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Passing the Test

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IT in manufacturing

By offering a suite of features & advanced technology, Testing & Measurement (T&M) equipment makers are ensuring maximum returns on customers’ investment.

With Indian manufacturers looking to gain a competitive edge, it will be imperative to compete not just on the basis of cost, but also quality. Testing & Measurement (T&M) equipment goes a long way in ensuring that quality standards are met and maintained over time. It is a known fact that the products of this industry are synonymous with delivering quality, since the equipment is employed to test products manufactured on process lines while continuously comparing them with set quality parameters and ultimately bringing out a product that is quality perfect.

Globally, the T&M industry is a growing segment of any economy. According to research reports, the T&M market is estimated to have a high growth potential by 2022. The total market is expected to reach $35.45 billion by 2022 from $22.12 billion in 2015, at a CAGR of 6.8% between 2016 and 2022. The major driving factors for the growth of the test equipment market are the rising demand for electronics products that is enhancing the need for testing and measurement equipment, increased investments in R&D, technological advancement in networking and communication, and favourable government policies in emerging economies. In fact, the Asia Pacific (APAC) region is expected not only to grow at the highest CAGR but also hold a large market share during the forecast period, on the back of rising demand from India and China.

While the industry has primarily served customers from the electronics and semiconductor industries, it now also experiences steady demand from the aerospace, defence, automotive, and transportation sectors. These are, of course, fast growing sectors for the Indian economy. The industry supports it customers to monitor and improve quality, ensure safety, meet environment and health compliance goals, and enhance efficiencies of their processes. T&M players have an enormous knowledge-base in this segment to offer solutions for a variety of application needs.

Customer focus
Commenting on the need for T&M equipment and applications in this age, Ajey Phatak, head, marketing, Beckhoff Automation, says, “Virtually every industry uses test and measurement systems in R&D, design validation and final QC. Industries including aerospace and defence, pharmaceuticals, F&B, telecommunications, automotive, energy, medical & consumer electronics, semiconductors and many more have to ensure the highest level of quality standards that satisfy the regulatory and customer needs. This is more stringently applicable if the products are used where life safety or cost of usage matters the most. Such industries include automotive, food & beverages, pharmaceutical, medical equipment, space research, etc. Engineering products also need precision testing, which contributes to high product value.”

One specific area that Beckhoff puts in a lot of its efforts is around scientific automation in measurement technology that forms an integral part of PC based control. The Scientific Automation concept serves as the prerequisite to enable functions such as Condition Monitoring, Energy Monitoring or Robotics. They consider scientific automation to be the foundation for comprehensive measurement & robotics technology. According to them, Scientific Automation offers enough further potential for future developments. Energy efficiency & machine condition monitoring still offers immense potential for improvements. Without requiring very big financial investments, manufacturers can achieve optimisation of energy cost & machine down time cost savings by making energy monitoring & vibration analysis on a real time basis.

On the other hand, Farook Merchant, CMD, Messung Group of Companies, suggests, “Like all technology segments, the T&M market also shows a tremendous change in the demand and expectations of the market. And all manufacturers have to work hard to meet expectations. Designs have to now be very user friendly and all equipment need to have IT connectivity. Equipment should have multiple interfaces so that the customer can connect all his test and measurement equipment together and handle it like a ‘suite’.”
There is merit in this argument, as one way of meeting customers’ diverse needs is to be ready with a suite of T&M solutions for every industrial application. And the T&M industry’s capability to manage this spectrum is well known. Within the Indian market, many players offer both indigenous and imported versions of products.

Commenting on this, Sandeep Arora, MD, SPI Engineers, says that his company strives to meet customer needs by bridging the gap between the customer and the industry with more than 1,000 products in their portfolio. “Through our endeavours, we ensure that our customers are well informed and updated with the latest industrial trends and developments; and well equipped with the latest technology in products and innovative solutions to take on the world,” he states, adding that they believe in symbiotic associations. It is a given, of course, that the interests of industry players and that of customers are well intertwined.

Testing new ground
Thus, keeping customer needs in mind, the spate of new technologies and products is the order of the day. Beckhoff had foreseen this need and focused on developing a technology that would be very fast not only to measure & acquire high precision data, but also to ensure that it is communicated and processed equally fast. Hence, Beckhoff pioneered PC-based control technology & developed EtherCAT – the Ethernet-based real-time fieldbus protocol. EtherCAT is a real-time industrial Ethernet technology, originally developed by Beckhoff Automation. The EtherCAT protocol, which is disclosed in the IEC standard IEC61158, is suitable for hard and soft real-time requirements in automation technology, test and measurement and many other applications.

