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robotics

Article
Automation of Electrical Cable Harnesses Testing
Zhuming Bi 1, *, Carlos Pomalaza-Ráez 2 ID , Dustin Hershberger 1 , Jeremy Dawson 1 ,
Andrew Lehman 1 , John Yurek 2 and Jared Ball 2
1 Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering, Purdue University Fort Wayne,
Fort Wayne, IN 46805, USA; hersdm01@students.ipfw.edu (D.H.); dawsjc01@students.ipfw.edu (J.D.);
lehmac01@students.ipfw.edu (A.L.)
2 Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Purdue University Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne,
IN 46805, USA; raez@ipfw.edu (C.P.-R.); yurejj01@students.ipfw.edu (J.Y.); balljj01@students.ipfw.edu (J.B.)
* Correspondence: biz@ipfw.edu

Received: 26 October 2017; Accepted: 19 December 2017; Published: 21 December 2017

Abstract: Traditional automated systems, such as industrial robots, are applied in well-structured
environments, and many automated systems have a limited adaptability to deal with complexity and
uncertainty; therefore, the applications of industrial robots in small- and medium-sized enterprises
(SMEs) are very limited. The majority of manual operations in SMEs are too complicated for
automation. The rapidly developed information technologies (IT) has brought new opportunities
for the automation of manufacturing and assembly processes in the ill-structured environments.
Note that an automation solution should be designed to meet the given requirements of the specified
application, and it differs from one application to another. In this paper, we look into the feasibility of
automated testing for electric cable harnesses, and our focus is on some of the generic strategies for the
improvement of the adaptability of automation solutions. Especially, the concept of modularization
is adopted in developing hardware and software to maximize system adaptability in testing a wide
scope of products. A proposed system has been implemented, and the system performances have
been evaluated by executing tests on actual products. The testing experiments have shown that the
automated system outperformed manual operations greatly in terms of cost-saving, productivity and
reliability. Due to the potential of increasing system adaptability and cost reduction, the presented
work has its theoretical and practical significance for an extension for other automation solutions
in SMEs.

Keywords: modular systems; system adaptability; system automation; automated testing; small- and
medium-sized enterprise (SMEs); electrical cable hardness; system flexibility

1. Introduction
Automation is playing more and more important roles in modern manufacturing industries.
In contrast to human operators, automated machines can work restlessly and reliably with a high
productivity. Automation can be a cost-effective means for a manufacturing enterprise to sustain
its competitiveness in the globalized business environment. Manufacturing technologies cannot be
advanced without the wide applications of intelligent machines [1,2]. Manufacturing enterprises rely
heavily on automation to achieve high quality and productivity, reduce cost, and deal with labor
shortages [3,4]. Despite the numerous advantages of system automation, robotic systems in traditional
applications lack flexibility in dealing with changes and uncertainties, and this turns out to be a
significant challenge to use robots in small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The quantity of
the same tasks is usually limited. If either robotic hardware or program have their limitations in
coping with a variety of tasks, applying a robot might cause some issues, such as poor utilization rate,
long setup time, and high initial investment, and, thus, a high unit cost of products [5]. To replace

Robotics 2018, 7, 1; doi:10.3390/robotics7010001 www.mdpi.com/journal/robotics


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human operators with better performance, the automation solution should not only be affordable, but
also be flexible to accommodate as many different tasks as possible. Therefore, we are motivated to
address the aforementioned concerns by using modularized architecture in the automated solutions
for enhanced system adaptability [6–9], while the selections and assemblies of modular components in
a system can be varied and tailored to the needs in given applications [10]. It is also worth mentioning
that due to the complexity and uncertainty, full automation is often cost-forbidding in production
lines with small or limited batch volumes. Affordable automation solutions mostly require human
and machine collaboration to synergize the advantages of human operators and machines [11–13].
In this paper, the semi-automated solution for harness testing is presented and used as the case study
to illustrate the application of the modularization method.
In this paper, the solution to the testing automation of cable harnesses is used as the case study
to illustrate the application of the modularization method. Testing operations at the client company
are automated to replace human operators, shorten testing time, follow standardized tests, and
achieve high consistency and quality. The rest of the paper is organized as follows: In Section 2,
the features and variety of cable harnesses are introduced, the testing requirements of products are
introduced, and the types of tested flaws and defects are classified. Some drawbacks of manual
testing are discussed to identify some challenges of the automation solution for testing. In Section 3,
the hardware of the mechanical and electronic sub-systems are presented. In Section 4, the control
system and graphical user interface are discussed. In Section 5, the proposed method and system is
implemented and prototyped, and the system performance is evaluated by performing tests on actual
products. In Section 6, we summarize the presented work and our contribution for the development
of modularized automated solutions. In addition, the plan for the extension of the proposed system
is briefed.

2. Cable Harness and Testing Requirements

2.1. Cable Harness Products


Figure 1 shows an example of a cable harness whose connections are required to be tested for
quality assurance. Generally, a harness refers to a set of bonded wires which are used to transmit
signals or electrical power in electric and electronic systems [14]. To meet the quality standards of
products, harnesses must be tested accordingly. The testing methods and procedures for electronic
systems have been extensively discussed in the literature [15]. However, it is worth noting that cable
harnesses in modern electronics are becoming more and more complicated and diversified, and this
brings challenges in cost-effectively testing various cable harnesses in production. As a matter of
fact, the majority of SMEs in the field rely on human testers. Figure 2 shows an example where
cable harnesses are tested by human operators. Some drawbacks of manual testing include long
testing time, risk concerns to operators, subjective criteria for pass/fail tests, and testing variants by
different operators.
The most important concern for the automation of the testing process is to provide the flexibility
for different types of cable harnesses by one testing system since a SME usually has a number of
harnesses to be tested. One cable harness may differ from another in terms of the configuration of
wires or the connection interface. Figure 3a shows that the plugs of the connections can vary from
one harness to another. Note that most of the cable testers on the market, such as the one shown
in Figure 3b, are dedicated devices, which can only be used to test harnesses with the same type of
plugs. Therefore, the system adaptability for a variety of products must be considered as the primary
requirement of a new testing system.
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Figure1.1. Cable
Figure Cable harness products.
harness products.
Figure 1. Cable harness products.

