexibility to decide which aspects of the control and data acquisition needs would be automated by the Modicon PLC and which by the PC running LabVIEW.

Since Viewpoint had previously developed a similar application for our end-customer, with some of the required data acquisition needs, we chose to leverage and enhance that software platform for this project. That choice drove some of the other designs and defined the scope of work for Viewpoint and ATSI.

Some overall design decisions were:

  • The LabVIEW application provided data acquisition, test configuration, and operator screens.
  • The Modicon-based subsystems provided process control and safety.
  • A PLC HMI for process system operation and status as well as control loop tuning.
  • NI Compact DAQ (cDAQ) offered flexible PC-based acquisition channels for high sample rate historical data collection.
  • A sequence editor on the PC defined the test setpoints, durations, and limits to pass to the PLC for execution.

The test configuration encompassed cDAQ channel configuration, PLC tag configuration, sequence editing, and graphical views on the acquired data. Some channels were acquired at slow rates, e.g., up to about 1 S/s for sensors measuring parameters such as temperature and flow, while others had fast rates, e.g., 1 kS/s to 10s of kS/s for sensors measuring parameters such as transient pressure and vibration. Handling the datafile storage and display of this wide range of data types and rates was important for the end-customer to compare and correlate the effects of changing operating conditions.

Data logging is configured by the sequence editor to occur on certain conditions such as immediately entering a new step, time delayed after entering a step, and activated by the PLC upon reaching stable setpoint control. This flexibility gave the end-customer management of when data collection occurred to ease the comparison and correlation of readings from selected sensors.

After the configuration is completed, the sequence is passed to the PLC. The operator starts the test on the PLC HMI and the PLC automates the test run. Data collected during the test run could be displayed in live graphs during testing, used for verification of setup and operation; post-test in stacked graphs and overlaid plots; and exported for specialized analysis, display, and review.

Benefits

The design of this system was driven largely by the need for flexibility. Sensors and channels could be added, the test sequence could be edited with a variable number of steps with editable execution features, and the data acquisition and storage permitted various rates and logging criteria.

These design choices offered the following advantages:

  • As a partner of the team, Viewpoint acted as staff augmentation for ATSI by providing experienced engineers with expert LabVIEW and data acquisition capabilities.
  • Flexibility of test sequences, including setpoints and their stabilization criteria.
  • Tight integration between the Modicon PLC and LabVIEW-based PC enables critical control and safety to execute reliably and yet adjustably.
  • Customized mechanical all-welded skid plugs into end-customer’s test article.
  • Setup of data logging including configurable sample rates.
  • Ability to add channels by plugging in supplemental DAQmx-based cDAQ modules.
  • The LabVIEW application architecture is actor-based for straightforward inclusion of new data sources as needed in the future.
  • New data sources are registered with the object-based data aggregator.
  • The system handles multiple days of test execution
  • The multi-pronged viewer allows verification checks while in setup an operation as well as post-test review.

System Overview

The custom automated test system supplied to the end-customer was a hybrid, made up of PC-based and PLC-based components coupled with the fluid-handling components on the skid. The hardware listed below includes only the data acquisition, control, and safety items, and only a high-level description of the mechanical aspects.

SOFTWARE FUNCTIONS
NI LabVIEW for Windows [Viewpoint]
NI LabVIEW Modbus driver [Viewpoint]
NI DAQmx hardware drivers [Viewpoint]
Actor-based object-oriented LabVIEW application for the PC [Viewpoint]
Modicon Concept software [ATSI]
Blue Open Studio HMI software [ATSI]
Function Block Programming for the PLC [ATSI]
HARDWARE USED
Modicon PLC and modules for pressure, temperature, flow and other process variables
NI Compact DAQ modules, including 4-20 mA, RTD, thermocouple, thermistor
600 VDC Power supplies
Components to flow fluid, including pumps, valves, pressure regulators
Intel Tower PC for LabVIEW
Mini Industrial PC for HMI

Replacing Wire-wrap Boards with Software, FPGAs, and Custom Signal Conditioning

Replacing Wire-wrap Boards with Software, FPGAs, and Custom Signal Conditioning

Electronic components of fielded systems were aging out
Reverse engineering effort converted wire wrap boards to FPGA-based I/O

Client – Amentum – A supplier for Military Range System Support

Challenge

Amentum (www.amentum.com) supports a decades-old system deployed in the early 1980s. While the mechanical subsystems were still functioning, the wire-wrapped discrete logic and analog circuitry was having intermittent problems.

Systems designed and built decades ago can sometimes have wonderful documentation packets. Nevertheless, we’ve been burned too often when the docs don’t incorporate the latest redlines, last-minute changes, or other updates.

The replacement system needed to be a form-fit-function replacement to land in the same mounting locations as the original equipment with the same behavior and connections. Below is an image of the existing wire-wrap boards and their enclosure. We had to fit the new equipment in this same spot.

Figure 1 – Original wire-wrap boards

Finally, Amentum wanted to work with Viewpoint in a joint development approach. While our joint capabilities looked complementary, we didn’t know at the start how well we would mesh with our technical expertise and work culture – it turns out we worked extremely well together as a team and neither one alone could have easily delivered the solution.

