Platform Spotlight: STAX

Since 2004, Signal.X Technologies has provided software and systems integration for complex end-of-line test systems and industrial automation. Controlling a production test system requires a multi-disciplinary team that brings together electrical, mechanical, hydraulic and controls knowledge. Done correctly, end-of-line test systems operate reliably day in and day out, while maintaining the level of flexibility needed to add new models, facilitate troubleshooting of components and provide the correct level of insight into the machine performance and health.

PLCs have traditionally been the primary solution to meeting this requirement, and are still the right choice for many machines. However, as these test systems become more complex, Signal.X has found that PLCs do not always satisfy the needs for high-speed data acquisition, signal processing, database interaction and more. In lieu of simply placing a PC next to a PLC on the production line, Signal.X created the STAX manufacturing test platform, built on the National Instruments CompactRIO hardware: Programmable Automation Controllers (PACs).

At its core, the STAX platform turns NI hardware (specifically the CompactRIO) into a PLC, but with the power of LabVIEW to acquire and log high-speed data, communicate to devices and more. STAX contains a ladder logic emulator that is used to program the behavior of the control system, with editing and monitoring tools very similar to a PLC.

Historically, manufacturing plants have not been receptive to LabVIEW and National Instruments as part of their production process. Although NI hardware has been accepted as high-quality and reliable, many plants believe that in order to maintain the systems over time they have to become LabVIEW experts. Asking a controls engineer who is an expert ladder logic programmer to also learn LabVIEW is an unrealistic expectation in most plants. STAX enables controls engineers and technicians to maintain and manage sophisticated test systems using programming that is familiar and intuitive.

Signal.X has been building the STAX platform for almost a decade, and it has stood the test of time by becoming a foundation for test and control systems large and small. We are excited to continue deploying new systems testing everything from seat tracks to dampers. Stay tuned to see how our experience with Shield and STAX can create test systems with unparalleled control and processing capability.