Figure 1. Cable harness products.

Figure 2. Cable testing by a human operator.


Figure
Figure 2. 2. Cabletesting
Cable testingby
byaahuman
humanoperator.
operator.
Figure 2. Cable testing by a human operator.

(a) (b)
(a) (b)
(a) (b)
Figure 3. Examples of various cable connections and specialized testing device. (a) Different interface
Figure 3. Examples of various cable connections and specialized testing device. (a) Different interface
connectors; and (b) a of
Figure 3. Examples specialized testing
various cable device. and specialized testing device. (a) Different interface
connections
connectors;
Figure and (b)
3. Examples a specialized
of various cabletesting device.and specialized testing device. (a) Different interface
connections
connectors; and (b) a specialized testing device.
connectors; and (b) a specialized testing device.
The common quality issues are mainly the loose connection of a cable harness to backplanes and
The common quality issues are mainly the loose connection of a cable harness to backplanes and
printedThe common
circuit boardsquality issues
(PCB). areamainly
For the loose connection
comprehensive of acontinuity,
testing, the cable harness to backplanes
resistance, and
insulation
printed
The
printed
circuit
common
circuit
boards
quality
boards
(PCB).
issues
(PCB).
For
are
For a
a comprehensive
comprehensive
mainly the loose testing,
connection
testing,
the
the
continuity,
of a cable
continuity,
resistance,
harness
resistance, to insulation
backplanes
insulation
resistance, dielectric breakdown, missed wires, and other intermittent defects must be diagnosed to
resistance,
resistance,dielectric breakdown, missedwires,
wires,and
andother
otherintermittent
intermittent defects must be diagnosed
to toto
and printed
determine if dielectric
circuit
the cable breakdown,
boards harness missed
(PCB).passes
For a comprehensive
or fails [16,17]. testing,
In defects
the continuity,
addition, the must
system be diagnosed
resistance,
must insulation
be flexible
determine
determine ifif the cable
the testing
cable harness
harness passes or
passes orfails
fails[16,17].
[16,17].InInaddition,
addition, the system must be flexible
to to
resistance,
accommodatedielectric
the breakdown,
needs for missed wires,
a variety and other
of harness products in the
intermittent system must
defects
the client be flexible
must
company. be diagnosed
accommodate
accommodate the
the testing
testing needs for
needs foraavariety
varietyofofharness
harnessproducts
products in in
thethe client
client company.
company.
to determine if the cable harness passes or fails [16,17]. In addition, the system must be flexible to
2.2. Requirements
accommodate of Harness
the testing needsTesting
for a variety of harness products in the client company.
2.2. Requirements of Harness Testing
2.2. Requirements of Harness Testing
Previously, due to a relatively low volume of each cable harness type, these harnesses were
Previously,
2.2. Requirements due
due to aTesting
of Harness
Previously, relatively low
relatively lowvolume
volumeofofeach
eachcable
cable harness
harness type,
type, these
these harnesses
harnesses werewere
manually tested by human operators. The company found that manual testing took an extremely
manually
manuallytested
tested by
by human operators.The
human operators. Thecompany
companyfound
foundthat
that manual
manual testing
testing took
took an extremely
an extremely
Previously,
long time;
long due to the
moreover,
time; moreover, a relatively low volume
testing quality of heavily
depended each cable harness
onthe
the type, these
visualinspection
inspection harnesses
and were
subjective
long time; moreover, the testing
testing quality
qualitydepended
dependedheavily
heavilyonon visual
the visual inspection and subjective
and subjective
manually tested by human operators. The company found that manual testing took an extremely
Robotics 2018, 7, 1 4 of 13

long time; moreover, the testing quality depended heavily on the visual inspection and subjective
judgment. To address the aforementioned issues, the company expected to automate the testing
process with affordable hardware and software components, so that cable harnesses can be tested
efficiently and cost-effectively.
A new system is proposed to test the continuity of cable harness and alert operators if any
irregularity is detected automatically. Other than the detection of discontinuity, dielectric breakdown,
missed wires, and intermittent defects, the testing system should be designed to minimize the wear
on harnesses and connectors, and the system must compete with testing all of the harness variants
produced by the company. Therefore, the main functional requirements for the testing system include:
‚ Detection of all types of defects: Some defects in harnesses, such as broken wires, mixed,
cross-over or loose connections, will cause malfunctions in its application. The primary goal of
cable testing is to identify these imperfect harness products.
‚ Shortened cycle time: One main drawback of manual testing is the long testing time, which
usually takes several minutes to test one cable harness. The automated testing system is expected
to have a cycle time of testing less than 20 s, so that harnesses under test can be turned over
within the demanded cycle time to catch up with the throughput of the current production line.
‚ Setup time for tooling changeover of different products: The testing system is designed to test
different harness types, and the products to be tested should be changed from time to time.
Both of the settings for hardware and software are subjected to be adjusted for new products.
The setup time for the tooling changeover must be less than 5 min.
‚ Adaptability for product variants: The company has more than 20 conductors, which are
produced on the same production line simultaneously. Therefore, the testing system should be
flexible to test more than 20 harness types. In addition, the architectures of both software and
hardware systems much be adaptable for the testing of new products in the future.

