Condition Monitoring Empowers Every Employee, Including HR

Condition Monitoring (CM) can mean different things to different people. A natural aversion to anything Big Brotherish would seem to complicate CM adoption in general and Human Resources’ role in particular. But that doesn’t have to be the case. CM in fact adds robust capabilities for employees across functional areas including those in HR. From COO’s to machine operators, CM offers verification of events, providing critical insight to specific issues and possible process improvements. CM has as much to offer in performance reviews and training as it does to productivity and quality.

CM platforms that can take disparate equipment from a range of vendors and marshal them into a coherent event-based condition monitoring network offer the greatest potential. Today’s CM systems can utilize sensors to see, smell, hear, and feel the analog as well as digital world in which they operate. And maybe the best development is that you are no longer limited by the native capabilities of a particular piece of equipment. Relatively generic sensor hardware combined with modular data acquisition and intuitive programming provides for virtual instrumentation (VI). VIs in turn give CM the ability to be user defined. So how important is user defined CM?

The COO is rarely able to witness specific events first hand. Even shift supervisors are challenged to see specific events first hand. The events that are of interest to the shift super may or may not be the same as the ones the COO prioritized. Machine operators will have a very different set of conditions that they focus on. The ability of users to define and monitor events, that matter to them specifically, has great promise to generate the next big productivity dividends.

In a lot of ways it’s more like adding super-powers to the labor force than the equipment. Sensors can “see” heat weeks before the cagiest operator could detect smoke. Other sensors use vibration to “hear” warnings months ahead of even the most experienced maintenance staff.  Being able to witness specific events makes CM a unique tool. Communicating CM events across the pant or across the planet further empowers HR.

– John Gleason

Defining Automated Test …it’s often a test of time

In younger days the word “test” could evoke feelings of dread or panic. Test, as entailed in modern manufacturing is both critical and potentially costly, but it doesn’t have to take you back to reciting Presidents and their veeps from memory. In the “Test of time”, hardware defined test is increasingly being replaced by software defined test.

Old-school test was defined by the hardware, relatively fixed feature sets with knobs, buttons and limited viewing / reporting capabilities. Dedicated box instruments allowed for tethered instrument control. The practical role of software was minor (offering a generic, text based development environment), as the user interface was for all intents fixed by the vendor. Making investments in traditional test instruments were rightly seen as substantial long term commitments. With traditional systems, testing newly added product features could significantly complicate and lengthen the process because of its fixed nature of being hardware defined. New instruments, time to test, time to manipulate vendor defined reporting into user desired formatting and finally time to market certainly add up to significant costs.

Software defined test is necessary as consumers continually demand newer, better products. Test engineers are challenged to find more flexible, modular solutions to lowering the total cost of test. Software defined test systems can make use of test management software to safeguard requirements and document changes. Today, graphical as well as text based application development environments are optimized for test and engineering calculations. This gives test engineers the ability to provide user-defined measurements, analysis and presentation. Still today, test hardware is a substantial long term investment. Systems that take advantage of modular I/O in a compact system and use integrated high-speed data buses with integrated timing and synchronization will be best positioned to stand the test of time. Software defined, or perhaps more appropriately, user defined test systems provide critical flexibility.

Some of the more exciting aspects of software defined test lay outside of the traditional QA / production testing areas. Software defined test can also help the product development group unlock insights to next generation offerings. Software defined test can aid R&D in flushing out new features and capabilities and then scales up to production in ways that traditional test systems just couldn’t keep up. Software defined test can make the necessary changes and stand the test of time.


– John Gleason