Solution

Since the team treated the existing documentation package with suspicion, we adopted a “trust but verify” approach. We would use the documents to give overall direction, but we would need details from the signals to verify operation.

Leveraging Amentum’s experience with the fielded systems, the team decided early on to record actual signals to understand the real I/O behavior. We used the system’s “test verification” unit to run the system through some check out procedures normally run prior to system usage. This verification unit enabled us to use a logic analyzer for the I/O to and from the discrete logic digital signals and an oscilloscope and DMM for the analog signals. The available schematics were reviewed to assure that the signals made sense.

With a trustable understanding of system operation, Amentum created a requirements document. We jointly worked on the design of the new system. There were both an “inside” system (in a control shelter) and an “outside” system (in the unit’s pedestal).

Some overall tasks were:

  • Viewpoint recommended an architecture for the inside application running on PXIe LabVIEW RT and FPGA layers.
  • Amentum created the system control software on a Linux PC.
  • Viewpoint developed the more intricate parts of the inside application and mentored Amentum on other parts they developed. This work recreated the existing discrete logic and analog I/O using PXIe NI FPGA boards.
  • Viewpoint designed custom interposer boards to connect harnesses to the NI PXIe equipment, including a test point and backplane boards.
  • Amentum designed and developed the cRIO-based outside system application and Viewpoint created a set of custom interposer boards to connect harnesses to the cSeries modules.

The PXIe FPGA boards handled the required 60 MHz clock-derived signals with correct phases, polarity, and so on. Furthermore, the wire-wrap boards were register-based so the PXIe had to decode “bus signals” sent over a Thunderbolt bus to emulate the programming and readouts from the various wire-wrap boards.

Figure 2 – PXIe replacement to wire-wrap boards

Amentum wanted to be able to support the LabVIEW FPGA VIs used to replace the functionality of the discrete logic. So, Viewpoint acted as mentor and code reviewer with Amentum to ramp them up on using LabVIEW FPGA effectively. Neither one of us alone would have been successful coding the applications in the allotted time. Joint knowledge and experience from both Viewpoint and Amentum were required.

Signal conditioning and harnesses needed to be reworked or replaced as well, of course, since the landing points for the wires were different in the new system. Viewpoint suggested a technique, which we’ve used frequently in past obsolescence upgrade projects, to create PCB boards that accepted existing connectors.

For the cRIO, these interposer “connection” PCBs plugged directly into the cRIO cSeries module. For the PXIe, these interposer PCBs accepted the field wiring connectors and converted them to COTS cables that connected to the PXIe modules. These interposer PCBs could have signal conditioning incorporated as needed. This approach significantly reduced the need for custom harnesses. All told, about 200 signals were passed between the PXIe and various other subsystems, and about 100 for the cRIO. This approach saved significant wiring labor and cost.

Figure 3 – cRIO with interposer boards between cSeries and field harnesses

The work to design and build the signal conditioning custom electronics was split between Viewpoint and Amentum. Viewpoint did more design than build and handed over the schematics and Gerber files to Amentum so they could manage the builds while also being able to make modifications to the boards as needed.

Benefits

Amentum wanted an engineering firm that was willing to work along side them as a partner. Joint discussions about architecture and design led to a collaborative development effort where Amentum benefited from Viewpoint’s extensive expertise and guidance on LabVIEW architectural implementation and FPGA coding style.

The main outcomes were:

  • As a partner of the team, Viewpoint acted as staff augmentation by providing experienced engineers with technical capabilities that Amentum initially lacked.
  • This team approach delivered a stronger product to the end-customer more quickly than either of us could do alone.
  • The combination of Viewpoint’s and Amentum’s experience reduced the amount of reverse engineering needed due to the lack of firm requirements.
  • Reduction of electronics obsolescence by using software-centric FPGA-based functionality. Recompiled LabVIEW FPGA could target future boards models.
  • Increased software-based functionality simplifies future updates and modifications.
  • Decrease in number of parts leading to simpler maintenance.
  • Lower wattage consumed eliminated need for an anticipated HVAC upgrade.
  • Cybersecurity concerns were reduced by using Linux-based systems and FPGA coding.

System Overview

Using software to emulate the old hardware was a critical success factor. Since the requirements were not 100% solid at the start of the project, some field-testing was required for final verification and validation. The flexibility of the software approach eased modifications and tweaks as development progressed. A hardware-only solution would have necessitated difficult and costly changes. For example, some of the changes occurred very near the final deployment after the system was finally connected to an actual unit in the field.

SOFTWARE FUNCTIONS
Emulate original discrete logic functions via FPGAs
Emulate original analog signal I/O
Overall system control via Linux PC
Maintain the same user experience as existed before
Modern application architecture for simpler maintenance
HARDWARE USED
NI cRIO chassis with various cSeries modules
NI PXIe chassis with FPGA modules to handle all the analog and digital I/O via a combination of multifunction and digital-only cards
Custom PCBs for signal conditioning and connectivity

Enhanced Portable Data Acquisition and Data Storage System

Enhanced Portable Data Acquisition and Data Storage System

Using a Real-Time Operating System (RTOS) provides a high level of synchronization and determinism for acquired data.

