There are so many things a company has to go through when creating a hardware product. Along with prototyping comes PCB design, firmware, software, packaging and the list goes on. There is very little room for error as even a small mistake can cost a fortune. With hardware testing, this problem is completely solved.
Hardware testing ensures that every part of the system works and performs according to specific local requirements. It’s the best way to debug your product before making it available to your customers. You definitely don’t want your product to fail or reveal a defect right after you launch it.
Remember what happened with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. Right after it hit the first review cycle on August 17, 2016 – the best-designed smartphone of its time began to catch fire. In fact, by September 1 of that year, at least 35 explosions were reported, including one on an airplane. Unfortunately, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had to ban all models of the Samsung Galaxy Note, 7.
Reason for failure? Lithium-ion batteries provided by one of the suppliers have not been tested. Part of the inside of the battery was incorrectly coiled, causing stress on the entire device. This is just one example in a series. Technical history is full of product failure stories, and one of the key reasons is the lack of effective hardware testing.
As an organization focused on developing efficient solutions, Xekera Systems not only manufactures hardware but also rigorously tests it to ensure long-term sustainability and performance for our customers. Through this article, we try to point out how effective hardware testing can save companies a lot of time and money.
What is hardware testing in product development?
Hardware testing is one of the final stages of the product development process that verifies the full integration of the product. The purpose of the test is to evaluate the end-to-end system specifications and provide information about product quality. For a hardware project to be considered successful, the product must meet the stated goals and functional requirements defined by the QA engineers.
One of the best practices is testing early in development because it minimizes risk, saves costs and defines a better product.
Why is hardware testing important?
Delivering a fully functional hardware device is one of the key success factors of the product industry. To meet the growing demand of the IoT market, manufacturers often rush to produce low-cost sensors. And to keep costs low, some of them may even compromise with low-quality parts, reducing the quality of the product as a whole.
Testing your products’ hardware allows developers to identify and resolve issues or bugs that could affect performance, reliability, or user experience. It ensures that the key functions of your device work as planned and the quality of your product remains intact. Since your customer base depends a lot on the quality of the products you provide, you need to ensure that your products are tested before they hit the markets.
Advantages of hardware testing in product development.
The main advantage of hardware testing is that your device can be checked against the installed technology and functional requirements. These requirements are prepared by QA engineers just before development and are documented in test plans. Failure to adhere to these functional specifications can cause problems for both manufacturers and users.
To give an example, in 2017 the FDA identified safety flaws in medical devices and had to recall about half a million pacemakers St. Jude Medical with RF support. Identifying flaws while the product is still in development gives you the opportunity to address performance, interoperability, security, and safety issues.
Other benefits include –
- Acceleration of product time to market.
- Improved accuracy especially in automated testing.
- Seamless operations, better user experience.
- Faster development and delivery.
Hardware Testing Process – How to test products during production
A typical hardware testing process
- Create a test environment (e.g. measurement hardware, test software, cabling, accessories, etc.)
- Place the part in the condition required for measurement (apply pressure, voltage, temperature, etc.)
- Take some measurements
- Take these measurements on one or more pass/fail criteria
- Record results as summary data or detailed raw plus summary data
- Repeat 2-5 as needed to go through the entry conditions
- Create a final report document
- Mark the part as good or bad
- Repeat 2-8 for as many parts as need to be tested.
That outline is an extremely concise version of a big topic. We’ll try to add some clarity, but note that it’s not possible to cover the detailed nuances of any particular product or sub-assembly, while we try to cover a wide range of hardware (if you work for a US-based industrial company, feel free to reach out on chat).
Production test versus design verification
In this article we will focus on production tests. This testing takes place during production before the part leaves the factory or is rolled into an assembly. Also known as end-of-line test or final test. There is another aspect of the test that is not discussed: design verification. The goal with design validation is to understand and analyze the product design limits to better understand how it is likely to perform in the real world and provide feedback on any areas of potential design optimization before a final design revision is made.
There are also various forms of certification testing (eg CE, FCC, UL, etc.). This testing is generally performed by certified laboratories dedicated to this type of testing.
How to determine what needs to be tested
Deciding what is important to test in production is usually done in one of two ways:
- Intimate knowledge of the tested product
- Required industry standards
Obviously, you’ll want to test any security-related or mission-critical features. Additionally, a lot of determining what to test has a lot to do with performance and accuracy. What aspects of your product are most likely to fail based on variances in the manufacturing process?
Some common components/subassemblies to test include:
For electronic parts:
- supply voltages and currents,
- signal levels and frequencies at different test points,
- range of operations to check linearity and accuracy,
- and so on.
For mechanical parts:
- dimensional tolerances,
- range of motion (ie speed, distance),
- energy consumption and efficiency measurement output,
- flow rates,
- and on and on because there are so many kinds of mechanical parts.
For optical parts:
- mechanical tolerances,
- input and output,
- transmission and reflection properties as a function of wavelength,
- and so on.
For communication parts:
- transmission power,
- receive power
- bit error rate,
- and so on.
- And the list goes on because people make a lot of different things.
How to test your product?
At a high level, you have to figure out what makes sense to automate and what makes sense to have a human test manually. And note that a test can be a combination of automated and manual, not only automated or only manual.
Things that lend themselves to automation are generally those that meet the following 3 criteria:
- do not require complex external connections or assembly to operate the product (e.g. several multi-pin connectors and harnesses, hydraulic fittings, assembly into jigs and frames),
- can be described by a simple algorithm so that a computer can be programmed to perform the steps,
- and very repetitive tasks that would make one bored.
Things that are often better suited for manual testing are the opposite, and more importantly should be done whenever the cost of automation is greater than the cost of doing it manually (don’t forget to factor in the unnecessary cost of faulty testing by tired people).
Be sure of the quality of your product with Xekera Systems
Xekera Systems offers a range of services to meet your quality assurance and testing needs. From the lab to the market, our hardware testing services help companies validate their products before deployment and assess the performance of each product before it is released to the market.
With our agile testing methods and dedicated engineers, we can perform quality control tests across the spectrum of product development. Our reliable services enable our customers to achieve their business goals cost-effectively.