Exploring the challenges facing test engineers

14th October 2019
Mick Elliott

5G, autonomous cars, IoT. All these technologies are spawning complex products and systems that will need to be tested. The more complex the technology, the more complex the test, which prompted world test and measurement company leader Keysight Technologies to undertake a Test Equipment survey to discover the challenges facing their customers, and to inform Keysight’s strategy to serve its customers.

“Products are becoming more and more complex to test,” asserts Mario Narduzzi, Director of Service Marketing at Keysight. “Companies are looking at their test strategies as they shift from 4G to 5G, or autonomous cars where product design is becoming more complex, as well as a shift to many products based on digital and RF technology.”

“5G mmWave frequencies mean test system design is more complex. The impact of cabling in the car on test systems, the ability to measure over the air at millimetre wave frequencies.” Narduzzi ticks off a list of challenges facing both Keysight and its customers.

As Narduzzi sagely observes, “No company wants to be the one that compromises safety in the autonomous car.”

And it’s not just testing individual products, modular design dictates a test to discover how one system will interact with another.

And companies now want a seamless track which runs test from the design stage right through to production.

“Think about the algorithms in a design,” Narduzzi continues. “Customers are beginning to recognise that’s important. They have to think about data correlation, production correlation. Imagine the delays if the test system doesn’t allow that correlation. Go back a few years and that would have spurred plenty of finger pointing between the system design team and the production manufacturing team.”

More than 300 participants spanning the globe participated, and 94% of the respondents were senior executives and managers. It covered companies of all sizes, those with 10,000 plus employees made up 40% of the sample, and 32% employed less than 1,000, a sample size that pleasantly surprised Mario Narduzzi.

Fair to say they were not backward in coming forward.

According to the survey, 64% of respondents confirmed that ensuring product quality is growing more difficult due to the increased complexity of electronics, and the corresponding complexities of testing required to measure quality.

While extreme product quality issues can make headlines, 92% of survey respondents said that they suffer significant business impact from error-prone test equipment. Survey respondents report that quality issues frequently impact the bottom line, citing increased costs to repair or dispose of defective products and lost business, potential lawsuits and regulatory penalties, as well as lost time-to-market or market advantages, damaged customer relationships and a tarnished brand.

Looking further into quality issues, survey respondents reported that testing equipment that is out of calibration has caused product rejection, recalls, loss and returns. Further, 49% of companies surveyed said that they lose $100,000 or more for every 1% of yield lost.

Respondents reported that quality challenges originate from growing customer demands and tighter tolerances to increasing manufacturing complexity and pace.

Keysight was quick off the mark to help customers cope with this increasing test complexity.

Having 80 years in the business helps,” Narduzzi remarks. “So we can help analyse their test processes, and we support customers with training to help them think about the test systems they require.”

Care packages for customers.

There was a percentage of survey respondents who described test equipment companies products as “inadequate.”

That provoked a wry laugh down the line from Narduzzi’s office in California.

“There is kind of two strands of thought there,” he responds.

“Yes in some cases, an inadequate product can make it difficult for customers to achieve their tolerance levels.”

It likely means a customer is pushing the limits of test equipment beyond its capabilities.

“In many cases, it is just the customer wishing they had a higher budget to buy higher performance test equipment,” Narduzzi adds.

He cites the example of a 4G equipment maker transitioning to 5G and needing higher performance kit to measure yields and performance on a pilot production line.

To help customers, Keysight offers a plan where customers can trade their existing test equipment for higher performing products taking them to the next level of test performance required.

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