Bloomy Controls Inc

Headless ATE System

Traditional PC-based Automatic Test Equipment (ATE) systems are often unnecessarily complex, large, and unreliable in a production environment. Many PC-based ATE systems only control one or a couple of instruments at a time. Standard PC systems, including a mouse, keyboard, and monitor, are also too delicate for the typical production environment and will be exposed to damage and use up available floor space. The user must be trained to use the PC operating system as GUI may be complicated, and the operating system can be prone to crashes resulting in testing data loss. Due to the possibility of such system failures, capable IT must also be on-hand to get the testing station operational again. Unpredictable latency from Windows OS is another variable in the PC’s unreliability. The results may be delayed because of backed-up data. This is detrimental to efficiency. Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) instruments may require time-consuming and potentially sophisticated programming via their cryptic front panel interface.   

COTS benchtop instruments are omnipresent in production cells. These cells do not have PC automation which results in manual operation of the instruments. Manual operation entails training and is prone to human error. Lack of automation also applies to data recording. This can lead to corrupt data and incorrect conclusions and actions. Manual operation is subject to its operator. Operator experience and confidence plays a key role in correct execution of complicated program sequences.  The erroneous push of the wrong button can lead to erratic results. Accounting for human error and taking caution means good data but slow production throughput.

Complexity and unreliability abound, the ATE needs a hero. Headless controller with real-time OS and two-button operator is that hero in a 1U package. It eliminates the need for a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, hence reducing overall space and risk of failure from I/O devices. The elimination of the I/O devices also eliminates the cost associated with industrial PC equipment. The headless controller’s simplified style and quantity of operator controls leaves barely any room for human error.  The real-time operating system eliminates OS latencies, improving reliability of instrument communications.

National Instruments Single-Board RIO embedded controller with real-time operating system is a prime example of the headless ATE’s reliability. With a real-time operating system in a 1U shelf of a 3U enclosure, this small package dons a two-button physical operator interface and a 2U COTS instrument for measuring insulation resistance. Instrument control routines are programmed in LabView RT for consistent, repeatable set up, test sequences and measurement recording. Complex set up and test programs that are stored in the headless computers memory can be accessed via a remote PC.  This allows control over the production test process, resulting in consistent use of the selected COTS test equipment. Collected test data can be held by the remote test system in the event of a loss of connection to the remote test system, reducing the possibility of lost data. The sbRIO is capable of performing calculations on raw data via LabView RT, providing the central computer with calculated results.  This permits collecting data for a database with calculated results instead of raw data.  Through controlled equipment, yield and operator efficiency can be tracked and recorded.  The system contains a clock that can be used to time-stamp and record test activities.  Calculations, such as yield or test executed per hour, can be tracked and displayed at the central computer thus providing management data to track efficiency.  The sbRIO is a low cost, highly reliable overall solution to provide headless control of stand-alone test equipment.