Client

Tier 1 Automotive Design and Manufacturing Supplier

Challenge

Our client had an existing data acquisition system, used for mechanical product validation testing, that had undergone many updates and patches for over 15 years. These updates and patches, performed by multiple developers, had rendered the software portion of the system somewhat unstable. Furthermore, the system hardware was based on NI SCXI, which was becoming obsolete. These issues prompted our client to migrate to an entirely new system.

New requirements for this upgrade included utilizing a PXI controller running NI Linux Real-Time, a RTOS, executing a LabVIEW RT application. The data acquisition software had to support a variable mix of signal conditioning modules in the PXI chassis. In addition, the data acquired from these signal conditioning modules needed to be synchronized within microseconds.

Solution

Viewpoint leveraged another application, developed for the client a few years prior, to harmonize the user interface and to reduce development effort. Most of the development time focused on support and configuration of the multiple module types and ensuring that the data synchronization functioned as required. The result was an ultra-flexible, portable, high-speed data acquisition software/hardware combination that can be used to acquire time-sensitive, synchronized data across multiple modules in a PXI chassis running a real-time operating system.

Benefits

The upgraded system offers the following features:

  • Highly configurable real-time data acquisition hardware/software solution based on LabVIEW RT and PXI hardware. Our client works closely with OEMs to assure compatibility and durability with their products, often going to the OEM’s test cells to collect performance data. The configurability in modules and channels affords the fastest possible setup at the OEM’s site which minimizes time and cost in the test cell.
  • Configuration files stored in a SQL database format. Saving channel and module setups in SQL allows the test engineer to locate previous hardware and data acquisition configurations. The usual alternative is a bulk save of an entire system setup rather than using a more granular, and hence, more flexible approach afforded by using the database.
  • Immediate test feedback through graphs and analog indicators, used to assure data quality before leaving the test cell.
  • Data playback features after the data has been acquired, used for in-depth review of data after leaving the test cell.
  • Data acquisition on the RTOS provides assurance that the acquisition will not be interrupted by network or other OS activities, which was occasionally an issue with the prior Windows-based application.
  • Synchronization between signal conditioning modules ensures time-critical data taken on separate modules can be compared and analyzed.

System Overview

The system consisted of custom LabVIEW RT software intended to run on an engineer’s laptop and the PXI real-time controller and a PXI chassis populated with a flexible assortment of NI signal conditioning modules (provided by the client).

The software used an object-oriented Actor-based architecture, which facilitates adding new signal conditioning modules and flexible communications between the host PC and the real-time controller.

SOFTWARE FUNCTIONS
DAQ Task Configuration
Event-Based DAQ Trigger
Data Synchronization
Real-Time Data Visualization
Data File Playback Utility
Datalogging to TDMS File
HARDWARE USED
PXIe Chassis (4,9 or 18-Slot)
PXI Real-Time Controller
PXI Multifunction I/O Module
PXI Digital I/O Module
PXI Counter/Timer Module
PXI Thermocouple Module
PXI DSA Module
PXI LVDT Module
PXI High-Speed Bridge Module
PXI Voltage Input Module

Pump Test Station – Increasing throughput

Pump Test Station – Increasing throughput

Standardizing on testing technique & reporting
Increasing test throughput with automation

Client – Industrial pump manufacturer

Challenge

Pump manufacturers typically test their product in the same facility in which the pumps are created. These tests are well defined and based on standards created by organizations such as API and ANSI to name a few. These tests are run to verify the performance of the pump as well as provide a report to the customer demonstrating that the pump they purchased will meet their needs. Sometimes these tests become factory witness tests where the customer sits in on the testing being performed on the pumps they had purchased.

This particular pump manufacturer had a test facility where many different sizes and types of pumps could be tested.  The software provided to them by another integrator to run the test stand had the desired user interface screens, but did not function as requested, and was missing certain desired features.

Our client came to us with the following requests:

  • Evaluate the software written by the previous integrator to assess whether any of the code could be reused in the new application.
  • Ensure that existing cDAQ hardware would be compatible with changes and improvements to the software.
  • Deploy the hardware/software solution on the test site to verify it performed as required.

Solution

The Pump Test Utility was used for end-of-line test and product validation.

It had the following features:

  1. A Pump Test application that can run one of the following tests at a time:
    • Performance Test.
    • Net Positive Suction Head (NPSH) Test.
    • Mechanical Test.
  2. All test configuration and data files generated by the software must be compatible with Microsoft Excel.
  3. Ability to show vibration data real time while the test is running.

Benefits

  • Standardization of testing technique –each pump will be tested with the same procedures and calculations/algorithms.
  • Automated generation of report content and presentation – automation of this step will save hours of manually recording data and entering that data into a spreadsheet to generate the same report.
  • Automation of the reporting and elimination of the need to manually record data will increase throughput of the testing facility.

