Key factors in Laboratory Automation

Allion Labs/ Shawn Li

Automation is currently the goal of implementation in all areas. Allion is working to transform the testing of each Logo into automation, include instrument automation, data analyzing and capturing data into a formal report. Allion completes all the test data through the instrument automation and then integrates the collected data into a complete report. Via combining these two technologies to complete the automation, it could save labor costs, improve work efficiency and reduce the error rate of human operation.

1. Robotic Process Automation

RPA (Robotic Process Automation) is an automation that builds on user Operating System. According to the preset procedure, the expected task can be completed by RPA without human. In the current technical, the existing RPA is applicable for operating processes with high repetitiveness and low complexity and completing a series of tasks which is simple and time-consuming. Therefore, the cost of manpower can be replaced by RPA.

In automation, operating procedures and automation tools on RPA software are relatively simple to use. Usually, the script can be edited through a graphical interface and recording mouse and keyboard actions to complete a series of simple operations. After proficient in RPA software, you will find out it can even help us to do some more complicatedly automatic work. At present, RPA has been widely used in many practical applications, and its efficiency is several times that of general operators. It not only reduces labor costs and improve work efficiency, but also provides an uninterrupted amount of output. Through the RPA software, our execution results of a test report will be more accurate and avoid a series of human negligence. The most direct effect of introducing such automation software is to reduce work with high-repetition work, enhance overall efficiency, and bring cost-effectiveness.

Figure 1. KORAT
Figure 2. SikuliX

Figure 1 is the RPA software (KORAT), which can record the user’s operation process. This software could use the recording result to repeat the previous action to achieve automation effect. Also, the software can be exported into code, such as C, C#, Python and other languages, so you can add your own program in this code to improve the effectiveness and enhance the convenience of automation. Figure 2 shows another RPA software called Sikulix. You can click in a certain position and set up the target by using the screenshot. And then, using the image recognition technology to click the position what we set, thus we can design the flow of automation by screenshot and Sikulix command. It is a software that is easy to use and efficient. Besides these advantages, it even provides a free environment for users to use. In our lab, we also use this software for developing automation.

2. Instrument Automation

Automated test systems often assemble a variety of instruments. In an automated test system, maintaining high stability and low error rate are very important. Although Ethernet and USB can also use HUB to connect many instruments at the same time, the hub is still an added equipment thus increasing uncertainties. GPIB was originally designed to connect multiple instruments in parallel, so you just need GPIB cables to connect all instruments without any external HUB. The GPIB protocol is a method of multiple handshakes. So when data is transferred, there are strictly defined in timing, reception status and the direction. GPIB is still one of the most important conditions for automated testing. With the automation of instruments, we can combine the RPA and document automation to complete a series of automation test without any manual operation. Figure 3 shows the GUI that we design for the HDMI instrument automation, which connects all instruments that test items require with GPIB cable and controls every instrument by the PC side. The advantages of instrument automation are that it reduces the labor cost and improve testing efficiency.

Figure 3. Instrument Automation

3. Excel Document Automation

In some cases, developers who are good at Excel VBA can also do automation works like RPA. The VBA program not only can be used in outputting test reports, but also in administration work, which could save time and increase company competitive.

Advantages of Excel VBA:

-Replacing simple and repetitive workflows

Testing would involve serious of simple and repetitive work, such as opening files, copying and pasting, saving, modifying formats, etc. Compared to manual operation, the VBA program is faster and has higher accuracy. Moreover, VBA can run all day without interruption, not only reducing labor costs but also increasing the overall output.

-Combining Word and PowerPoint

Not only Word and PowerPoint are readable by VBA, but also VBA can be converted into these two types of documents. Without manually modify, different kinds of documents will be outputted.

-Consolidating multiple files

VBA program can be used to combine multiple files into one report, and then analyze data as well as draw a visual picture. After completing the report, it can be exported to a PDF file or printed it out. If it was a manual operation, it may take a lot of time analyzing and making a report. Especially when a database is large, it is hard to calculate and find the keyword, therefore, leading to a higher error rate.

-Intelligent inspection and delivery

The E-mail can be automatically sent by the VBA program with the Outlook, which means the final report can be automatically sent to the client or sent to yourself for checking if the report is incorrect.

