Celebrating Northern Europe’s Automation Engineers Engineering.

08/12/2017

NIDays welcomed hundreds of delegates from across Northern Europe to the historic Sandown Park Racecourse in England in November 2017, for its annual conference and exhibition. Each event was designed to educate and inspire the engineering community. Delegates to NIDays were given exclusive access to innovative technologies and could explore NI’s latest software, in a full day of keynote speeches, technical presentations and hands-on sessions.

Northern European Engineering Impact Awards
The night before, some of Northern Europe’s best engineers attended the prestigious Engineering Impact Awards.  The well-respected Engineering Impact Awards celebrated the most innovative engineering applications based on NI hardware and software.

Coventry University’s Dr Bo Tan won ‘Application of the Year’ for his system that combines passive WiFi sensing hardware and machine learning algorithms to monitor the health, activity and well-being of patients within nursing homes, allowing staff to improve their levels of efficiency and care.

Other winners include:

Advanced Manufacturing: Paving the Way for Industry 4.0 with Smart, Reconfigurable Manufacturing Machines
Biomedical: Combining Passive WiFi Sensing and Machine Learning Systems to Monitor Health, Activity and Well-Being within Nursing Homes
Education: Teaching Electronics to the Next Generation of Engineers using VirtualBench
Innovative Research: Unlocking Fusion Energy – Our Path to a Sustainable Future
Test and Validation: Saab Elevates Testing of the World’s Most Cost-Effective Fighter Plane
Wireless Communication: Using the LabVIEW Communications System Design Suite to Increase Spectral Efficiency for Wireless Communication

“The Northern European EIA’s were incredible this year. The breadth of applications showed what our products can do in the hands of world-class scientists and engineers!” says Dave Wilson, Vice President – Product Marketing for Software, Academia and Customer Education.

NIDays
Professors, researchers and design engineers were amongst the audience of the morning keynote ‘Testing and Deploying the Next Generation of Technology’ hosted by NI VP Dave Wilson. In this session, NI experts explained how the NI platform is accelerating innovation in applications ranging from transportation safety to the IoT.

During the afternoon keynote, Stuart Dawson, Chief Technology Officer at the University of Sheffield’s (GB) Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) was welcomed to the stage to discuss how super-trends like Industry 4.0, energy and the electrification of transportation are changing the way we live and work. Charlotte Nicolaou, Software Field Marketing Engineer, walked through how NI are continuing the LabVIEW legacy with the evolution of the world’s most productive and efficient engineering software, introducing LabVIEW NXG 2.0 and other new software releases including NI Package Manager.

Delegates had a chance to ‘dirty their hands!’

Delegates also had the opportunity to view application specific demonstrations that showcased the latest NI products and technology in the Expo Area, with plenty of NI engineers on hand to discuss their engineering challenges and technical questions. Participants also enjoyed an array of track sessions that included LabVIEW Power Programming and Test & RF Hands-On, giving users the opportunity to learn practical skills and network with specialists and peers.

Throughout the day, several guest presenters took to the stage including Jeff Morgan and Garret O’Donnell of Trinity College Dublin (IRL) and Niklas Krakau from Saab Aeronautics who discussed their incredible application enabling efficient testing of the world’s most cost-effective fighter plane, the Saab Gripen E.

Attentive Audience!

“NIDays allows us to highlight game-changing industry trends, whilst unveiling new, innovative technologies. However, it is the attendees, presenters, partners and exhibitors that provide the conference’s true highlights. What was my favourite part of the day? Learning how Coventry University is using WiFi signals to wirelessly monitor patient health through-walls? Meeting elite researchers and heads of industry during the dedicated networking sessions? Taking a tour of Cardiff University’s historic race car? Or sampling a ‘perfect pint’ of ale, courtesy of the robot bartender from Leeds University? NIDays was packed with inspiring moments and experiences that I will remember for a long, long time to come” says Richard Roberts, Senior Academic Technical Marketing Engineer.

12 exhibitors joined the lively atmosphere of the main exhibition hall, including Amfax, Austin Consultants and The Formula Student Silverstone 2017 winners, Cardiff Racing, who proudly displayed their history making Formula 1 car. Many more NI customers and partners filled the hall with their impressive applications, some of which won awards at the Engineering Impact Awards the previous evening.

@NIukie #PAuto #TandM #NIDays @NIglobal
Advertisements

Scopes in space!

