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Virtual Instrumentation: Measuring Up Remotely

Pradeep Shankar
Monday, May 31, 2004
Pradeep Shankar
Dinesh Sangale, Quality Head at the GE Medical Systems (GEMS) plant located in Bangalore used to most of his time monitoring the manufacturing process of many critical components used to build sophisticated, high-value medical equipment like CT Scans or X-Ray machines. Some of these components are processed in ovens or high voltage tanks that required 24x7 monitoring. Sangale and his team used to measuring electrical parameters, temperature and vacuum of these systems in a tiring, round-the-clock cycle.

Testing the systems was a tedious job. Every time a particular test had to be conducted—and there were numerous individual tests in a process—Sangale and team has to start plugging in the measuring devices to the systems, only to repeat the cycle. The manual testing was time consuming, and required Sangale’s intervention throughout the tests. Many a time some of the traditional measuring instruments that were being used—digital voltmeter, digital counter, oscilloscope—presented unique problems. To add to this, the tests involved high voltages of 2500 V and frequent human intervention to change connections created room for errors and safety concerns.

Further, the team would note the measurements manually and later transfer to a computer for report generation.

GEMS needed a test station that would perform all the tests with minimal human intervention. For Sangale the answer lay in using a computer based automation system. It was sometime in 2002 that he heard of the Austin, TX-based National Instruments that was pioneering a concept called Virtual Instrumentation.

Virtual instruments are not really that different from the traditional instruments that Sangale was using earlier. However, the difference between a virtual instrument and a conventional one is that while the former uses a personal computer for all user interaction and control, conventional instruments use displays, knobs and switches.

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