Manufacturing’s Love-Hate Relationship with Third-Party-Properitary

By Nulltek

From my last few years designing automated fixtures for electronics manufacturing I have noticed a strange trend…

Industry generally wants to approach it’s manufacturing sectors with the following ideals: Reducing operational expenditure and ability to easily increase volumes by scaling horizontally. However, to accelerate development schedules production lines are more-often-than-not build upon the foundations of ‘off-the-shelf’ hardware and platforms. These platforms are generally licensed, and depending on the model of that license, either hinder the ability to scale or increase operational expenditure. I understand the trade-off has to be made, but it’s still an absurd fundamental contradiction.

I myself am guilty of using multiple of these platforms, paramount of which is the National Instruments software suites. The ability to quickly prototype solutions using Labview & Teststand, with intuitive and debugable interfaces, and transition those prototyped solutions to deployed environments is so tempting. The problem of these mature dataflow languages is  the barrier to entry is far too high, both in the sense of cost and ease-of-understanding. Most written-language developers I’ve met who’ve dipped a toe in with Labview, groan with distain when they talk about the experience.

While I generally find myself using these platforms at work, so I can meet deadlines, I can’t pretend it’s my ideal solution. In a perfect world I would be writing python modules and instrument drivers entirely executed by a pythonic test sequencer. Due to the gargantuan undertaking it would be to develop such a test sequencer myself, and the lack of any fully-fledged mature open-source projects that fit the bill, I am stuck with the proprietary solution for now.

I have not given up hope that one day all manufacturing-automation can enter the realm of open-source and am staying on the lookout for viable alternatives. My dream would be to contribute to the project that breaks the tight grip these monolithic companies have on this manufacturing space.

Signing off this rusty mid-week brainwave. Steve.