06/06/2016
Scope Rider sent into space to initiate quest for innovative and unusual applications for handheld oscilloscope

Rohde & Schwarz has launched a competition to find the most innovative use for its recently announced R&S Scope Rider, the rugged portable oscilloscope with lab performance. Ten shortlisted entrants will each receive a GoPro Hero4 silver camera to make a video of their idea, and the overall winner will receive a R&S Scope Rider.

Scopes_in_SpaceSteven Edwards, Director Sales Operations & Marketing at Rohde & Schwarz UK Ltd. said, “Since launching R&S Scope Rider, customers have come to us with no end of really different ways in which they are using the instrument, so we decided to start a thorough search for the most unusual or innovative applications. The instrument has been rigorously tested by Rohde & Schwarz. It is now in the hands of our customers and we are asking them to tell us “How would you use it?”

 To start the event, Rohde & Schwarz launched a R&S Scope Rider into space. After a flight of two and a half hours at up to 32km in temperatures of -60°C, the instrument was still fully operational. This is a ten-minute documentary of the flight.

Steven Edwards continued, “We believe the ruggedness, robustness and performance of R&S Scope Rider will open it to a whole host of new applications. We came up with the space flight as an unusual use of our own and we’ve put it on video. The team at Rohde & Schwarz now want to see as many innovative ideas as possible.”

 As a first step, entrants just need to write a brief description of how they would use Scope Rider and post it online here. A panel of Rohde & Schwarz judges will select the 10 most unusual or innovative entries and each will receive a runners-up prize of a GoPro Hero4 silver camera which is theirs to keep. They will also be provided with a R&S Scope Rider on loan and be invited to create their own 2-minute video demonstrating the idea. All videos will be released on the Rohde & Schwarz Facebook page and other social media channels. Finally, one lucky winner will be selected based on a combination of social media reaction and the judges’ final opinion. The winner will be presented with the star prize of a R&S Scope Rider. 

Entries are open from today, 1 June 2016 and the first stage will close on 1 August. Full details of the competition are available in this two-minute video.

The Rohde & Schwarz Scope Rider is the first handheld oscilloscope with the functionality and touch and feel of a state‑of‑the‑art lab oscilloscope. It is equally impressive in the lab and in the field. With an acquisition rate of 50,000 waveforms per second, a 10‑bit A/D converter developed by Rohde & Schwarz and a maximum bandwidth of 500 MHz for the analogue input channels, it outperforms comparable bench instruments. R&S Scope Rider is based on a high‑performance oscilloscope featuring a precise digital trigger system, 33 automatic measurement functions, mask test and XY diagram mode. In addition, it integrates four further instrument functions: a logic analyser with eight additional digital channels, a protocol analyser with trigger and decoding capability, a data logger and a digital multimeter.

@RohdeSchwarz #PAuto #TandM

To Buy, or Not to Buy – that is the question!

14/05/2016
This year marks the 400 anniversary, incredibly on the same day, 23rd April 1616, of the death of two European pioneers in two forms of literature. The first was of course Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra author of the great work of Fiction, Don Quijote de la Mancha, the first modern novel. The second was that great English playwright and poet  Willaim Shakespeare.
In celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, Ashtead Technology hath mused upon the merits of renting equipment and compared them with the advantages of purchase.
The text doth contain a few Shakespearean references, but not too many, for an honest tale speeds best, being plainly told.

Several years ago Ashtead Technology was known as Ashtead Technology Rentals, and specialised in hiring the latest technology for those with a short-term or project-based instrumentation requirement. However, many of Ashtead’s customers had a frequent requirement for the same instrument, so the company now also offers instruments for sale. Nevertheless, the decision on whether to rent or buy is affected by a number of factors, and these are discussed below.

Prelude

tobuyortohire

To buy or to sell, that is the question!

Ashtead Technology supplies a comprehensive range of instruments for Non Destructive Testing (NDT), Remote Visual Inspection (RVI), Environmental Monitoring and Health & Safety.

An Engineer’s Midsummer Night’s Dream?
The dream of every test, monitoring and inspection engineer is to have exactly the right instrument, employing the latest technology, in perfect condition at exactly the right time, in the ideal location. However, these dream conditions only exist for a short while after purchase, because technology moves on and once an investment has been made in a specific technology, customers are less likely to be able to take advantage of newer technologies as they arise.

