Top Manufacturers Awards 2014: Agilent Technologies: Innovation goes robotic with 'Yellowstone'

SANTA ROSA -- When thinking about innovation, the product itself comes to mind. At Agilent Technologies, the manufacturing process has been automated using advanced robotic techniques to increase test equipment utilization and reduce idle time.

For complex radio-frequency (RF) and microwave instruments, each product Agilent ( builds at its Santa Rosa facility at 1400 Fountaingrove Pkwy. gets 20--30 hours of calibration and tests before it is shipped to a customer.

"In the 1990s and before, each instrument Agilent designed had its own custom rack of test equipment for that model," said Doug Knight, test process convergence manager. "These large dedicated racks resulted in poor equipment utilization since expensive instruments (such as signal generators, spectrum analyzers or power meters) would sit idle while others were used for several hours."

[caption id="attachment_95438" align="alignright" width="288"] Doug Knight, Test Process Convergence Manager at Agilent Technologies, stands in front of the automated robotic testing matrix for new products, a major manufacturing innovation that maximizes the utilization of test equipment.[/caption]

To resolve this issue, company engineers broke up these huge, dedicated test systems into six smaller stations, each with a specific purpose, as a subset of the total test required. To be completely tested, a product would need to visit all six stations. While this innovation increased simultaneous test system usage, it was only the beginning of the maximization process.

Agilent engineers then designed a robotic automation system for moving products between stations under computer control. They named the system "Yellowstone," and the software that drives the robotic hardware and keeps track of the test status of each product they called "Presidio."

The Yellowstone system included duplicate copies of each station type, and the six types have become the standards for research-and-development engineers to design new products.

Instead of designing the manufacturing process for the product, multiple product generations have now been designed for the manufacturing process.

"This has given us a stable, efficient manufacturing process and has driven consistency in our product designs," Mr. Knight said.

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