7 reasons why Test Engineering improves products and processes
Like other engineering disciplines, test engineering is concerned with the in-depth analysis and methodical processes that produce high-quality results. Where civil engineers design, build and maintain infrastructure such as bridges or dams, test engineers design, develop and maintain the integrated systems that can test, measure and inspect all of a high-tech product’s features and functionality – at any or every stage of a product lifecycle – to ensure it meets specifications and attains maximum quality, safety and efficiency levels.
1. Test engineering can harmonize the entire product lifecycle
The typical product lifecycle includes stages for product design, design validation, new product introduction (NPI), manufacturing, and repair and returns screening, so test engineers, such as those at Averna, typically work closely with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to develop the validation routines and test systems needed for each phase, with a focus on automation and an intelligent, integrated flow from one stage to the next, starting with the design phase.
2. Design for Testability (DFT) streamlines development
As high-tech products become more complex and OEMs face increasing competition, test engineers have shown that a design for testability (also called “design for testing,” or DFT) stage can bring great value to product development processes. For example, Averna’s test engineers will typically collaborate with product designers to integrate certain features like smart chips, measurements capabilities and diagnostic routines into their product designs. These elements make it easy to run automated tests on all functionality, generate valuable data for analysis and troubleshooting, and speed up the product development cycle.
3. Design for Manufacturability (DFM) simplifies production
When designing a product testing approach and plan, another area where test engineering adds a great deal of value is design for manufacturability (also called “design for manufacturing,” or DFM). Integrating DFM principles allow significant time, material and resource savings during the production stages.Since Averna’s test engineers are concerned not only with complete test coverage but also with product quality and testing efficiency, they typically assist OEMs with integrating DFM principles into their product designs so that when a new product reaches the manufacturing stage, there are no costly delays or surprises because every aspect of the product has been considered in light of how the final product will be assembled and tested. This greatly streamlines the product lifecycle and is typically responsible for significant time, material and resource savings during the production stages, further underlining the value that test engineering can bring to high-tech product development.
4. Test automation speeds time to market and lowers costs
Given the convergence of many different technologies into single products such as smartphones, wearable devices, automotive infotainment systems, and medical devices, product testing has become especially complex. Added to the obvious challenge of testing more technology in ever-smaller devices, competition is strong and product shelf-lives are shrinking. Many of today’s electronics manufacturers are therefore optimizing their test architecture and test routines to cover more product functionality as quickly as possible. By using standardized test software such as LabVIEW and NI TestStand, they can implement batch and parallel testing to speed throughput, optimize instrument use, automate standard operating procedures (SOPs), and easily gather test results data to further improve processes.
5. Automated test stations accelerate throughput and improve quality
An important component in thorough product testing is automated test equipment (ATE) – such as assembly test stations, functional test stations, and ESS test stations – used to verify assembled components such as semiconductor chips and boards, or to functionally test the partially or fully assembled units. As well, depending on how and where the product will be used, there may be specialized test stations, fixtures and chambers used for testing a small sample of units to ensure they will operate when vibrated, dropped, immersed, exposed to electromagnetic or extreme temperatures, and so on. Units that fail at any stage are typically routed to repair stations for troubleshooting and fixing.
6. Vision inspection systems quickly identify defective products
Over the past few years, the many advances in vision technologies, cameras, lasers, optics/lighting, and machine-learning capabilities have been a boon for manufacturers dedicated to improving product quality. Consequently, many have been integrating advanced vision inspection and machine vision systems into their production lines to verify correct product assembly and to ensure zero defects. For example, in the automotive sector Tier 1 and 2 suppliers can ensure that their products such as custom-built vehicle dashboards and cockpits are perfectly matched to OEM specifications and sales orders, guaranteeing that the suppliers respect service level agreements (SLAs) and avoid penalties from the OEMs.
Vision inspection and machine vision systems are in effect highly-intelligent quality-assurance (QA) systems that can, with high precision, scan large numbers of both electronic and non-electronic products (e.g., pills, processed foods) simultaneously to detect flaws, measure, classify and sort. These systems can also store comprehensive test results, ensuring all product details are captured and accessible for analysis and traceability.
7. Fast test station replication helps OEMs reach their markets
If the product being tested is bound for the consumer electronics or automotive markets, there’s a good chance that multiple high-volume test stations, often including robotics and automated assembly lines, will be required to satisfy consumer demand. As well, identical test stations may be needed in multiple countries to ensure simultaneous worldwide product releases.
Another driver for global test station deployment is cost – many OEMs have chosen contract manufacturers (CMs) and electronics manufacturing services (EMS) in lower-cost countries for their manufacturing operations. The logistics required to ensure synchronized production around the world are significant and usually require the support of a test engineering company with build-to-print expertise that can rapidly source and assemble identical test stations, and then ship and integrate them into CM and EMS sites around the world.