A lot of research and development activity is carried out in Finland, for example, related to technological and product development of biofuels, biomass processing, chemical process technology, industrial biotechnology and food technology.
The scale of activities varies from small startup businesses and individual research initiatives to global technology centers of major global companies. A common denominator is often the test equipment that is used to carry out the practical research work. How to get the most out of the test equipment and improve the efficiency of operations?
Although automating the control system of test equipment is always an investment, it will pay itself back bringing ready money with wise use of resources.
In my job, I have encountered many types of Do It Yourself solutions in the area of control system automation for test equipment of laboratories and research units. Perhaps the most original one was a multimeter installed in test equipment that showed figures on the screen but did not store data anywhere. Instead, a video camera recorded the multimeter display and the necessary information could be obtained by winding the video for hours.
Data collection with automation solutions that are built alongside one’s main duties using minimal resources can be cumbersome and slow. In addition, the operational reliability is often questionable, maintainability is difficult and adaptability is impossible.
It is also surprisingly common that automation does not exist at all or data produced by the test equipment is manually recorded on paper. Although automating the control system of test equipment is always an investment, it will pay itself back bringing ready money with wise use of resources.
Benefits of control system automation of test equipment:
- Data can be collected more easily and in larger quantities and, in addition, data is more reliable compared to manual collection.
- The use of the test equipment is more efficient as automation can at best operate day and night without a monitoring eye.
- Time of employees is saved for the actual research work, which means cost savings and increased meaningfulness of work.
- Safety improves since the potential risk factors of the process are carefully analyzed and prescribed safety systems are put in place at the design stage of the automation project.
- A well-planned and implemented automation system is easily modifiable to respond to changing needs.
It is also useful to automate smaller test equipment: case Neste Plc
Automation is useful and investing is profitable, whether for smaller or larger test equipment. A good example of a smaller-scale automation project is our customer Neste Plc.
The major part of the equipment base of the Neste research unit was connected to the automation system, but the operation of the laboratory-scale equipment was still based on unit controllers and manual technology. We developed an automation and data collection solution that made the control of the test equipment and the processing of the measurement data easier and faster for the researchers of Neste.
Ideally, test equipment automation is designed already during the construction of new test equipment; however, old test equipment can also be brought up to date with automation.
Measurement, testing and quality assurance systems from professionals
During my over 20 years’ career, Protacon has become one of the leading providers of measurement, testing and quality assurance systems in Finland. Every year, more than 200 systems supplied by us perform millions of tests on various components, devices and processes.
Our expert team carry out development projects systematically and take care of maintenance and further development throughout the entire lifecycle of the testing system.
Therefore, a Do It Yourself solution can be functional, to a certain extent, but an investment in professional automation is at the same time an investment on the most important: actual research work. Valuable time of employees is saved for essential tasks, automation collects data efficiently, easily and reliably, thus also creating the most significant cost savings.