System Overview

We developed the Pump Test Utility application to allow our client’s engineers and operators to:

  • Run one of three guided tests that visually provides pump performance feedback during the test.
  • Create a test configuration user interface that will be used to store configuration information that can be recalled when testing a similar pump.
  • Automate the collection of data during the test.
  • Automate the population of report templates with the configuration and data acquired during the test.
  • View and print out vibration graphs real time during the test.

The pump test software was developed in LabVIEW.

It interfaced with simple delimited text files and Excel workbook templates to save the configuration information necessary to set up and run the required tests.

The resulting data acquired during the test, both raw data acquired from the sensors and calculated data used to characterize the pump being tested, are saved to delimited text files.

Both high-speed (10 kS/s) and low-speed (10 S/s) data are acquired.  High-speed data are graphed real time in a separate UI that allows the user to set cursors on the graph for visualization and printing to a pdf report.

Low-speed data is written to a delimited text file for archival storage and retrieval if additional analysis is required.

The high-speed data are for vibration measurements. The low-speed data are for pressure, temperature, RPM and flowrate measurements.

Flow rate and vacuum pressure were automatically adjusted using a PID loop and 4-20 mA controlled valves.

The pump test configuration is performed within the application from a series of drop-down selections populated with sensors found in an Excel workbook. The Excel workbook is updated and maintained outside the application. Once the test sensors and conditions have been selected, those selections are written to an Excel workbook for use in the reports.

The Excel ActiveX interface was used to develop the reports the client provided to their customers for the slow data. The Excel workbook template contained the formatting necessary for the reports. As the software wrote the data into the workbook, the reports were built from the formulas and formatting already configured in the Excel template.
At the end of the test, the software printed the appropriate worksheets containing the elements of the report required.  The vibration (high-speed data) is written to a binary file and a pdf.

SOFTWARE FUNCTIONS
Data Acquisition
Test Sequencing
3 Standardized Test Types
Generate Standard Table-Based Reports
Generate Pump Performance Graphs
Generate Vibration Graphs
Sensor Management Tools
Test Configuration Management Tools
HARDWARE USED
NI cDAQ Signal Conditioning Chassis
Variety of NI cSeries Signal Conditioning Modules
Pressure Sensors
Level Sensors
Flowmeters
Vibration Sensors
Displacement Sensors
Temperature Sensors
Torque Sensors
Speed Sensors

Pump Test Station

Pump Test Station

Client – Industrial pump manufacturer

Standardizing on testing technique & reporting

Reducing the number of pumps in the production queue

Challenge

Pump manufacturers typically test their product in the same facility in which the pumps are created. These tests are well defined and based on standards created by organizations such as API and ANSI to name a few. These tests are run to verify the performance of the pump as well as provide a report to the customer demonstrating that the pump they purchased will meet their needs. Sometimes these tests become factory witness tests where the customer sits in on the testing being performed on the pumps they had purchased.

Most pump manufacturers have more than one testing site at a facility to accommodate different pump types and sizes. The ability to automate these tests and to present a common look to the testing process and reports make the customer experience more positive to those reading the reports and/or witness the testing.

Our client came to us with the following requests:

  • Evaluate the software written by the previous integrator to assess whether any of the code could be reused in the new application.
  • Specify a hardware and software solution to acquire the signals needed to compute the performance results for standard tests.
  • Deploy the hardware/software solution on the first test site to verify it performs as required and then deploy to the remaining test sites at their facility.

Solution

The Pump Test Utility had the following features:

  • A Pump Test application that can run one of two different tests; a performance test and a net positive suction head (NPSH) test.
  • An Access database was used to store the available sensors for that test site. The user selected the appropriate sensors while configuring the test.
  • The test data was stored in an Excel file where each pump received its own Excel file.
  • The LabVIEW Report Generation toolkit was used to populate the Excel file with data as well as create the report for the pump

Benefits

  • Standardization of testing technique – now each pump will be tested with the same procedures and calculations/algorithms used are standardized across all test sites within the facility.
  • Standardization of report content and presentation – now every customer that purchases a pump from our client will receive a report with identical information presented and that information will have been derived from the same calculations/algorithms.
  • Reduction of the number of pumps in the production queue (and hence inventory) by roughly as much as 1/2 due to faster data acquisition and especially the archiving of the test results and the generation of the final report and its associated calculations.

System Overview

We developed the Pump Test Utility application to allow our client’s engineers and operators to:

  • Run one of two guided tests that visually provides pump performance feedback during the test.
  • Create a test configuration file based on an Excel template that will be used to store test data as well as generate a report.

The pump test software was developed in LabVIEW and interfaced with an Access database and Excel workbook to acquire the configuration information necessary to set up and run the required tests. The resulting data acquired during the test, both raw data acquired from the sensors and calculated data used to characterize the pump being tested, are saved to the Excel workbook. Both high speed (10 kS/s) and low speed (10 S/s) data are acquired and stored into one data file for archival storage and retrieval if additional analysis is required. The high-speed data are for vibration and sound measurements and low speed data are for pressure, temperature, RPM and flowrate measurements.

