Finishing Brands Reduces Test Labor 8X and Increases Throughput 6X Using LabVIEW

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"With LabVIEW and NI CompactDAQ, we constructed a test fixture for multiple products, resulting in a labor decrease from two man-hours to 15 minutes per piece and a 6X increase in tested cascade throughput in comparison to manual testing."

- Mark Etzler, Finishing Brands

The Challenge:
Reducing test labor and increasing throughput while ensuring product quality.

The Solution:
Replacing manual testing with an automated tester that can simultaneously test multiple products and record the information in Microsoft Excel.

Author(s):
Mark Etzler - Finishing Brands

Finishing Brands has become a global leader in electrostatic finishing equipment design, manufacturing, and marketing since Harold Ransburg invented the electrostatic process in the late 1940s. Electrostatic spray painting applies up to 100,000 VDC per coating, resulting in more consistent material coverage and significantly less paint overspray. Finishing Brands sells equipment for a wide range of industrial products, including off-road trucks, aluminum extrusions, metal office furniture, caskets, and leather. We use the most efficient technology to deliver a top-quality finish for each and every customer, while reducing volatile organic compounds and providing excellent transfer efficiency and atomization.

When we decided to release a new high-voltage cascade product, our goal was to decrease test labor cost and increase product testing throughput while ensuring product quality. Meeting this goal makes us more competitive and helps us deliver products faster.

Testing high-voltage cascades capable of 100,000 V can be time-consuming and hazardous. The testing process requires us to construct specialized high-voltage switches and fixtures capable of withstanding 120,000 V.

The test consists of extended periods of no load and full load test, followed up by a performance test. Previously, we performed this testing manually, using one voltmeter; three ammeters; a high-voltage probe; a DC power supply; and two high-voltage loads. Now, we use NI LabVIEW software to compare the performance test data with the engineering specifications to determine if the product is fully functional. Throughout the test, all data is recorded and saved in Excel.

We chose LabVIEW because of its reputation for versatility and NI CompactDAQ hardware because it is extremely reliable. We used sample VIs included with the LabVIEW Report Generation Toolkit for Microsoft Office  to save the test data in Excel. We also used the Point by Point VIs on the Signal Processing palette to manipulate the analog input data, along with Filter VIs. The PID and Fuzzy Logic Toolkit VIs were instrumental in configuring the proportional integral derivative (PID) loop in the VI.

Due to intuitive LabVIEW programming and graphical function blocks, we completed the first automatic test project without formal training. Graphical programming is inherently easy to understand—both written code and dataflow are easy to comprehend. Built-in functions such as Highlight Execution, Retain Wire Values, and Probe tools are invaluable for troubleshooting errors and tracking dataflow. NI online resources and a Standard Service Program membership gave us access to NI engineers to help with problems by phone or email.

Once we completed LabVIEW Core 1, 2, and 3 training led by knowledgeable Data Science Automation instructors, we expanded the test fixture to test multiple products simultaneously. LabVIEW automatically recognizes graphical code that can run parallel and automatically uses multicore processors. Using LabVIEW, we can meet customer testing requirements without investing in additional labor. We can easily change the test requirements and add tests using event-driven state machine architecture.

Because we can reuse many of the subVIs, subsequent automated test projects have benefited from the first project. We have built a custom subVI library. In addition, we have completed other projects that use hardware from multiple manufacturers, and LabVIEW interfaces seamlessly.  

Our experience resulted in the following benefits:

  • Reducing test labor from two hours per piece to approximately 15 minutes.
  • Increasing throughput 6X over manual testing.
  • Ensuring quality by recording all test values in Excel, including a performance test at the end of the burn-in. LabVIEW compares all test values against engineering specifications and determines if the product is fully functional.

With LabVIEW and NI CompactDAQ, we constructed a test fixture for multiple products, resulting in a labor decrease from two man-hours to 15 minutes per piece and a 6X increase in tested cascade throughput in comparison to manual testing. Overall, our company has been extremely satisfied with NI products and support, and we plan to expand our LabVIEW usage.

Author Information:
Mark Etzler
Finishing Brands
Tel: (260) 665-8800 X 137
metzler@itwfea.com

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