3. Modularization
To make a system adaptable, two primary methods are (1) to introduce flexible components which
can be adjusted and controlled for different tasks and, (2) to adopt a modularized architecture where
the system consists of different modules, and different types and number of modules can be selected
and assembled in different ways for different tasks [7–9]. In this paper, we use the second approach to
improve the system adaptability. The system architecture is modularized so that the functionalities of
modular components can be decoupled to maximize the design spaces of these sub-components; the
designs of individual modules can be revised and upgraded with less impact on other modules [3].
At the highest level of modular system architecture, functional modules in the testing system are
classified into two distinct subsystems, i.e., the electrical sub-system and the mechanical sub-system.
The functional requirements of the electrical subsystem are (1) to test the continuity and insulation
and, (2) to detect and classify the defects of harnesses. In addition, any type of motions in the testing
system must be controlled adequately to meet the requirements of the product cycle time. Axiomatic
design theory is applied to establish the mapping between functional requirements and designed
components [6]. Therefore, the corresponding hardware of the electrical elements are presented
as follows:
Electrical components consist of:
‚ Control module: The control module is designed to meet the control requirement of testing
machine. Other criteria of selecting a control module are (1) the ease of operation, and (2) the
compatibility with other system modules. In addition, the programming platform must
be determined since the testing system needs a program for users to set up the hardware
configuration, perform testing, and generate testing reports.
‚ Automated testing module: The testing system is applicable to a variety of cable harnesses.
The interface of the testing module with the tested cable harness is configurable so that
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different 42 5 of 13
can be mated to the testing system to perform the tests by the specified
program automatically.
connections can be mated to the testing system to perform the tests by the specified program
‚ Power supply module: This module is responsible to provide power for all of the actuated
automatically.
mechanical components, as well as the electronic components with external power. Therefore,
 Power supply module: This module is responsible to provide power for all of the actuated
the selections of the power supplies depend on the designs of the control system and the
mechanical components, as well as the electronic components with external power. Therefore,
testing module. of the power supplies depend on the designs of the control system and the testing
the selections
Themodule.
mechanical system is required to possess the following functionalities: (1) the mechanical
structureThe will house allsystem
mechanical of theiselectrically- and mechanically-actuated
required to possess components
the following functionalities: (1) theinmechanical
the testing
system; (2) the
structure willmechanical
house all of interface will provide
the electrically- the flexibility to connect
and mechanically-actuated a variety in
components of the
plugs of the
testing
tested harnesses;
system; (2) theand (3) the safety
mechanical interfaceassurance will prevent
will provide any potential
the flexibility riskaofvariety
to connect the manual
of plugsintervenes
of the
tested harnesses;
duration the courseand (3) the safety
of testing. assurance
Therefore, will prevent
the main any potential
functional risk ofof
requirements thea manual
mechanicalintervenes
system
duration
include the course of testing. Therefore, the main functional requirements of a mechanical system
the following:
include the following:
‚ Requirement for enclosure: This will be integrated with the control system so that the hardware
 interface
Requirement for enclosure:
to a cable harness This can will be integrated with
be automatically the control
adjusted system
for the so thatharness
specified the hardware
subject
interface
to testing. to a cable harness can be automatically adjusted for the specified harness subject to
testing.
‚ Requirement for actuation: This is for the moving mechanism, via which the interface can be
 Requirement for actuation: This is for the moving mechanism, via which the interface can be
self-reconfigured to provide the connections for the testing of different harnesses.
self-reconfigured to provide the connections for the testing of different harnesses.
‚  Requirement for interface: This is for the interface to make the physical connection to a cable
Requirement for interface: This is for the interface to make the physical connection to a cable
harness to be tested;
harness to be tested; it is adjustable so thatso
it is adjustable all that
wiresallof the harness
wires canharness
of the be connected
can beappropriately
connected
based on the information of its configuration.
appropriately based on the information of its configuration.
Following
Followingthethe
axiomatic
axiomaticdesign
designtheory,
theory,the
theindependence
independence of functionalrequirements
of functional requirementsand anddesign
design
variables areare
variables considered,
considered,and this led
and this ledtotothe
the need
need to develop
to develop five functional
five functional modules.
modules. Figure 4Figure
shows 4
shows
thesethese modules:
modules: supports
supports for individual
for individual pins,pins, configuration
configuration of pins,
of pins, actuation
actuation of the
of the pinpin array,
array,
securement
securement of pins, and and
of pins, the testing controller.
the testing Hardware
controller. components
Hardware needed
components to be designed
needed or selected
to be designed or
for selected for these modules
these functional functionalaccordingly.
modules accordingly.

Figure
Figure 4. 4.Five
Fivefunctional
functionalmodules
modules of
of the
the mechanical
mechanical system.
system.

4. Implementation
4. Implementation ofof the
the ProposedTesting
Proposed TestingSystem
System
Figure 5 illustrates the main components of the conceptual testing system. The proposed system
Figure 5 illustrates the main components of the conceptual testing system. The proposed system
was prototyped and implemented to evaluate its testing performances. To reduce the cost, the frame
was prototyped and implemented to evaluate its testing performances. To reduce the cost, the frame of
of the mechanical system used the off-the-shelf extruded aluminum products; only the moving parts
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the mechanical system used the off-the-shelf extruded aluminum products; only the moving parts in
Robotics
the mechanical 2017, 6, 42
system are machined, and again, the materials for these machined parts are 6common
of 13
in the mechanical system are machined, and again, the materials for these machined parts are
industrial
common materials,
industrialsuch as aluminum,
materials, such steel, and
as aluminum, steel,stainless
and steel. To To simplify the
thegraphical user
in the mechanical system are machined, and again, the stainless
materialssteel. simplify
for these machined graphical
parts are
interface
user (GUI),
interface
common a CTC touch screen
(GUI), amaterials,
industrial CTC touch is selected
screen
such for the
is selectedsteel,
as aluminum, operator
for the to
operator
and run and
to steel.
stainless run andterminate the
terminatethe
To simplify testing
thegraphical
testing system
withsystem
one-touchwith control
user interface (GUI),for
one-touch starting
acontrol
CTC foror
touch stopping.
starting
screen orselected
is stopping. for the operator to run and terminate the testing
system with one-touch control for starting or stopping.

