Economic factors have driven many organizations to put increased focus on efficiency and quality, and consequently, some have turned to automation of various processes.
For researchers and manufacturers dealing in physical products, automated mechanical and physical testing systems increase productivity while sustaining high quality standards. Being a deadline-driven industry, manufacturing in particular is extracting significant value from the automation of mechanical and physical testing.
In many manufacturing businesses, quality control laboratories monitor incoming raw materials, in-process materials and final products rolling off the production line. Typically, companies use either an in-house or outside lab, where physical and mechanical qualities for these products are determined using standard testing equipment. The types of tests run on these items include compression, hardness, impact, flexure and tensile tests.
After testing is performed, the mechanical and physical qualities of a sample are compared to standards in order to see if it meets the desired specifications. Many businesses fall under the auspices of regulatory authorities that mandate precise testing of finished products to meet various standards. For example, pharmaceutical regulators look to see if medicines contain the correct quantity of active ingredient.
Mechanical and physical testing procedures can be costly and time consuming, especially at scale. This can result in production or shipping bottlenecks. Most manufacturers will not allow production to run without confirmation that products are meeting either internal or regulatory specifications, especially those businesses that make high volumes of expensive products.
To meet the needs of manufacturers and other organizations with similar concerns, automatic systems have been designed with automated specimen-handling features that can increase throughput, support quality, work consistently and boost profitability.
Many automated testing systems are available as either a turnkey or customizable solution, based on testing and throughput requirements. Some systems use a modular design for greater control and versatility. Most are designed to be used while unattended.
Increased Speed and Accuracy
The effectiveness of quality and process control programs depends on the capability to execute dependable and precise tests for large volumes of samples. The operation of a standard automatic testing system involves the machine moving samples from a storage receptacle, through an automatic identification system and into a testing apparatus. The sample is then tested, data is recorded and reported. An analysis of the collected data may also be automated.
Research indicates that human error is the most frequent source of error, and the use of automated testing systems has been found to significantly reduce this type of error. Robotic sample handling and loading supports consistent test processes, analysis and reporting. Furthermore, automated measurement of sample dimension and bar-code scanning stations get rid of tedious, error-prone tasks. Automation systems are available for a wide range of test materials, including metals, synthetics and rubbers. Systems can be customized to handle unique aspects, like irregular sample geometries.
The Cost and Benefit of Automation
It is essential to discuss the costs involved when assessing an automated testing system.
For manufacturers, quality control costs involve preventative, appraisal and outside costs. Incurred prior to a quality issue being found, preventative costs include things like employee training and other proactive quality activities. Appraisal costs are the costs directly related to testing. External costs are related to a failure of quality control that has been identified by one or more customers.
The biggest quality control costs are typically seen as external costs. They can include costs related to production, shipping, customer service and brand depreciation.
Investments in automated testing systems can be considered appraisal costs. Effective appraisal systems provide a return by reducing both preventative and external costs. Appraisal costs are also usually far less than external costs.
Despite the significant initial investment costs, the long-term return on automated testing systems far surpasses the costs related to quality issues in the field that are found by customers.