‘Can one desire too much of a good thing?’
When there is a requirement for new instrumentation, the first thought in most people’s minds (except perhaps the Financial Director’s) is generally to consider purchase. This is the best option when there is likely to be a frequent demand for the instrument, or when it can be shared amongst a group. It is therefore important when making the decision on whether to purchase or rent, to check that a purchase decision is not simply based on a personal desire to take ownership. This is because ownership comes with costs; instruments incur an annual cost because they are written off in the accounts over a few years, and because they generally incur other costs such as maintenance, calibration and storage. In addition, money spent on purchases could have been utilised in a more profitable manner – this is the ‘opportunity cost’ of ownership. For example, the capital could have been used to reduce debt, or it could have been invested elsewhere, in stock, staff, training, marketing etc. As the saying goes: ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be,’ so if a company with an overdraft purchases instruments, one of the hidden costs is the interest that will be incurred as a result of the purchase.

‘Having nothing, nothing can he lose’
Some of the potential problems with ownership are theft, damage and even loss. Renting avoids these issues and ensures that responsibility and therefore risk is confined to the rental period alone. Occasionally, justification for instrument purchase is made on the grounds of shared use, but this can incur problems – if one user has a requirement in Stratford and another Bankside in London; they may need the kit at the same time, or one user may fail to deliver the kit on-time or in the best condition.

As you like it
Those that rent instruments are able to choose the instrument that best suits their needs. This means more than just having access to the latest technology because renters have the opportunity to select the specification/model that best meets their needs. This is where Ashtead’s experienced and highly trained staff are able to offer help and advice. For example, the choice of NDT equipment is influenced by the material to be tested, how thick it is, the type of flaw to be detected, the application, the skill of the operator etc. Similarly, different gas analysers are required for different gases, and different remote camera crawlers are necessary for different drain sizes.

‘Delays have dangerous ends’
Having chosen the best instrument, it is essential for it to be onsite, in the right place, at the right time, ready for immediate work. This is because a delayed instrument or an instrument that isn’t ready for use (because the last user did not clean it down adequately or because it is out of calibration), can hold up work and waste time or extend downtime in production facilities. This is of spectacular importance in the construction industry – often Ashtead Technology supplies an array of inspection equipment when highways and motorways are closed (at enormous cost) to enable the inspection of bridges for example. Under these circumstances it is vital for engineers to have every piece of inspection equipment available onsite that might be necessary, in case it is.

A comedy of errors
In order to avoid the use of inappropriate equipment, or for equipment to be used in an inappropriate way, Ashtead Technology invests heavily in its fleet of instruments so that customers are able to choose the right kit. Some might say that this is much ado about nothing, but testing, monitoring and inspection is serious work, so Ashtead staff receive regular training from manufacturers so that they can recommend the best instruments and give advice on how they should be deployed.

Many customers regard Ashtead Technology as their instrumentation partner – responsible for constantly reviewing the market and investing in technology, so that they don’t have to.

In summary, it makes sense to purchase when there is a frequent intended use and when the hidden costs of an in-house instrument do not outweigh the advantages of rental. With enormous experience across a wide range of products, Ashtead’s staff are able to provide unbiased recommendations on which kit to use and whether to buy, or not to buy.

WS-MdeC

Two literary giants William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes who both died 23 April 1616


Connection allows expansion modules be added in seconds.

12/01/2016

Peak Production Equipment manufactures a comprehensive range of test equipment, from simple test boxes used by subcontract manufacturers to stand-alone high specification test racks and systems used in the aerospace and other industries.

HartingandPeak

Harting’s har-flex® PCB connector system is a key component in a new versatile interface developed by Peak.

A key element of the company’s offering is the fact that all its test fixtures and interfaces are designed and manufactured in-house, which represents an increasing challenge because of the growing demand for lower-cost test solutions from customers. To accommodate this requirement, Peak needed a robust, computer-controlled interface board containing relay controls and digital inputs and outputs which could be configured flexibly to accept different customers’ test scenarios.

As such boards are not available in the marketplace at a reasonable cost, Peak took on the challenge of producing the board in-house.

HAR_FlexPCBHarting’s har-flex® family is a general-purpose PCB connector series based on a 1.27 mm grid with SMT termination technology. With its straight, angled and cable variants, har-flex® provides connectivity solutions for many different board-to-board and cable-to-board applications.
The different stacking heights of the mezzanine connectors and the flexible IDC connector cable lengths offer a high degree of freedom to the system design. A broad choice of configurations between six and 100 contacts in even-numbered positions is available.

