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Instrument Control

While the ILL's neutron source has remained essentially unchanged during the lifetime of the Institute, the ILL's instruments and their components have been continually developed and improved to increase their effectiveness.

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Instrument Control

The Instrument Control Service (SCI) provides electronic and software support to the ILL's 40 official instruments. This support extends to testing the Projects and Techniques Division's neutron optics, detector, sample environment and mechanical equipment.

The first priority within the SCI is to support the instruments and ensure optimum use of beamtime. In practical terms, this means preventive maintenance and replacement of electronics and computers, management of spare parts, follow-up of the technical evolution of hardware and software.

Most of the ILL’s instruments are equipped with industry-standard VME crates for the acquisition electronics, motion control and general I/O devices. A consequent number of Nuclear Instrumentation Module (NIM) crates provide the necessary high-quality power supplies for all the motor drives and analog electronics. There are a few exceptions, such as the smaller-scale instruments for which a complete PC-based solution combined with commercial controllers is used, to limit the cost of the installation.

This high degree of standardization brings maintenance savings, thanks to the reduction in the number of spare parts required to guaranty rapid intervention in the event of hardware problems. At the same time it also allows all the instruments to benefit from development or upgrades simultaneously.

Stability and performance are the keys to reliable instrument control software. Stability is a major issue, since the software has to guarantee the execution of the operations programmed without constant scientist supervision. Performance is crucial to minimising deadtime and maximising the use of the available beamtime.

At the ILL two sequencers, MAD and NOMAD, share responsibility for controlling the instruments. MAD is a command-line sequencer that has been developed at the ILL since the 80’s. Its companion programme DTI controls all sample environment operations.

Since 2005 the SCI has been developing NOMAD, a next generation sequencer. The aim is to optimise costs by ensuring that the code can be used across all the instruments and that the programme remains user-oriented. The uniform and ergonomic user interface allows the instrument team to work in relative autonomy.