The pump test configuration is performed within the application from a series of drop down selections populated with sensors found in an Access database. The database is updated and maintained by the client through a series of user interfaces within the application. Once the test sensors and conditions have been selected, those selections are written to the Excel workbook for use in the reports.

The LabVIEW Report Generation Toolkit software was used to develop the reports the client provided to their customers. The Excel workbook template contained the formatting necessary for the reports. As the software wrote the data into the workbook, the reports were built from the formulas and formatting already configured in the Excel template. At the end of the test, the software printed the appropriate worksheets containing the elements of the report required.

SOFTWARE FUNCTIONS
Data Acquisition
Test Sequencing
Metric or SAE Units
Multi-Level User Authentication
2 Standardized Test Types
Generate Standard Table-Based Reports
Generate Pump Performance Graphs
Generate Vibration Graphs
Sensor Management Tools
Test Configuration Management Tools
HARDWARE USED
NI cDAQ Signal Conditioning Chassis
Variety of NI cSeries Signal Conditioning Modules
Pressure Sensors
Flowmeters
Vibration Sensors
Displacement Sensors
Temperature Sensors
Torque Sensors
Speed Sensors

Industrial Monitoring for a Harsh Environment

Industrial Monitoring for a Harsh Environment

Developing an industrial monitoring system for ultrasound-based sensing in a harsh environment

Client – Energy Research Lab

Challenge

Our client was experiencing problems making temperature measurements in a hostile, irradiated environment. Traditional temperature sensors don’t last long in this environment, so our client was developing a sensor designed for these conditions.

Special equipment is required to drive this sensor. It’s an active sensor requiring an ultrasound pulser/receiver (P/R) and high-speed digitizer to make it function.

The prior attempt the client made at using an original set of special equipment was having reliability and connectivity issues. This reduced reliability was of critical concern due to the requirement for the sensor to operate for years without downtime.

In addition, the existing application was incapable of displaying live data and lacked a user-friendly interface. On top of that, data analysis had to be done after the application was run, causing delays.
Our client needed reliable and robust hardware to drive the sensors and an application that would eliminate the challenges associated with the existing system.

Solution

Viewpoint accomplished the following:

  1. Evaluated two different ultrasonic P/R sensor driver hardware solutions to select a solution that would provide the connectivity robustness, configurability, and correct sensor driver characteristics required for the given sensors.
  2. Decoupled the digitizer embedded in the original P/R by adding a PXI digitizer with better capability.
  3. Provided backward compatibility with previous measurement hardware to aid in performance comparisons with the new hardware.
  4. Developed a LabVIEW-based application that corrected all the issues with the existing application including real-time data analysis, real-time data visibility and a modern user interface. The new application also provided sensor performance traceability using the sensor’s serial number.

Benefits

The enhanced measurement system offers the following benefits:

  • Reliable sensor subsystem to ensure uninterrupted data acquisition.
  • Measurement hardware configurability for sample rate, collection duration, and pulsing repetition rate.
  • Application configurability for automating the analysis, historical archiving, and results reporting.
  • Real-time data analysis.
  • Sensor traceability through serial number and data files.
  • Engineering mode to take control of the entire measurement system.
  • Improved data logging to include raw and analyzed data.
  • Improved application user experience via robust data collection and configurability.

System Overview

The deployed temperature monitoring system consisted of the following components:

  • COTS pulser/receiver hardware for driving the sensors.
  • COTS high-speed DAQ for retrieving ultrasound signals.
  • A LabVIEW-based software application to provide real time data monitoring, error/alarm notification, data analysis, data logging, part traceability and backward compatibility with the older sensor driver hardware.
SOFTWARE FUNCTIONS
Acquire Data from Sensor Driver Device
Data Analysis
Write Raw Data to File
Write Analyzed Data to File
Configuration Utility
HARDWARE UTILIZED
Sensor Pulser/Receiver Driver
NI PXIe Expansion Chassis
NI PXI Oscilloscope Module
NI PXI Thunderbolt 3 Module
INTERFACES / PROTOCOLS
RS-232
Thunderbolt 3

Semi-Automation of an Optical Component Manufacturing Process

Semi-Automation of an Optical Component Manufacturing Process

Automation reduces waste, manufacturing cycle time and human error

Client – Optical component manufacturer of precision structured surfaces

Challenge

Our client needed to introduce automation to a highly manual manufacturing process for injection molding of precision components. The manual process was slow, and yields were low, causing excessive waste. The low yield was traced to the inability to control the critical process variables.

Solution

Viewpoint decided to integrate a PLC, a motion controller, and LabVIEW to develop a solution for a “first phase” automation system to replace the highly manual process.

The PLC:

  1. controls eight axes of motion,
  2. controls the UV light for curing,
  3. and interfaces to other process equipment such as valves and sensors .

The LabVIEW application:

  1. guides the operator through the manufacturing process step by step,
  2. interacts with the PLC,
  3. and displays real-time process data and log data to a file for further review post manufacturing.

Benefits

Besides the automation benefits of consistency and speed, the client wanted the ability to adjust configuration settings and limits for almost every aspect of the operation, such as setpoints and motion stage positions. Configuration screens were developed that let an operator run through the manufacturing steps manually while making adjustments on-the-fly; perfect for “dry-run” production simulations. These screens require special permissions to operate in engineering mode rather than production mode.