The system had to be compact, low cost, expandable, robust and reliable and cover a wide voltage range, while at the same time incorporating multiple control interfaces, with one interface controlling a range of expansion modules. It also had to be compatible with multiple software drivers, and all the components used in its construction had to be fully traceable.

The solution arrived at by Peak engineers was based around a master interface PCB which acts as the key interface between the controlling PC and all the expansion modules. It is fitted with three interfaces: USB, Ethernet and RS232. The board can be used as a stand-alone controller, or it can be “piggy-backed” onto any expansion module or alternatively connected to expansion modules using a ribbon cable for maximum flexibility. The PCB assembly has a high speed I2C interface, 23 channels of digital I/O and 256 kbits of on-board memory, all controlled by any one of the three control interfaces. The PCB has a wide voltage input range from 7 to 36 V DC, and measures only 100 × 50 mm.

The on-board memory allows storage of data such as test cycles and date of manufacture, while the digital I/O is useful for monitoring sensor inputs and switching indicators and additional relays. The I2C interface is used for all expansion module communications, but can also be used as a stand-alone interface.

A 16-channel high-power SPDT relay board is used as the expansion module. This contains 16 SPDT 12 A, 250 V AC relays for general power switching. The relays can be switched and the status can be read back by the master interface PCB. All relays have LED indication, and the PCB has the same wide voltage input range as the master interface board (7-36 V DC) and measures 100 × 220 mm. Although the relay board can be used for general switching inside test fixtures and systems, it can also be used in many other applications.

HARTING har-flex® connectors were selected for board connectivity due to their small size, robustness and flexibility. They can be used as board-to-board connectors, allowing the master interface PCB to be connected to any expansion module directly; alternatively, the same connector can have a ribbon cable connected to connect subsequent expansion modules.

The small size of the connector allowed Peak to increase the pin count, allowing power lines to be commoned up and all communications and power to be passed down a single ribbon cable. As a result, expansion modules could be added in a matter of seconds.

The har-flex® family is a general-purpose PCB connector series based on a 1.27 mm grid with SMT termination technology. With its straight, angled and cable variants, har-flex® provides connectivity solutions for many different board-to-board and cable-to-board applications.

The different stacking heights of the mezzanine connectors and the flexible IDC connector cable lengths offer a high degree of freedom to the system design. A broad choice of configurations between six and 100 contacts in even-numbered positions is available.


What’s the future for the electronics instrumentation sector?

11/12/2015

Looking back at the past 10-15 years of the electronic instrumentation industry, it is certainly disappointing to realize that the market for new test equipment in 2015 is about the same size or less. What does this tell us and will the industry perform better in the future?

Recently, Frost & Sullivan published three market insights about the future of the electronic industry and what will determine it, where the new opportunities for growth are, and how to stay profitable in changing economical environment.

These market insights are listed below:

Jessy_Cavazos

Jessy Cavazos – Frost & Sullivan

“In the past decade, the electronics instrumentation industry did not maximize the revenue opportunity coming from the move towards connectivity and the proliferation of electronics as most companies missed out on dramatic changes happening in the customer base,” says Jessy Cavazos, Industry Director for Test & Measurement, Frost & Sullivan.

Over the next 5-10 years, 5G and other technologies will take the electronics instrumentation market to higher frequencies spelling significant growth opportunities for test manufacturers. The move towards a more connected, zero-latency, and autonomous world will certainly provide room for growth for the electronic instrumentation market. With the Internet of Things (IoT), a myriad of devices will be connected to the Internet. While low latency will not be provided for all applications and devices in the short term due to costs, the desire for low or no latency for a number of devices and applications is here and will provide opportunities to test manufacturers.

While wireless communications and aerospace and defense will remain significant end-user segments for electronic test and measurement equipment, demand is likely to increase in smaller end-user segments such as automotive and industrial electronics due to the greater integration of wireless technology in various devices.

The world is also on the path to become more autonomous with mobile robots, drones, and autonomous cars. While all of these technologies will translate into demand for electronic instrumentation, some, such as the autonomous car, will generate significant opportunities for test manufacturers due to the onus put on safety. Leading automotive OEMs are currently embracing automated driving translating into significant R&D opportunities for test manufacturers.

The hyper connectivity of customers will also call for a greater focus from test manufacturers on their go-to-market channels. While online channels have grown in importance for mid and low-end test equipment, this trend is also relevant to more high-end expensive test equipment from a digital marketing perspective.