Elaborating on Beckhoff’s strategy, Phatak explains, “With the new EtherCAT measurement technology modules, high-end measuring devices and traditional automation technology can be combined into one universal system. The new generation of measurement technology hardware ensures high-speed acquisition of high-resolution measurement data, owing to the full utilisation of EtherCAT features, among other reasons.”

Reflecting on new product development, Satish Thakare, CTO, Scientech Technologies, says, “In the present scenario, the concept of circuit design has been switched from discrete design to system on chip (SOC) type design. Today’s IC is software configurable and, for that, the user has to use a software interface using a PC/laptop. In the modern world, a multi-utility solution is the ultimate solution for engineers in design, applications, testing, and in-field services.”

Looking after this particular customer need, Scientech had introduced the Scientech DesignLab product range. This space-saving solution allows for faster testing time and faster troubleshooting. The range has different TMI capabilities. It has features of analysis on multiple large and simultaneous windows, storage of waveforms on PC, sharing waveform data, virtual component library for real-world hardware interface and event scheduler to automate testing. This approach means that the user can simply have one DesignLab solution and one laptop/tablet on each table, replacing multiple boxes.

Cost containment: The modular approach

Considering that T&M investments are going steeply northwards, customers require industry players to work towards offering cost effective solutions every time they usher in new technologies and products. Modularity is an effective approach in this direction, helping to extend the lifespan of T&M equipment, and bringing in benefits of cost effective additions to T&M applications, while increasing the productivity of operations. In a modular scenario, the basic T&M structure remains, even as the manufacturer upgrades the technology or modifies the same. In fact, even when a new version is introduced, a new module of the T&M application can be easily brought in and swapped with the old one. This keeps the cost of obsolescence to the minimum.

Merchant supports this development in the industry and professes, “Modularity is a must in our industry. The ones who give a modular solution are always at an advantage as most users want to have a complete solution, especially if they are building a standard test bench for their production line. With modularity the customer can keep a stock and add the devices as and when he wants. Within the industry, there is a continuous demand for change in the test procedures and quality control, and the test bench designer is always taxed with making changes with a minimum budget and minimum re-work. So modularity is the only solution.”

Phatak further states, “Modularity has been the foundation of the Beckhoff product range, whether hardware or software. The EtherCAT Terminal system is a modular I/O system consisting of electronic terminal blocks. The electronic terminal blocks are attached to the EtherCAT Coupler. The contacts are made as the terminal clicks into place, without any other manipulation. This means that each electronic terminal block can be individually exchanged.”

In this context, Thakare explains, “Modular instruments are mainly required in RF test and instruments, where investments are huge. Scientech recently introduced C700 (for the Indian market), which is a new domain in radio system design and verification. It is a modular platform, enabling designers and researchers to build their own prototypes, test beds and applications.”

Customer interface
Customer hand-holding is of paramount importance because the products involve complex engineering and electronic technologies. Most players have an elaborate after sales strategy to support their revenue ambitions, and more importantly, build customers’ confidence.

Merchant says, “Messung has always been known to provide world-class service at an affordable price. Since we consider ourselves as specialists in T&M, it’s our duty to provide all sorts of services to our customers. Besides providing on-site support during installation, we also have to provide engineering upgrade services. We offer a two-year warranty and have a very affordable AMC available for our customers. Since our focus is on end-line test equipments, which are usually heavily used and directly impact productivity, if there are failures, it’s of our utmost interest to provide quick service and spare parts to our customers. We provide this service all over India.”

Beckhoff follows a customer-oriented & application-focused approach. Phatak states, “Beckhoff and their partners around the world offer comprehensive support and service, guaranteeing fast and competent assistance with all questions related to Beckhoff products and system solutions. Beckhoff offers you comprehensive technical assistance, helping you not only with the application of individual Beckhoff products, but also as a solution.”

Beckhoff has developed the TwinCAT Analytics tool to serve the growing needs of Industry 4.0 applications. Various TwinCAT Software Libraries are made available for users to pick and choose what is needed for the desired measurement application.
As for Scientech, Thakare explains, “Scientech’s after-sales support involves warranty, training, software upgrade, and repair service. Our after-sales support encompasses a wide array of services that cater to our customers using a product correctly, which could generate repeat customers, develop brand loyalty among customers and ensure customer satisfaction.”
Even though its contribution to the sector often goes unnoticed, it is safe to say that the T&M industry has an important role to play in the manufacturing sector’s progress. It has much to offer in terms of upping the sector’s game as far as quality of products is concerned, in turn ensuring that manufacturers are able to continuously enjoy a competitive edge in the global market.

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