This was my very first automated test that I was responsible for. I learned a lot of lessons along the way that have stuck with me for every project since.
This test involved using a hydro-pump to pressurize two elastomeric seals. The customer wanted to pressurize the seals, hold pressure, bleed pressure, and then repeat until failure. Every 500 cycles, the seals needed to be leak tested by performing an extended hold and checking for pressure drop. If a seal failed, testing on it should cease, but the other seal should continue to be cycled until failure.
This was the first time I designed both the plumbing and electrical controls for a test.
Since each seal needed to be tested independently, each one had its own air-actuated isolation valve. On the pressure supply side, an air-driven hydro pump was turned on/off with a solenoid valve that supplied shop air. The supply side also had an accumulator which would be pumped up during hold periods, significantly reducing cycle time by increasing the speed at which the seals would fill with water. A common bleed valve was used to depressurize the seals between cycles.
The electrical board housed a cRIO with the necessary analog input and digital output cards. To control the air-actuated valves, a manifold with solenoid valves was used to convert electrical signals to valve actuation.
The interface had a simple plumbing schematic as well as manual and automatic controls. If a seal failure was detected, a large red indicator would light and the seal would be automatically isolated for the remainder of testing.
Performance and Lessons Learned
The system worked well at first, detecting seal failure by checking for a percentage of pressure drop during the hold periods. However, a failure mode crept up on me that I didn’t account for: if the seal failed during pump-up, it would leak and never build enough pressure to move to the next test step. Thus, one day when we arrived to the lab, there was water all over the floor since the pump just kept on trying!
From that day forward, all automated system test steps included some sort of time-out to ensure the system stops the test if a condition is not met within a reasonable amount of time.