Today’s cars are rolling computers. With the electronic interconnectivity and functionality designed into the small space of a driver’s console, automobile OEMs must ensure that one bad component doesn’t spoil an otherwise quality product. That’s why companies like Methode Electronics have become such important partners in the automotive supply chain. They’re building their success on component quality testing.
Methode designs and manufactures integrated center stack (ICS) solutions. In these consoles reside all the electronics that power today's modern driver aides i.e. navigation display, touchscreen functionality, radio controls, front HVAC controls, rear HVAC controls and vehicle communications. Its tests include rigorous electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) qualification.
Methode worked with Parker Hannifin to develop a flexible intelligent pneumatic controller, This key system element is used during EMC testing to actuate various control interfaces on the ICS product consisting of various buttons and knobs. Each individual component test must be set up independently to perform a specific sequence and a total number of cycles for pass/failure.
Why are pneumatic components key to these test systems?
Anytime you send current down a wire, it may cause electromagnetic interference. During ICS testing, a series of buttons are pressed and knobs are turned while a module is powered on. These tests must be done without any conductive surfaces involved or the risk of electromagnetic radiation from the actuators that could interfere with the test.
The pneumatic actuators must be flexible enough to be used with a variety of ICS designs and able to withstand relocation to a test chamber in a different plant or facility as needed. Methode runs 32 actuators independently, with some of them being single-acting and others double-acting to control both the extend and retract motions in a controlled fashion.
The result of Parker and Methode’s collaboration is a custom configured Parker BL67 communication gateway and operator panel which controls the pneumatic valve island and actuators that test these systems to assess their condition. What was needed from the onset was to have a software-based tester that could develop and grow as more products needed to be tested.
Before, Methode would go to an outside EMC house certified by the OEM to have this actuation equipment designed and built. This approach was financially unsustainable, however, since it relied on the vendor to build unique fixtures and assemblies for actuation in EMC chambers. Further, these vendors had long development cycles, driven in part by the need to learn the operation of the product and the specific testing needs required.
Because Methode has global laboratories with worldwide customers, the goal is to "copy exactly" their environments. The challenge with EMC testing is that one little difference in a test setup could result in different EMC results. The best way to control that is to use common equipment globally, with the modularity and expandability to grow with the product portfolio.
Methode now uses two Parker BL67 programmable testers that can be reconfigured via open-source software to store all testing programs for the parts to be tested. Each one can run tests on 32 actuators independently. These fieldbus systems are supported by the major PLC manufacturers.
In this age of modular electronics and tried-and-true design, why is such rigorous testing necessary?
The process starts with design verification, where Methode investigates design concepts to confirm they are valid. Then in the final design, once something is production-ready, that’s where the actuator device is used to validate that the design meets product requirements.
Even with component modularity and re-use, there are always certain aspects of the design that are unique or new and require testing. And the more often you can set up and complete a test sequence, the more likely you are to shorten the product development cycle—and that benefits Methode’s customers and makes Methode more competitive.
Article contributed by Mike Parran, pneumatic territory manager, Fluid Power Sales Team.
The BL67 communication gateway and operator panel was customized by the Pneumatic Division of Parker Hannifin Corporation.
Images supplied and approved for use by Methode.