Industry standards such as virtual instrument software architecture (VISA), IVI, and ATML respectively define common interfaces for communication with test resources over test and measurement I/O interfaces, for instrument command syntax, and for the interchange of test environment information. Each protects the ATS system in one fashion or another from two risks that defense maintenance organizations have faced many times in the past: dependence on a single provider of an asset and the risk of disappearance of that single provider. Maintenance organizations incur greater costs when either situation occurs. Each of these standards embodies the modular open systems approach (MOSA) principles of designating key interfaces and using open standards.5,6
Integrating use of these standards into the ATS helps reduce program costs and risks.
Database connectivity is a vital component of platform support ATS, providing the means of documenting and disseminating failure and fault data for failure analyses. By consistently recording the what, when, and where of failures, database-connected ATSs assemble the necessary information for determining the causes. Supporting consistent aggregation of data for analyses gives the means for identifying possible corrective actions for processes and/or system and system component design that can yield operational costs savings to stretch program budgets.
TPS runtime represents a significant portion of program operating costs. A large element of this runtime consists of operator action time, which can be more than 40% of the total. Much of that time is spent waiting some sort of manual intervention from the operator.7
A well-designed operator graphical user interface (GUI) can increase operator efficiency, reducing costs. Test management software should decrease the cost of developing and modifying such GUIs, providing another vital element for stretching operational budgets.
Although there are many common interfaces and test station components across the ATS industry, not everything can be abstracted in a single manner while providing the flexibility required for each application. For this reason, ATSs need software that enhances the integrator’s ability to customize a system’s various abstraction layers.
The net benefits of designing an ATS architecture incorporating test-management software with the elements described above are reduced program costs and increased ROI. This results from flexible ATSs that can test legacy electronics technologies, adapt over their lifecycle, to test newer devices, and consistently deliver information to data repositories that can be mined to identify high cost failure events for which corrective actions can be initiated to reduce costs.
While today’s headlines coax many people into believing the current budget reductions, budget stretching, and cost savings efforts are new the DoD and its supporting industry have faced these conditions before. Consequently they have developed methods for incrementally evolving systems through technology insertions. These efforts have resulted in the creation of modular hardware platforms such as PXI, software-defined instrumentation such as synthetic instrumentation, and common communication syntax standards VISA, IVI, and ATML. Use of these standard modular, open platforms yields the ability to maintain existing capability and add new capability across many years. As a result, systems can have lifecycles two to three times longer than the original plan, stretching budgets without sacrificing capability. Designing automatic test systems using these elements is a successful strategy creating ATSs that are ready for extended duty.
1. PXI, http://www.pxisa.org/
2. IVI, http://www.ivifoundation.org/
3. Synthetic Instrument Working Group—Joint participation between DoD, Defense Prime Contractors, and Suppliers.
4. ATML, http://grouper.ieee.org/groups/scc20/tii/dot-standards.htm
5. Open Systems Joint Task Force (OSJTF), “A Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA) to Weapon System Acquisition”, pp. 5-6, 2004.
6. MOSA, http://www.acq.osd.mil/osjtf/mission.html
7. Orlet, J. and Murdock G., “TPS RUNTIME REDUCTION: A CRITICAL ELEMENT IN REPAIR THROUGHPUT,” IEEE Autotestcon Proceedings, pp. 7-10, 2010.
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About the author
Carl Heide is Market Development Manager - Aerospace/Defense with National Instruments (Austin, TX). He holds a BSEE from Stanford University and has over 15 years experience in the medical device and automated test industries.
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