The other benefits are:

  • Reduction of set-up cycle time increasing component throughput.
  • Reduction of variability of the manufacturing process.
  • Increased product yield resulting in reduced waste.
  • Reduced probability of product contamination due to automation and cycle time reduction.
  • Data files enable review of past manufacturing data and potential process improvements.
  • Part traceability enables better process understanding and control.
  • Prompts and machine status checks help guide novice operators.
  • System is configurable for different product lines.

System Overview

The entire system consists of the following components:

  • A PLC controlling the motors responsible for positioning the tooling and other process equipment.
  • A standalone controller responsible for controlling the process temperature.
  • A LabVIEW application to serve as the operator’s interface to the manufacturing process. The application is responsible for tasks including:
    • Guide the operator through the process.
    • Provide important information about the process to the operator.
    • Display any warnings/alarms detected by the PLC.
    • Write process data to a file.
SOFTWARE FUNCTIONS
Read Data from Stand Alone Controllers
Read from, Write to PLC
Write Data to File
Comprehensive User Interface
Process Sequencer
HARDWARE UTILIZED
Stand Alone Temperature Controllers
PLC
Motion Equipment
Vision Equipment
INTERFACES / PROTOCOLS
RS-485
OPC UA

High-Speed Digital Subsystem Emulator

High-Speed Digital Subsystem Emulator

Client: A large company involved in C4ISR

At maximum throughput, the AEDIS systems needed to consume and produce more than about 800 MB/s/slot.

Background

A large company involved in C4ISR was developing a system for a new high-speed digital sensor device. Viewpoint was contracted to build a test system used in design validation and ultimately endurance testing of the sensor. Since the sensor was a component of a larger system which was being developed at the same time, another test system was created to simulate the sensor by feeding signals into the system.

Challenge

Both the amount of data and the frequencies of the various digital signals were nearly at the limit of hardware capabilities. At maximum throughput, the systems needed to consume during record and produce during playback about 800 MB/s/slot. The FPGA clock on the FlexRIO had to run up to 300 MHz. The skew between triggers for data transmission needed to be less than 5 ns even between multiple FlexRIO cards even when the parallel data paths has inherent skews associated with the sensor. Finally, the systems needed to handle clocks that might be out-of-phase.

Achieving these requirements required significant engineering design in the face of multiple possible roadblocks, any one of which could have eliminated a successful outcome.

Furthermore, as usual, the development timeline was tight. In this case, it was a very tight 3 months.

Viewpoint’s Solution

To meet the timeline, we had to work in parallel across several fronts:

  • LabVIEW-based application development for both record and playback
  • LabVIEW FPGA development for marshalling data between the controller and DRAM
  • Custom FAM circuit board design and build
  • FlexRIO FPGA CLIP nodes and code for low-level data handling

Technical Highlights

This sensor had several parallel data paths of clock and data lines with clock speeds up to 300 MHz on each path requiring exacting design and build of a custom FlexRIO Adapter Module (FAM) and unique custom CLIP nodes for extending the FlexRIO FPGA capabilities. The FAM also had a special connector for interfacing to the customer’s hardware.

Additional NI hardware and software completed the system components.

Results

The choice to base the AEDIS emulators on NI hardware and software was critical to completing this project. The open architecture in both hardware (custom FAM) and software (CLIP Nodes) enabled us to include some very creative extensions to the base toolset without which the project would not have succeeded in the allotted pressured schedule and on a predetermined budget. We were able to stretch the capabilities of the hardware and software very close to their maximum specifications by combining COTS and custom much more cost effectively than a purely custom design.

LabVIEW Layers

The host application, written in LabVIEW, managed the configuration of the data acquisition and the control of the LabVIEW RT-based FlexRIO systems. The configuration primarily dealt with the number of sensor channels in use, skew settings between digital lines, and other parameters that dealt with the organization of the data passed between the sensor and the FlexRIO.

Two FlexRIO applications were written, one for record and one for playback. Each FlexRIO application was written in LabVIEW, and managed the configuration of the FlexRIO cards and the movement of data between the FlexRIO cards and the RAID drives. Note that Windows supported for the RAID driver. Between 10 and 32 DMA channels were used for streaming, depending on the number of sensor channels being used.

And, each FlexRIO application had an FPGA layer, written in LabVIEW FPGA enhanced with custom CLIP nodes. For the record application, we developed a custom DRAM FIFO on the FPGA to assist with the latencies on the PXIe bus. For the playback application, we were able to stream directly from DRAM.

FlexRIO Considerations

The FlexRIO and stock FAMs from NI were initially considered as candidates for this project. Clearly, working with commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components would be most effective. Three options were available at the project start which could accommodate the required clock frequencies, but none offered both the required channel counts and skew/routing limitations. Hence, we had to design a custom FAM. This decision, made before the start of the project, turned out to be wise in hindsight because the parallel development path resulted in some shifts of sensor requirements which could be accommodated with the custom FAM but might have led to a dead-end with a COTS FAM.