Figure5.5.Illustration
Figure Illustration of
of the
theconceptual
conceptualtesting system.
testing system.
Figure 5. Illustration of the conceptual testing system.
4.1. Mechanical System Structure
4.1. Mechanical System Structure
4.1. The
Mechanical
actuated System
movingStructure
mechanism is implemented as an integrated assembly, which is driven by
aThe actuated
linear actuator.moving
All of mechanism
static
The actuated moving mechanism parts areis fastened
implemented
is implemented
as an by
to theasframe integrated
T-nuts
an integrated
assembly,
and
assembly,bolts, which
and
which isthe
is driven
main
driven by
by acomponents
linear actuator.
of the All of static
moving parts are
mechanism fastened to Figure
are illustrated the frame by T-nuts and bolts, and the main
a linear actuator. All of static parts are fastened tointhe 6. Abynumber
frame T-nutsofand
positions are available
bolts, and the main
components
for
componentsof the
an operator moving
ofto mount
the mechanism
moving plugs of are
themechanism areillustrated
cable harnesses in
illustrated in Figure
in 6.6.AA
place; the
Figure number
geometries
number of
of at positions
these
positions are available
positions are
are available
for an operator
varied to mount the plugs of cable harnesses in place; the geometries
for an operator to mount the plugs of cable harnesses in place; the geometries at these positionsby
to accommodate different plug types of cable harnesses. The illustrated at
pins these
are positions
loaded are are
springs
variedvaried and they
to accommodate are
to accommodate aligned specially
different plug
different plugwith
types the terminals
typesofofcable in the
cable harnesses.plugs.
harnesses. The Theillustrated
illustratedpinspins
are are loaded
loaded by by
springs and they
springs are aligned
and they specially
are aligned with
specially withthe
theterminals
terminals in the
theplugs.
plugs.

Figure 6. Actuated pin array in mechanical system.


Figure 6. Actuated
Figure 6. Actuatedpin
pinarray
array in mechanical
mechanicalsystem.
system.
4.2. Pins Loaded by Springs
4.2. Taking
Pins Loaded by Springs
intoSprings
consideration all variations of cable harnesses by the company, the maximized
4.2. Pins Loaded by
strokeTaking
length into
for the pin adjustment
consideration is less than
all variations 12.192-mm.
of cable Therefore,
harnesses the stroke the
by the company, length for an
maximized
Taking into
adjustable consideration all variationsInofaddition,
cable harnesses by the company, the maximized stroke
stroke length for the pin adjustment is less than 12.192-mm. Therefore, the stroke length for in
spring is set as 12.192-mm. less mechanical force will be involved an
length for the
connecting pin
a adjustment
cable harness is
to less
the than
terminal,12.192-mm.
therefore, Therefore,
the spring the
force stroke
is not length
critical,
adjustable spring is set as 12.192-mm. In addition, less mechanical force will be involved in for
and an
the adjustable
pitch
springconnecting
is set as 12.192-mm. In addition,
a cable harness less mechanical
to the terminal, force
therefore, the willforce
spring be involved in connecting
is not critical, a cable
and the pitch
harness to the terminal, therefore, the spring force is not critical, and the pitch diameter of a spring
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can be minimized for a 2.286-mm square hole for the smallest plug. As shown in Figure 7, the pin
Robotics
is designed
diameter 2017,
toof 6,a42spring cana be
incorporate relatively
minimizedlarge
for length-to-diameter
a 2.286-mm square hole ratio;
for the smallest
pin has plug.
a pitch 7 of 13
Asdiameter
shown of
in Figure 7, the pin is designed to incorporate a relatively large length-to-diameter
1.27-mm at the end for the connection and 36.83-mm in length. Finally, with the criteria of strength, ratio; the pin has
diameter of a spring can be minimized for a 2.286-mm square hole for the smallest plug. As shown
a pitch
electrical diameter of corrosion
conductivity, 1.27-mm atresistance,
the end fordurability,
the connection
and and 36.83-mm
fatigue in length.
life, stainless Finally,
steel with theas the
is selected
in Figure 7, the pin is designed to incorporate a relatively large length-to-diameter ratio; the pin has
criteria
material of strength,
fordiameter electrical conductivity, corrosion resistance, durability, and fatigue
the pins.of 1.27-mm at the end for the connection and 36.83-mm in length. Finally, with thelife, stainless
a pitch
steel is selected as the material for the pins.
criteria of strength, electrical conductivity, corrosion resistance, durability, and fatigue life, stainless
steel is selected as the material for the pins.

Figure
Figure 7. 7. EnlargedView
Enlarged View of
of Pins
Pins Loaded
Loadedby
bySprings.
Springs.

4.3. Configuration of the Pin Figure


Array 7. Enlarged View of Pins Loaded by Springs.
4.3. Configuration of the Pin Array
To align the pins with plugs in testing operation, pins are restrained by springs and placed in a
4.3. Configuration of the Pin Array
To align the pins with plugs in testing operation, pins are restrained by springs and placed in
rectangular container, which is illustrated in Figure 8. An array of holes are drilled on the lateral walls
a rectangularTo align the pins which
container, with plugs in testing operation,
is illustrated in pass
Figure pins arearray
8. the
An restrained by springs
of holes and placed
are drilled on the in lateral
a
of the containers, while allowing the pins to over walls. The patterned holes function to
rectangular
walls separate container,
of the containers, which
while is illustrated
allowing theand in
pinsFigure 8.
to pass An array
over the of holes are
walls.toThedrilled on
patterned the lateral walls
holes function
pins with the desired spacing, they also guide the shafts achieve the required points to
of the
separate pinscontainers,
with while allowing the pinstheyto pass over thethewalls. Thetopatterned holes function to of
of contact withthe desired
plugs. spacing,
To increase the and
flexibility,also guide
the pin array is shafts achieve
modularized. the
It consistsrequired points
of a number
separate pins with the desired spacing, and they also guide the shafts to achieve the required points
contact
of with
the pin plugs. To increase
grid with 4 × 2 pins,thethe
flexibility,
spacing isthe pin array
selected is modularized.
as 4.166-mm, which is It consists of
compatible a number
with all of of
of contact with plugs. To increase the flexibility, the pin array is modularized. It consists of a number
the products at the company. All of the plugs to be tested have
the pin grid with 4 ˆ 2 pins, the spacing is selected as 4.166-mm, which is compatible with alltwo rows of pins. Note that theof the
of the pin grid with 4 × 2 pins, the spacing is selected as 4.166-mm, which is compatible with all of
hardware
products at theinterface
company. is modularized,
All of the i.e., the design change occurring to thepins.
pin array would not affect
the products at the company. Allplugs
of thetoplugs
be tested
to be have
testedtwohave rows
twoof rows of Note
pins. that
Notethethathardware
the
the
interface designs of other
is modularized, components in
i.e., the design the system. To adapt to the testing of possible products in future,
hardware interface is modularized, i.e.,change occurring
the design change to the pinto
occurring array would
the pin arraynot affect
would notthe designs
affect
alternative pin grids have been designed with a spacing of 50.80-mm.
of other components
the designs of otherincomponents
the system.inTo theadapt
system.to To
theadapt
testing of possible
to the testing of products in future,
possible products alternative
in future,
pin grids have been
alternative designed
pin grids have beenwithdesigned
a spacing withofa50.80-mm.
spacing of 50.80-mm.