Figure 4 shows the document automation of the HDMI test report. Using the VBA program to analyze and integrate the test data into the report. Compared with manual operation, automatic operation can reduce time by more than 5 times. According to the complexity of the report, the more complicated report, the greater time difference, so the document automation can save much time to produce reports, improve overall efficiency and save labor costs.

Figure 4. Document Automation

4. Combining Document Automation and Instrument Automation into RPA

Although RPA can repeat the way humans operate the mouse and keyboard in order to reduce repetitive and time-consuming work, RPA is a way of mimicking human operation. Comparing with VBA, RPA is hard to perform high complexity works or data that needs to be analyzed. Moreover, the speed of execution is not as fast as a VBA program. Despite the above disadvantages, the advantages of RPA are that it can be run on different OS and not be limited to one program or software. In the RPA software, you can use the way that repeating the mouse click for completing the task, but if you want to achieve the same result through the VBA program, VBA Programming code needs to be provided. Thus, we use the advantages of RPA and VBA to make up individual shortcomings, making the automation process more perfect.

There are some problems with the automation of instruments. For example, some instruments are used own software to control and it can’t be controlled by GPIB. Therefore, in this case, we can use the RPA software to control the mouse and keyboard for operating the instrument, making up the lack of GPIB, which lead to a successful result. Through the automation of RPA, VBA, and GPIB, we can make a test project such as HDMI test, from the beginning of the detection to the output of the report, we don’t need any manual operation. Just execute the automation program and configure the pins of that DUT needs to detect, we can detect all the items of DUT and generate a report. With these automation process, it could shorten the time for report and reduce labor costs, as well as increase overall workload to enhance the company’s competitiveness.

Allion – Playing a Leading Role in Automation Testing

HDMI Test Automation

In the HDMI test process, we will use many test instruments which can be divided whether there is a GPIB interface or not. If there is no GPIB interface on the instrument, there are usually other methods of communicate like USB, Ethernet, and unique software for controlling. Therefore, in the development of automation, if we can’t use the GPIB to control the instrument, we will try RPA software instead. After the completion of the instrument test, we will use RPA or VBA to update test report on NAS server and classified, in order to execute document automation.

We established document automation through the VBA program which provided by Excel. We collect the test results and log files into our test report. Besides, we can analyze the data and capture fail logs, and then collect fail logs into our fail report for showing to our customer. The format of the report can be converted to PDF, Word, and PowerPoint through VBA. You can provide the required file format according to the customer’s needs. After the report is generated, the report can be uploaded to the NAS and then can be sent to the customer by e-mail or printed as a paper report. This entire process is the automation of HDMI, as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5. HDMI Automation Test

Bluetooth Test Automation

      Allion Labs has been launched on the automation of Bluetooth and has been certified by the Association. The measurement from the instrument to the report output has been fully automated. Figure 6 shows the system architecture of Bluetooth Lab Automation and is mainly divided into four parts:

-PC side control

Our lab named this part ABTS (Allion Bluetooth Test Suite), mainly execute GPIB commands for controlling instruments and arranging the test flow of instruments. Once receive the measured data and results, the PC side will start to analyze and generate the final report.

-Instrument control items:

  • Anritsu MT8852B Bluetooth Test Set
  • Vector Signal Generator
  • Continuous Wave Signal Generators
  • Spectrum Analyzer

-RF path switching

Switch different RF lines

-EUT(Equipment Under Test)

With the above system architecture, we can establish a flow of automation. First, connecting the EUT to the ABRTS and put it into Test Mode and then according to different EUT create own folder. After creating the folder, the test data is stored in the corresponding log. In the end, generate the test report from the record file. This series of processes is the Bluetooth test process.

Figure 6. Bluetooth Automation System Architecture
Figure 7. Bluetooth Automation Test Flow

The World’s Leading AI Pioneers

Via intelligent operation processes such as Robert Process Automation, instrument automation and document automation, Allion assists customers to accelerate test schedule, enhances product quality and lower test cost. Not only Allion combines AI into the test process, but also provides AI Testing Service to ensure products are perfectly compatible.