FlexRIO CLIP

In LabVIEW FPGA, a CLIP Node is a method to import custom FPGA IP (i.e., code) into a LabVIEW FPGA application. CLIP stands for Component-Level Intellectual Property. We needed to use special Socketed CLIP Nodes (i.e., VHDL that can access FPGA pins) for this project because we could expose additional features of the Xilinx Virtex-5 not exposed in LabVIEW FPGA by accessing Xilinx primitives. Some specific features were:

  • Faster FPGA clocking
  • Additional clocking options
  • Individual clock and skew control
  • Custom PLL de-jitter nodes

Essentially, the FPGA design had a majority of FPGA code developed in LabVIEW FPGA and we used CLIP Nodes for interfacing the signals between the FlexRIO and the FAM.

DRAP-case-study-image

FlexRIO Adapter Module

As mentioned earlier, we had to create a custom FAM because of the need to route high speed signals from customer-specific high density connectors while synchronizing signals across multiple data channels and FPGA modules to within one (300 MHz) clock cycle.

At these high-speeds, the FAM needed careful buffering and impedance matching both on the signals as well internal components on the FAM PCB. At the start of the design, we utilized Mentor Graphics HyperLynx High Speed DDR signaling Simulation software to minimize signal reflections prior to building actual hardware. This step saved countless hours in spinning physical hardware designs.

We designed the FAM to allow channel routing and access to additional clock and trigger pins on the Xilinx chip and PXIe backplane.

Custom Test System Using NI PXI for Electrical Test

Custom Test System Using NI PXI for Electrical Test

Updating an obsolete tester that maintains functionality

Client – Medical Device Manufacturer

Challenge

Our client already had a test system in place, but the tester (really two test systems testing two different product variants) was becoming obsolete.  The tester was old, hardware was failing, and it was getting harder and harder to keep it reliably running.  They wanted a new tester to improve reliability, but maintain the functionality of the existing tester to keep the FDA-mandated verification and validation time to a minimum.

Solution

The updated end-of-line manufacturing test system maintains the functionality of the old test systems, but with updated hardware and software.  The same software is utilized for both the manual test system update and the automated test system update.  Our client deployed 6 manual testers and 1 automated tester.

Benefits

  • Improved maintainability and reliability with updated hardware and software
  • Maintains existing test system functionality to keep certification time down

System Overview

There were two variants of the new test system.  One was for an older product line that utilized manual test, with an operator that connected/disconnected the UUT, and initiated the test.  The other was an automated tester, integrated into a manufacturing machine.  Both testers utilized custom fixtures (provided by the client), off-the-shelf NI measurement hardware (selected by Viewpoint), and custom test software (developed by Viewpoint).  The software is configurable for both the manual test system and the automated test system.

SOFTWARE FUNCTIONS
Read UUT limits from config file
Perform tester self-test
Measure impedance
Power UUT
Pressurize UUT
Measure UUT output
Perform leak down pressure test
PLC interface (for automated tester) for start, done, pass, fail
HARDWARE USED
Custom test fixture (provided by client)
NI PXI
PXI Multifunction I/O Module
PXI Digital I/O Module
PXI Relay Module
PXI Digital Multimeter Module
PXI Switch Matrix Module

*- images are conceptual, not actual

Manufacturing Inspection System Uses Machine Vision to verify assembly and labeling

Manufacturing Inspection System Uses Machine Vision to verify assembly and labeling

Reducing human error with automated inspection

Client – Automotive Component Manufacturer

Challenge

Our client already had an end-of-line tester in place.  However, preventing incorrect product shipments drove them to add machine vision capabilities to verify that the part being packed is of the correct physical configuration and that the part was labeled correctly.  They also wanted a more automated way to track which serial numbers were being shipped.

Solution

Viewpoint enhanced the existing end-of-line tester by adding machine vision capabilities to verify correct part assembly and part labeling.  This capability also allowed for automated tracking of which parts went into which shipping container.

Benefits

  • Automated part assembly verification to reduce human error from manual visual inspection
  • Automated label verification to reduce the chance of shipping the wrong product

System Overview

The enhanced system added machine vision-based capabilities to an existing end-of-line manufacturing test system.  New hardware (cameras, lighting, fixture) was selected and integrated by the client.  Viewpoint developed the image analysis routines using the Cognex In-Sight software.  These routines were then downloaded and controlled using LabVIEW software developed by Viewpoint.  In addition, the LabVIEW GUI contained the image acquired by the camera and the results of the image analysis.  The tester can inspect four different part types.