(a)

(a)

(b)
Figure 8. Pin array fixture. (a) Pin
(b) holder; (b) Rendered pin array
Figure 8. Pin array fixture. (a) Pin holder; (b) Rendered pin array
Figure 8. Pin array fixture. (a) Pin holder; (b) Rendered pin array
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4.4. Connection of Plugs


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Figure 9 illustrates the connection of plugs, which is used to set up harnesses before the testing
4.4. Connection of Plugs
is performed. Two design requirements for the connection of plugs are to (1) minimize the damage
Robotics 2017, 6, 42 8 of 13
Figure
to plugs and, (2) maximize 9 illustrates the theconnection of plugs, which
testing flexibility withisan usedeaseto set up harnesses
operation. In before
Figurethe 9,testing
the arms for
clamping is performed. Two design requirements for smooth
the connection of with
plugs the
are pins;
to (1) minimize the damage
4.4.are rounded
Connection of so that plugs
Plugs can make contact this reduces the possibility
to plugs and, (2) maximize the testing flexibility with an ease operation. In Figure˝9, the arms for
of an incidence for a scratch to plugs. The top of a clamping arm is angled at 45 so that the plug can
Figureare
clamping 9 illustrates
rounded the connection
so that plugs canof plugs,
makewhich
smooth is used to set
contact up harnesses
with the pins; before the testing
this reduces the
be forced is and secured
performed.
possibility Two
of an at design
the desired
incidence position
requirements
for a scratch to for
thetesting.
forplugs. The topThis
connection ofofa allows
plugs
clampingareanto
armeasy set-up at
(1)isminimize
angled for
the harness
45° so that tests in
damage
a short time.
to plugs
the plugThecan assembly
and, be(2)forced included
maximize
and secured four
the testing modules
at theflexibility of
with
desired positiontheanclamping
easetesting.
for mechanism,
operation.
This In Figure
allows ana9,
set
theof
easy two for
arms
set-up clamping
modules at thetests
clamping
harness left
areinside
roundedandtime.
a short right
so thatTheside,
plugs respectively.
assembly can included
make smoothA slight
four difference
contact
modules ofwith exists
the
the clamping pins; between
this reduces
mechanism, the clamping
a the
set
modules. possibility
of two clamping
The of an incidence
modules modules for
on the right at athescratch to plugs.
left only
can side and The top
right
be moved of respectively.
side, a clamping this
horizontally; arm is angled
A slight
allows at 45°
difference
the so that
exists
adaptability for
the plug the
between canclamping
be forcedmodules.
and secured The at the desired
modules on theposition
right can foronly
testing. This allows
be moved an easythis
horizontally; set-up
allows for
varying lengths of plugs subjected to tests. A fastening position of a clamping module is flexible for
harness
the tests in afor
adaptability short time. lengths
varying The assembly
of plugs included
subjectedfourtomodules
tests. A of the clamping
fastening positionmechanism,
of a clamping a set
the adjustment. If the same type atofthe
of two clamping
harnesses is tested, the module can beAfastened at its initial position
module is flexiblemodules
for the adjustment. left side
If theandsameright
type side, respectively.
of harnesses slight
is tested, thedifference
module can exists
be
for a batch of
between at
fastened harnesses
theitsclamping repeatedly
modules.
initial position with
forThe no
modules
a batch adjustment.
on the right
of harnesses The other
can onlywith
repeatedly type
be moved of clamping
horizontally;
no adjustment. modules
The this
other type (on the
allows
left) are of
mounted
theclamping
adaptabilityat a
modulesfixed position,
for varying but
lengths
(on the left) allow a free
of plugs subjected
are mounted rotation; this
to tests. but
at a fixed position, allows
A fastening the
allow a free flexibility
position of athis
rotation; that
clamping
allowsa plug can
module
the is
flexibilityflexible
that a for the
plug adjustment.
can
be inserted into the center of two clamping arms. be inserted If the
into same
the type
center of of
twoharnesses
clamping is tested,
arms. the module can be
fastened at its initial position for a batch of harnesses repeatedly with no adjustment. The other type
of clamping modules (on the left) are mounted at a fixed position, but allow a free rotation; this allows
the flexibility that a plug can be inserted into the center of two clamping arms.

Figure 9. Connection to plugs.


