It’s easy to add function upon function to control engineering software, but what you end up with are bloated and sluggish applications.

Throwing $1 million down the drain is, unfortunately, not just an apocryphal tale of pricey Pentagon-sourced screwdrivers. In fact, it’s more common today than it was a decade ago, which is apparent to those of us who know how software engineering affects the real cost of any test-intensive assembly operation.

A recent example that crossed my path involved assembly of a hydraulic component. The engineers designing the assembly process used generic data acquisition software-essentially software from a box-that was not customized for their test requirements. Two test stands were needed to keep production levels at the desired rate. However, one test stand would have sufficed-if the engineers had used software tailored to their application. The software engineering necessary to keep output at the same rate with a single test stand would have cost 10 percent of the additional stand.

Control engineering programs that allow one to string together several functional units on a screen may seem easy to use, but it’s a mistake to apply them to high-speed testing applications. Ease-of-use inherently has a price tag that comes in the form of speed trade-offs in data acquisition. True, it’s easy to add function upon function to the software, but by today’s software engineering standards, what you end up with are bloated and sluggish applications.

Even worse, I still encounter many manufacturers worldwide that are attempting to use technology created for office environments-hardware and software along the lines of the Windows XP operating system. If you’re running an assembly line, you are doing far more than printing a document from a PC! This oversight might have made a tad of sense a decade ago, but real-time operating systems for industrial environments have been around for quite some time now and have proven their mettle.

As a rule of thumb, you’ll find that the most cost-effective assembly systems tightly integrate data acquisition with their control systems. Windows and similar operating systems strung together from generic modules don’t even speak to the speed and production issues at the core of cost-effective testing.

Jacques Hoffmann is president of InterTech Development Co., which designs and builds equipment for leak testing, functional testing and automated assembly. He can be reached at 847-679-3377.

Editor’s note: “Hoffman on Testing” is the first of a series of guest spots by industry experts that will appear regularly on ASSEMBLY’s blog page. Check back frequently to read more commentaries from Jacques, as well as contributions on automated assembly systems, machine vision, robotics and ergonomics.