The software essentially performs the following functions:

  1. Look up the expected characteristics of the part being inspected.
  2. Populate the on-camera In-Sight “spreadsheet” with configuration information used in the image analysis/inspection.
  3. Trigger the image capture and read results from the on-camera spreadsheet.
  4. Use the on-camera image analysis to check a critical angle of the part as the part is set in the nest fixture.
  5. Check the information laser etched on the part and compare the results with what should be on the part (relative to the barcode read in for the lot and the 2D barcode on the part) using the OCR/OCV capabilities of the camera.
  6. Perform other physical part characterization image analyses to verify the part was correctly labeled & assembled.
SOFTWARE FUNCTIONS
Look up expected part characteristics
Trigger image capture
Read results of on-camera image analysis
Display image taken by camera and show if test passed or failed
Monitor contiguous part failures & initiate shutdown
Log vision test failures to database
HARDWARE USED
Existing end-of-line tester
Test Fixture
(qty 2) Cognex camera
Lighting for camera
INTERFACES / PROTOCOLS
TCP/IP

Automated Manufacturing Test System for Electronic Medical Devices

Automated Manufacturing Test System for Electronic Medical Devices

Using PXI and LabVIEW for modular testing of over 1,000 different models

Client – a medical device manufacturer and repair depot

Challenge

Our client manufactures hospital patient pendants used to control bed frame, nurse calling, and TV functions. The company was also growing after adapting a business model of being a repair depot for older designs for their own and the pendants of other manufacturers. As such, their products are very high mix and medium volume.

The basic functions for all these pendant models are closely related, so the client wanted a means to build a single automated test system that could verify functionality for 1000s of models. And, since the products are medical devices, the testers needed to comply to 21 CFR Part 820 and Part 11.

Solution

The testers were designed to support the common measurements needed to test the circuitry of the devices as well as the complex signals required to drive TVs and entertainment systems. A test sequence editor was created which allowed the client to create as many test sequences as needed to test each specific pendant model by creating a list from pre-defined basic measurement steps configured for each specific measurement.

For example, each device had a power supply, the voltage of which needed to be tested. To test a specific model, a voltage measurement step was added to the model-specific sequence and configured with the upper and lower measurement limits for the power supply. The complete test sequence was created by adding and configuring other measurements test steps as needed. Each test step could also be configured with switch configurations to connect the measurement equipment, such as a DMM, to the proper pins on the device circuit board.

Using this configuration process, the client was able to support the testing of well over 1000 models without any programming. A separate application was developed to create these test sequences which were saved as XML and fed to the test system for selection and execution.

The test execution was managed by NI TestStand and the pre-defined common test steps were written in LabVIEW. The test sequences and test results were interfaced to the client SQL database which they used in their ERP system. This ERP system used the results produced by the test system to help manage the workflow of production, for example by assuring that all units had passed testing before being shipped. Part 11 compliance was handled through checksums used to check if results had been modified.

Benefits

  • Test sequence editor used to develop and maintain tests for 1000s of device models
  • Enabling our client to create test sequences without programming reduced overall development costs by about 50%.
  • Test sequences and test results were stored in the client’s ERP SQL-compliant database for integration with manufacturing workflow
  • Modular and common software developed for the test systems reduced the V&V effort during IQ & OQ by allowing testing of the test execution application separate from the individual test sequences.

System Overview

The automated test system was able to execute each test sequence in three different modes: engineering, service, and production. Each mode has been specifically designed for various departments throughout the manufacturing floor. Typically, the manufacturing engineer would verify the sequence by executing it in engineering mode. Once the test sequence parameters pass, it was then approved for production testing.

During actual product testing, an approved and digitally-signed test sequence is loaded and executed via the test sequencer, designed for automated production. During execution, test results are displayed to the operator and simultaneously pushed to a database. The automated test system produces a record for each tested device, indicating the disposition of each test step and the overall performance of the device. All result data are digitally signed and protected from tampering.

The architecture of the test system follows a typical client – server model.

All client stations communicate with a central ERP and SQL server and each computer is secured by applying operating system security. The SQL server contains all of the test definitions, device history records and results. Information from it can be queried at any time by quality engineers throughout the organization, assuming they have proper login access. This provides real time status about products ready for shipment. Also, other than the software running on the client stations, no other user has permission to write or modify any information in this database. The client is able to keep the server in a protected area separating it from the manufacturing environment while the client test stations are placed throughout the manufacturing area.

Surprisingly, there were only twelve test steps needed to uniquely configure and be combined to create sequences to test well over 2000 unique models. Test steps are capable of measuring basic resistance, current and voltage parameters as well as perform sound quality measurements and high speed digital waveform analysis. Several tests were designed to be subjective while others are fully automated and test to a specified acceptable tolerance. During configuration, each test step requires the manufacturing engineer to enter expected values and tolerance limits to define pass – fail status. Upon testing, the devices are attached to a generic interface connection box and the test system makes the appropriate connections and measurements.

SOFTWARE FUNCTIONS
NI TestStand
Low-level measurement drivers to interface to a DMM, signal generator, switches, and data acquisition cards.
Measurement-based test steps
Test sequence execution
Test sequence management
User access management
Test report creation and management
Verification of test sequence content and ability of user to execute
Verification of the content of the test results
HARDWARE USED
NI PXI chassis and controller
NI PXI acquisition cards for analog measurements
NI PXI acquisition cards for digital input and output
NI PXI DMM for precision voltage and resistance measurements
Audio amplifier for speaker tests
INTERFACES / PROTOCOLS
Ethernet

*- images are conceptual, not actual

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