Figure 9. Connection to plugs.
4.5. Holders of Plugs
4.5. Holders of Plugs
No interference is allowed when Figure a plug9.isConnection
placed at the to plugs.
interface of the connection. The geometries
Noof the plug holders
interference is
4.5. Holders of Plugs
must be when
allowed customized
a plug andistailored
placed toatthe
thecross-sectional
interface of profiles of the plugs.
the connection. Figure
The geometries
10 shows four examples of plug holders whose geometries are designed
of the plug holders must be customized and tailored to the cross-sectional profiles of the plugs. Figure 10 for the corresponding
No interference
harnesses; allowed when
each plug is uniquely flush aonplug is placed
its surface foratthethespecified
interfaceplug.
of theAlong
connection.
the wire The geometries
direction, the
shows four examples of plug holders whose geometries are designed for the corresponding harnesses;
of thelength
plug plug holders must be customized
is also different which causes andthetailored
differentto position
the cross-sectional
of contactingprofiles of the
surface. Theplugs. Figure
adjustment
each plugis is
10made uniquely
shows by four flushattached
examples
the springs onofitsplug
surface
on holders
pins. fortravel
The the specified
whose geometries
distance of plug. Along the
are designed
a spring-loaded for wire
pin isthe direction,
set corresponding
as 11.684-mm.the plug
length isTo also
harnesses;different
each
facilitate the plugwhich
machining causes
is uniquely
process, the
flush
the different
onmargin
its surface position
for the
of space of contacting
specified
0.508-mm plug.
has Along
been surface.
the to
added wire The adjustment
direction,
compensate the is
made bystack-up
thelength
plug springs attached
is also
tolerance. onwhich
different
Therefore, pins.
the The travel
causes
maximized thetravel distance
different
of a positionof aofspring-loaded
spring-loaded contacting pinThe
surface.
pin is 12.192-mm. is set as 11.684-mm.
adjustment
is made
To facilitate thebymachining
the springs attached
process,on pins.
the The travel
margin distance
of space of a spring-loaded
0.508-mm has been pin is set asto11.684-mm.
added compensate the
To facilitate the machining process, the margin of space 0.508-mm has been added to compensate the
stack-up tolerance. Therefore, the maximized travel of a spring-loaded pin is 12.192-mm.
stack-up tolerance. Therefore, the maximized travel of a spring-loaded pin is 12.192-mm.

(a)

(a)

Figure 10. Cont.


Robotics 2018, 7, 1 9 of 13
Robotics 2017, 6, 42 9 of 13

(b)
Figure 10. Plug adapter (a) for four different plugs; and (b) alignment of different plugs on the holder.
Figure 10. Plug
Robotics 2017, 6,adapter
42 (a) for four different plugs; and (b) alignment of different plugs on 9the
of 13holder.
4.6. Control System
4.6. Control The
System
control system is required to (1) activate motion mechanism and, (2) perform testing
processes. For the hardware of control system, The Allen Bradley CompactLogix system, (i.e.,
TheRSLogix5000
control system from is required
Rockwall to (1) activate
Automation, motionWI,
Milwaukee, mechanism
USA) was and, used; (2)theperform
base of such testing
a logicprocesses.
For the system
hardware of control
is 1769-L35E CPU. system, The Allen Bradley
The communication CompactLogix
of the RSLogix5000 system, (i.e.,
is implemented using RSLogix5000
one RS232 from
(b)
RockwallandAutomation,
one Ethernet/IP Milwaukee,
port. In particular,WI, USA) RS232was ports used;
are usedthe tobase of such
develop a logic system
the graphical is 1769-L35E
user interface
(GUI) Figure
for 10. Plug
testers, and adapter
the (a) for four
Ethernet different
ports are plugs;
used and (b)
data alignment of different
transmission and plugs on in
exchange theprogramming.
holder.
CPU. The communication of the RSLogix5000 is implemented using one RS232 and one Ethernet/IP
port. InThe system also needs the power source for input and output modules. A 1769-PA4 power supply is
particular,
4.6. Control RS232
System ports are used to develop the graphical user interface (GUI) for testers, and
used. Such a power supply can support up to eight modules, with four modules on each side. The
the Ethernet ports
same power
are
The control used
supplysystem
data
is shared is transmission
required to (1) and
by all functional activateexchange
modules. motion in programming.
mechanism
To communicate and,
with (2)
The
perform
other
system
sensing testing also needs
devices,
the power source for
processes.
a 1769-SDN For input and
the hardware
DeviceNet output
network of control
modulemodules.
system, A
The1769-PA4
is selected; Allen power
Bradley
this network supply
CompactLogix
module is system,
connectsused. the Such
simplea power
(i.e.,
supply can RSLogix5000
support
industrial device from
up toRockwall
(i.e., eight
sensors Automation,
modules,
and with
actuators) Milwaukee,
four
to WI, programming
modules
high-level USA)onwas eachused; thecontrol.
side.
and base of
The such power
same a logic supply is
shared bysystem
allThe is 1769-L35E CPU.
CompactLogix
functional modules. The communication
system Tois communicate
equipped with of the
awithRSLogix5000
24V-DC other power is supply,
sensingimplemented using one
two 16-input
devices, a 1769-SDN RS232
1769-IQ16, DeviceNet
andand
two one Ethernet/IP
16-output port.
1769-OB16 In particular,
modules. RS232
To ports
eliminate are
the used
impactto develop
of power the graphical
consumption userby interface
the control
network module
(GUI) for is selected;
testers, and the this network
Ethernet portsmodule
are used data connects the simple
transmission industrial
and exchange device (i.e., sensors
in programming.
system on testing result, an additional external power supply is used only for testing purpose, the
and actuators) to high-level
The system also needs the programming
power source for and control.
input and output modules. A 1769-PA4 power supply is
selected power supply is Weimueller DC power supply with 10 amp to generate 24 V output signal.
The used. Such a powersystem supply can support up with to eight a modules, with four supply,
modules on each side. The1769-IQ16,
AsCompactLogix
a control system, it is capable is equipped
of generating a testing24V-DC
signal at power
one end of harness,two and16-input
probing the
same power supply is shared by all functional modules. To communicate with other sensing devices,
and two 16-output
transmitted 1769-OB16
signal at the other modules. To eliminate
end of the harness. the impact
The functional integrityofofpower
harnesses consumption
can be tested by the
a 1769-SDN DeviceNet network module is selected; this network module connects the simple
control system
based onon
industrial testing
thedevice
detecting result,
(i.e., results
sensors anandadditional
from the system.
actuators) external
The user
to high-level power needssupply
programming is used
a software
and only for
interface
control. testing
to access thepurpose,
system.
the selected power The graphical user
supply is Weimueller
The CompactLogix interface
system is equipped has been
DC power implemented
with asupply
24V-DC with on
power10 a personal
amp two
supply, computer
to generate (PC)-based
24 V output signal.
16-input 1769-IQ16,
human machine
and system,
As a control two 16-outputitinterface
is1769-OB16
capable (HMI)
oftouch
modules. panel. As shown
To eliminate
generating in Figure
the impact
a testing of power
signal at11, consumption
the user can by
one specify
end of harness, the part
the control and probing
number
systemfor onthe harness
testing result,to bean tested, run external
additional a test, and powerstopsupply
a test atis any
usedtime.
onlyThe interface
for testing also includes
purpose, the
the transmitted
an selected
emergency
signalstop
at the
button
other end of the harness. The functional integrity of harnesses can be
power supply is and system enable
Weimueller DC power mounted
supplyon an 10
with enclosure. Figure 12
amp to generate 24gives the schematic
V output signal.
tested based
of the on
As acircuitthefor
control detecting resultsoffrom
the implementation
system, it is capable of thethe
generating system.
graphical
a testing userThe user
one needs
interface.
signal at a software
end of harness, interface
and probing the to access
the system. The graphical
transmitted signal at userthe other interface
end of the has been
harness. implemented
The
12.5” functional on
integritya personal
of harnesses computer
can be tested(PC)-based
based on the detecting results from the system. The user
human machine interface (HMI) touch panel. As shown in Figure 11, the user can specify the part needs a software interface to access the
system. The graphical user interface has been implemented on a personal computer (PC)-based
number for the harness to be tested, run a test, and stop a test at any time. The interface also includes
human machine interface (HMI) touch panel. As shown in Figure 11, the user can specify the part
an emergency
number stop
for button
the harness and to system
be tested,enable
run a test, mounted
and stop aon testan
at enclosure.
any time. TheTouchFigure
interface12 gives
also the schematic
includes
of the circuit for the implementation
an emergency stop button and system of the graphical
enable mounteduser on aninterface. Screen
enclosure. Figure 12 gives the schematic
of the circuit for the implementation of the graphical user interface.
12.5”

