Consistency of test data has always been a key concern in any materials testing application. Test technique or method, operator skill and experience, and capabilities of the apparatus are all parameters that affect the consistency of the desired information. The arrival of testing automation has contributed significantly to improving the consistency of materials testing apparatus, modifying existing test methods, creating new test methods due to enhanced capability, and improving the productivity of testing systems.
This paper surveys the development of computer-aided testing over the last 20 to 25 years and includes a discussion of current systems implementations and the emerging area of laboratory-wide automation. The rapid development of materials testing automation capability has generally tracked the trends in the computer industry. Advances in microprocessor hardware technology have driven testing automation by allowing for embedded intelligence in key test system components and by allowing for high-performance supervisory computer subsystems to control or supervise the overall test rig. Software technology advances in concert with expanding hardware capability have provided truly useful real-time operating environments, more efficient applications development tools, and higher productivity through more intuitive user interface technology. All together, these technology improvements have allowed for more sophisticated, consistent, and higher performance testing automation. Further improvements will be realized through the true utilization of the emerging digitally based systems architectures and emerging networking technology. This discussion concludes with a brief look at where emerging capabilities such as these will allow for new types of experiments to be performed and where information management will be enhanced, thus allowing for greater productivity in the test laboratory.