Monday, July 15, 2024

Solution Engineering In Test And Measurement Industry: Vendors’ Perspective

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The optimum design of a test system, integration, software development, and ensuring it meets end customer’s needs requires a dedicated team. End customers choose vendors who have complete design and delivery capability instead of bits and pieces.

The electronics industry ecosystem in India has witnessed sweeping changes in the last few years. Whether it is the wireless industry or aerospace/defense or consumer electronics or IoT, the ecosystem has grown to have local design, validation, and manufacturing capability.

The Central government vision is to exceed the previous target of $300 billion of electronics manufacturing and exports by 2025-26. The startup culture in this ecosystem has evolved from software-centric to hardware design and production. Central government’s Make in India drive has given a boost to local design and manufacturing.

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The test requirements for design and manufacturing evolve and need optimisation to save cost to be competitive. People at these roles understand their requirement of testing, but many times they lack the test system design and configuration knowledge. Earlier these engineers and managers assumed or believed what the test equipment provider suggested; many times it was over engineered that added to the cost of test.

Vendors providing test equipment need to scale up their skill sets to understand the pain points of customers in design and manufacturing and provide a complete solution. It includes equipment, fixturing, switching (RF and DC), wiring, racking, test software development and optimisation, and ERP connectivity.

For manufacturing, the OEM or the EMS companies set up assembly lines based on volume. For line balancing, each stage of manufacturing needs to be designed so that the product moves along the assembly line at the right speed to optimise the flow.

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From a test perspective, there are usually two stages in a typical assembly line other than an offline QA. While the PCB gets populated with components, it needs to be tested for open/short, for which a bed of nails system is used. Then, if there are components/circuits which need calibration, a test system is needed for this purpose.

A case in point is mobile manufacturing where the RF board needs to be calibrated for power and frequency. Once this is done, at the final stage of assembly, the product needs to go through a functional test before it can be packaged and shipped to customer. Both these test systems need to be carefully designed and optimised so that quality and cost are optimised.

For design stages, customers usually perform many tests in manual mode, but at the end of design cycle they go through repeatability and reproducibility (R&R), which is a good candidate for a test automation where usually the complete suite of tests is performed. Here, test time reduction is not critical, more important is coverage of all tests and uploading of test data to database.

A critical aspect of a test system is when the DUT is in PCB form and the connectivity to the test system is through a fixture. The fixture design should be rugged and precise, since the test points in the PCBs must be contacted precisely to avoid any shorting of adjacent connections. Once the connectivity is established, the test software sequences each test based on the testplan.

If the DUT is assembled, it needs to go for a functional test defined by the design team. Here, the test system needs to provide power to DUT, provide all electrical interfaces (DC, digital, RF), and run the test plan that programs various instruments in the test rack to provide the needed test conditions to the DUT.

Sometimes, the DUT itself needs to be programmed through a digital interface (USB, serial, custom digital IO) that puts it in the test mode. Then the tests are run as per pre-defined sequence, test data collected and analysed, and decided whether it passed or failed.

The optimum design of a test system, integration, software development, and ensuring it meets end customer’s needs requires a dedicated team with a system engineer to understand customer’s test requirements and a project manager to manage the lifecycle of the project. Test equipment vendors and their channel partners are gearing up their manpower infrastructure to cater to this need and adding the required investment.

The test system which solves a customer’s real need has many components—test instruments, cables and connectors, fixture, rack, PC with customised software. A single vendor, either OEM or a channel partner, will not have all these components and may have to source from various sources.

End customers have also matured to choose vendors who have this solution design and delivery capability instead of bits and pieces. A vendor providing a complete solution takes responsibility to ensure end customer’s goals are met—a complete test system with mutually agreed deliverables like testplan, optimised test time, connecting test data to ERP, support phase, etc.

There are many test and measurement vendors and their distributors who have felt this pulse of the customers about their need for a total solution and are adding this capability.

Pathy Iyer is an electronics enthusiast based in Bengaluru and Coimbatore. He served HP/Agilent/Keysight and helped customers with their complete test needs including test system design, integration and test software development and optimisation. He is currently helping a company dealing with test equipment form a solutions team to better serve their customers. He also served the academia community with helping with curriculum topics, establishing Center of Exellence labs for research while at Keysight Technologies



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