14.75”

Emergency Touch
System Screen
Stop
Enable
Emergency Momentary
Stop DPST NO Switch
NC Switch
14.75”

Emergency
Stop System
Enable
Emergency Figure 11. Interface panel. Momentary
Stop DPST NO Switch
NC Switch

Figure11.
Figure 11. Interface
Interface panel.
panel.
Robotics 2018, 7, 1 10 of 13
Robotics 2017, 6, 42 10 of 13

(a)

(b)
Figure 12. Circuit schematic of the graphical user interface. (a) Wiring for connection testing; and (b)
Figure 12. Circuit schematic of the graphical user interface. (a) Wiring for connection testing;
circuit schematic.
and (b) circuit schematic.
4.7. Control Program for Testing
4.7. Control Program for Testing
The control system for testing has been implemented and operated on the Allen Bradley
The control system
programmable for testing
logical controller hasinbeen
(PLC) implemented
the ladder and
logic format. Theoperated
execution on the follows
of code Allen Bradley
the
sequence from left to right on each rung and from top to bottom from rung
programmable logical controller (PLC) in the ladder logic format. The execution of code follows to rung. Statements in
each rung can be for setting or revising the value of parameters, read input, or send
the sequence from left to right on each rung and from top to bottom from rung to rung. Statements in output. Generally,
a PLCcan
each rung platform
be foralso support
setting some complex
or revising the value operations such as counting,
of parameters, read input, computing, conditioning,
or send output. Generally,
and looping. For the testing purpose, the required functions of the PLC are shifting register values,
a PLC platform also support some complex operations such as counting, computing, conditioning,
obtaining inputs and generating outputs at a specified time and sequence. In addition, the testing
and looping. For the testing purpose, the required functions of the PLC are shifting register values,
system was incorporated with a number of new safety features to minimize the potential risks to
obtaining inputs
operators. Forand generating
example, acrylic outputs
panels wereat aplaced
specified time and
to prevent sequence.
unintended In addition,
intrusions from thethe testing
sides
system wastesting
of the incorporated
platform. Atwith
theafront
number of new
door where safety features
harnesses are loadedtoand
minimize
unloaded, the potential
a light curtainrisks
is to
operators.
placed so that the testing process can be automatically terminated when an intrusion is detected. Thissides
For example, acrylic panels were placed to prevent unintended intrusions from the
of theeliminates
testing platform. At the
the possibility of front door
injuries if anwhere harnesses
operator are loaded
makes physical andwith
contact unloaded, a light
any electric curtain
circuit
fromso
is placed some
thatmoving parts in
the testing the system.
process can be The connected emergency
automatically button
terminated will shut
when down the is
an intrusion power
detected.
supply immediately
This eliminates when an
the possibility of abnormal
injuries ifcondition
an operatoris detected.
makes physical contact with any electric circuit
from some moving parts in the system. The connected emergency button will shut down the power
supply immediately when an abnormal condition is detected.
Figure 13 gives the flowchart of the program for harness testing. After the cable harness has
been mounted and connected appropriately, the program is initialized by an operator with the Run
Robotics 2017, 6, 42 11 of 13
Robotics 2018, 7, 1 11 of 13

Figure 13 gives the flowchart of the program for harness testing. After the cable harness has been
mounted and connected appropriately, the program is initialized by an operator with the Run button.
button. A DC signal with 24 V is generated at the end of the firstly designated conductor from the
A DC signal with 24 V is generated at the end of the firstly designated conductor from the input side
input side of harness, and the output conductors of the harness are scanned progressively to determine
of harness, and the output conductors of the harness are scanned progressively to determine the
the connected conductor with the 24 V potential. Once a conductor with a 24 V potential is identified,
connected conductor with the 24 V potential. Once a conductor with a 24 V potential is identified, its
its identity
identity is recorded and
is recorded and stored until the
stored until thetesting
testingofofthe
theharness
harness is completed;
is completed; this this process
process will be
will be
repeated until all of input conductors have been tested, respectively.
repeated until all of input conductors have been tested, respectively.