“The next decade will not come without challenges for the electronics instrumentation industry. However, trends are favorable to the future growth of the electronic test and measurement market. Test manufacturers must not only be aware of the evolution of technologies and related test requirements but also expand their horizons to understand the impact of other trends on their business,” summarised Ms. Cavazos.


Strategies for equipment inspection and maintenance!

26/09/2015
Will Russell, Senior Technician at Ashtead Technology, examines some of the key features of an effective inspection and maintenance strategy, and explains some of the advantages to be gained from renting specialist equipment.

iniucadhThere can be nothing more frustrating than a vital piece of equipment failing to perform when it is needed most. Not only can this result in infuriating delays and unforeseen expenses, but it can also affect production performance, let down customers and damage a company’s reputation. Maintenance is a vitally important component of risk reduction and is most effective when predictive maintenance is employed in conjunction with an effective test and monitoring regime. However, in order for this monitoring to be as effective as possible, it is necessary to utilise high quality test equipment that is itself well-maintained and calibrated. These instruments should be able to perform the latest tests, employing the latest technologies and running the latest software.

Choosing a maintenance strategy
Regular inspection and maintenance does not necessarily guarantee successful avoidance of downtime. It is important that the correct inspection strategy is adopted and that the quality of the inspection work is sufficient to enable proactive maintenance. Monitoring regimes that are either reactive or preventative are more likely to fail. Where it is assumed that equipment will reach a ‘wear out’ date, preventative maintenance may seek to postpone this, often as part of a conservative maintenance schedule. This time-based approach can be expensive in comparison with a functional and condition-based strategy. Reactive maintenance is very much a ‘fail and fix it’ approach, that is inherently expensive, due to high repair costs and the resulting costs of downtime.

Best practice when maintaining equipment requires a predictive and proactive strategy, which not only monitors actual equipment condition, but also investigates any drop in performance and corrects this at source. This may mean that organisational procedures may need to be changed. For example, if a specific component is found to perform poorly, re-design or the identification of an alternative source may be necessary. Swiftly and expertly responding to equipment condition ensures flawless operation, prolongs equipment functionality and improves economic performance.

Instrument strategy
An efficacious and dynamic maintenance strategy is clearly a major contributor to the reduction of risk and therefore to a company’s success, but there are a number of questions to be considered:

  1. Is the inspection regime designed to identify flaws before they are able to affect performance?
  2. Is an appropriate level of technical expertise available to set up and run the latest inspection instrumentation?
  3. Is the inspection equipment well maintained, calibrated and ready for deployment?
  4. How often is the inspection equipment required?

If the test and inspection equipment is not in frequent use, it often makes sense to rent specific instruments as and when they are required. Rented instruments are also employed when specific technology is required or when an urgent replacement to an in-house instrument is necessary. However, there are numerous other advantages to be gained from instrument hire.

The benefits of renting specialist equipment
The financial advantages of renting are well known; equipment purchase can involve a significant capital cost, particularly for the most advanced inspection instruments, so renting provides an opportunity to only incur operational costs when the technology is required. However, a major advantage of renting is that it provides continual access to the latest equipment. In contrast instrument purchase locks the technology at that moment in time and precludes access to subsequent developments. Ashtead Technology therefore works closely with leading manufacturers to ensure that its fleet of rental instruments offers the latest, most advanced technology. Often this new equipment is easier to use, faster, with improved reporting and a higher probability of flaw detection. Similarly, the breadth of Ashtead’s rental fleet means that customers can select the instrument that is best for their specific job. Rented instruments are delivered at exactly the time and location at which they are required, tested, calibrated and ready for work, so there are no issues with instrument maintenance and storage.

Clearly there are myriad advantages to renting over purchasing specialist equipment, but perhaps the most important is the transferal of responsibility for the product’s condition. Renting equipment from a specialist supplier means that not only are instruments cared for by a team of qualified, skilled engineers that have been trained on these specific instruments, but also that expert technical support, advice and guidance are provided. Instruments are constantly evolving, so their maintenance is often best provided by those with specialist training and experience.

Typical test and inspection equipment includes Non-Destructive Testing instruments, Visual Inspection kit including Videoprobes, Borescopes and Robotic Crawler Cameras and Environmental Monitoring equipment such as dust, vapour, and toxic gas detectors, and water quality monitors.

In summary, a clear inspection and maintenance strategy should be designed to avoid downtime and ensure the smooth operation of a plant whilst minimising costs and utilising the latest technology to ensure that problems are identified before they are able to affect production. Ashtead Technology’s business is founded in the belief that instrument rental provides an opportunity to achieve this.