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The Imminent Tipping Point in Product Test
In a perfect world, products would never have design flaws and production yields would be 100%! But in the real world, no matter how well you master your craft, you will still have to test it. Not only are the costs of warrantying and field failures high, regulatory bodies have strict test requirements for any safety critical product or system.
In the digital age, software defines the functional behavior of your product. This is especially true in control system products like aircraft and automotive ECUs. More functionality, means more software, means more test – and high cost of test at the end of the lifecycle means testing must occur at every phase of the product development cycle. At its current rate, managing test coverage will reach the point where it consumes more resources and effort than the product design itself!
No matter how integral test becomes to the design process, it will never garner as many resources. You probably already think test consumes way too much time and energy. Of course you do – you are in the business of building a product that is superior to your competitors, and no one is paying you more to do more testing. Despite any actual differentiators in your product, you can still experience cost overruns and schedule delays solely because of test. In fact, producing a more competitive product with more features increases the burden of test coverage!
On top of the cost and time it takes to test, there is the risk. You most certainly have test equipment and tools standards you rely on to be sure a product can make it to market on time. This test infrastructure is at least as complex in its design as the product you are testing – usually more so – and the last thing you want to do is incur the risk of changing it. Test must be a predictable parameter that can be minimized to make sure you achieve a good ROI on your product.
And by the way, your budget this cycle needs to come in 10% and the new project has moved 3 months to the left.
The Fallacy of a Universal Tester
It’s likely your company has gone through several attempts to solve this problem. After a change catalyst like a major recall, you may get a capital budget to modernize test infrastructure and get a big efficiency boost as a result. The fundamental problem remains however: Continuously integrating new technologies in your test infrastructure to keep pace with product technology will never receive the same priority as the product itself.
The net effect of this pattern is a tremendous duplication of work. While you may start out with standard test frameworks and architectures, customization will creep in to accommodate requirements that were not anticipated or planned for. As a design becomes more customized, it loses its capacity to absorb modifications without further customization to the core framework. It’s a vicious cycle, and in a few years you’ll be back to making the same trade-offs and compromises that constantly reduce your effectiveness in getting your product out the door.
There has to be something in between a custom test solution for every program, and a universal tester for any program. The answer is in reconfigurability. What you need is the requirements coverage of a custom solution that reduces NRE and lead time like a universal tester. The real obstacle to achieving this lies in the recurring design and integration costs of a customized solution. What if we could commoditize those processes such that the costs incurred, the time spent and the risk taken was minimized.
Tech180 has partnered with National Instruments to develop a modular system architecture that allows for rapid design and integration of systems of any size. For any portion of a system that truly is universal between multiple product lines, the design becomes configuration and the integration becomes assembly – all with off the shelf instrumentation and cables out to the pin. For anything that truly must be custom for a program, these components are compartmentalized and isolated, so the design of those elements does not affect the common core. When a program concludes, the test hardware can be reconfigured for the next product with minimal cost. This gives you the best of both worlds: The scalability and reusability of a common test architecture, with the ability to rapidly integrate custom requirements coverage with minimal scope.
Tech180 is ready to help you implement a reconfigurable test standard on your next product line. To request more information, or a remote or on-site presentation, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us.