Figure13.
Figure 13.Flowchart
Flowchart of
oftesting.
testing.

After the testing has been completed for a harness, the monitor screen will display a summary
After
of the the testing
testing resultshas
forbeen completed
the harness. The for a harness,
testing result ofthe monitor
a harness canscreen will
be ‘pass’ anddisplay a summary
‘no-pass’. The
of theconclusion
testing results for the harness. The testing result of a harness can be ‘pass’
of ‘pass’ indicates that all of wires in the tested harness are connected and functioned and ‘no-pass’.
adequately of
The conclusion as ‘pass’
designed. The conclusion
indicates that all ofof ‘no-pass’
wires in theindicates the detected
tested harness malfunction(s)
are connected of the
and functioned
tested harness;
adequately it alerts
as designed. Thetheconclusion
operator withof the red background
‘no-pass’ indicateson thethe screen. Ifmalfunction(s)
detected the type of malfunction
of the tested
has it
harness; toalerts
be further classified,
the operator the the
with operator can look intoonthe
red background thedata collected
screen. If thebytype
the of
controller duringhas to
malfunction
testing to identify the problematic wire(s). Additional diagnosis steps are optional for testing of
be further classified, the operator can look into the data collected by the controller during testing to
harness batches. The System Enable button is used to reset the system so that the collected data for
identify the problematic wire(s). Additional diagnosis steps are optional for testing of harness batches.
previous tested can be cleared and transferred to the permanent storage, and the system be made
The System Enable
ready for testingbutton
of the is used
next to reset
harness. Thethe system
System so that
Enable the also
button collected
ensuresdata
thatfor
anprevious tested can
operator learns
be cleared and transferred to the permanent storage, and the system
the testing result of the current harness before he/she tests the next one. be made ready for testing of the
next harness. The System Enable button also ensures that an operator learns the testing result of the
5. System
current harnessPrototyping
before he/she and Experiments
tests the next one.
To evaluate the effectiveness of the proposed design concept, the testing system was developed
5. System Prototyping and Experiments
and experiments were conducted to evaluate the system performance. Unit tests were performed on
individual
To modules
evaluate and proven of
the effectiveness that allproposed
the of them met the required
design functionalities.
concept, At the system
the testing system level,
was developed
a number of harness products were randomly selected by the company and those
and experiments were conducted to evaluate the system performance. Unit tests were performed harnesses were
tested manually and by the developed system. Among the selected harnesses, malfunctioned
on individual modules and proven that all of them met the required functionalities. At the system
harnesses with crossed and open connections were included, and all of them were detected
level, a number of harness products were randomly selected by the company and those harnesses
successfully by the proposed system noting that those harnesses had no visible damage from their
were appearances.
tested manually and by the developed system. Among the selected harnesses, malfunctioned
harnesses with crossed and open connections were included, and all of them were detected successfully
by the proposed system noting that those harnesses had no visible damage from their appearances.
The collected statistics from the experiment was summarized in Table 1. It shows that all of the
quantified design objectives were achieved in the experiments. More specifically, harness testing can
Robotics 2018, 7, 1 12 of 13

be performed semi-automatically with reliable outcomes and at a higher productivity. The average
times for each operation by the tester were recorded as follows:

‚ Set up a harnesses to be tested: 11.8 s;


‚ Run a test: 4.2 s from beginning to end;
‚ Remove a harness from the platform: <4 s;
‚ Reconfigure testing setup: <2 min;
‚ The shortest testing time: <18 s;
‚ Train a new operator: <2 min.

Table 1. Recorded times of testing by six operators.

Operators’ Times of Testing (min:s)


#1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6
Total time to test 10 harnesses 3:27 4:40 4:51 4:52 5:17 5:20
Average time 20.7 28 29.1 29.2 31.7 32
Shortest time 18 23 23 24 28 25

6. Summary and Conclusions


We argue that one significant bottleneck in promoting robotic applications with a wider scope is
how to develop automated systems for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) cost-effectively.
The promising strategy to address this concern is to modularize a solution system so that the automated
system can be reconfigured from time to time to adapt the changeable needs in the system application.
Each system configuration can be optimized to meet the specific needs of the application in the given
timeframe. The concept of modularization has been elaborated and its application has been illustrated
via a case study.
The modularization concept has been applied to automate the testing processes of cable harnesses
for a SME. The aim of modularization is to decouple the complexity of mechanical, electrical and
electronic, and control components. The system adaptability has also been enhanced since the designs
of individual modules can be changed to meet new testing needs without an impact on other system
components. The proposed system has been developed, and the comparable study of manual and
automated testing has been conducted. It has shown that the designed system has outperformed
manual tests in terms of productivity, reliability, safety, and cost-effectiveness. The design concept of
customization and modularization can be extended for the development of other automated solutions
for SMEs.
One of the important future works is how to make the whole system with a high degree of
resilience [18–20]. The resilience for such a system is very important, as those cables are susceptive
to broken, and as such the requirement in-situ to the automated robotic system may be beyond its
original requirement. This situation may happen unexpectedly. How to design the automatic robotic
system such that it can change itself to meet the change in the requirements is an interesting question
to be further studied.

Acknowledgments: The author Zhuming Bi would like to acknowledge the support by the State International
Science and Technology Cooperation Special Items (Grant No. 2015DFA11700), the Frontier and Key Technology
Innovation Special Funds of Guangdong Province (Grant No. 2014B090919002, 2015B010917003), and the Program
of Foshan Innovation Team of Science and Technology (Grant No. 2015IT100072).
Author Contributions: Z.B. and C. P.-R. conceived the research framework and defined the project; D.H., J.D.,
and A.L. implemented the design and testing of mechanical sub-system; J.Y and J.B. implemented the design and
testing of electrical and control sub-systems; Z.B. and C. P.-R. prepared and revised the manuscript.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.
Robotics 2018, 7, 1 13 of 13

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