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Why component testing pays off in the long run

Visually testing a component in electronic product

All it takes is one component to fail to make an electronic device unusable. It’s critical to test each one individually and once it’s part of an end product. The challenge is how to balance the necessity of effective component testing with healthy profit margins.

Testing detects problems and defects before the product hits the market. Its failure creates a loss of revenue that would far outstrip the cost of testing. For a consumer electronics product, the consequences can be a devastating loss of sales, a poor perception of the brand and even shuttering of the company. For devices in sectors such as medical or aerospace, the consequences could be as extreme as injury or even death, followed by legal action, both criminal and civil.

Testing electronic components and the devices they go into can be complex, which often translates into increased cost.  However, testing costs are ultimately cheaper than those of a failed product line, and these costs and quality can be balanced by selecting the right testing methods and combining them with the right expertise.

The eyes have it

Although electronic components are found in a variety of products, how they are manufactured doesn’t differ as widely. Regardless of the industry being served, the same testing best practices apply.

Visual inspection is always necessary and has long been the standard best practice as electronics products have become increasingly miniaturized and dense. It’s more than just people inspecting a component or device. It also includes the use of amplification devices to look at components to compensate for the inadequacy of the naked eye. Typical devices for visual inspection include microscopes, video magnifiers, solder paste inspection equipment and automated optical instruments.

While a visual inspection verifies that a cable is properly connected or insulation is properly in place, it’s not enough to guarantee that a component or a group of components is working as it should, even with assistance of tools. It’s also critical to electrically test. Typically, basic values such as current and voltage are interconnected to measure and validate cable connectivity or component functions.

Take a deeper look

There are many other individual electrical tests to verify that components, sub-assemblies or the entire product is working. An open test, otherwise known as a connection test or continuity test, verifies the conductivity of a single wire between two points, while a short test looks for unwanted connections. Other common electrical tests include checking to make sure that the insulation meets requirements and that switches route current flow to the right destination.

Different levels of testing take place on the product throughout its creation. Reliability testing must be done during the product development process to identify weaknesses or faults in the manufacturing processes and process controls that could lead to a random failure. It’s also necessary for determining the natural lifecycle of the product through a determination of the life expectancy of the components, boards and other pieces. They can be affected over time as corrosion, moisture, stress and fatigue affect the materials. Simply put, all electronics naturally wear out. Knowing when can help mathematically inform the warranty period for the product.

This is where durability testing comes in. It should take place after the first build and be conducted in an environment where it will be used. Obviously, it’s not cost-effective to wait for the product to wear out. Highly accelerated life testing (HALT) can help you quickly find design weaknesses early in the product development cycle and the manufacturing process, thereby reducing costs and speeding up time to market. It can also be done later in the lifecycle of the product if components, manufacturing processes or suppliers change.

Environmental stress screening (ESS) looks at how products or electronic components react to stresses related to temperature and vibration. These external forces may reveal a defect that causes one aspect or the entire product to fail. This type of reliability testing further informs product warranties.

The minimum amount of testing that should be conducted on components individually and on products requires financial investment. Thinking about testing at the beginning of the product design process saves money in the long run. Testing requires accessibility—it won’t be possible to get adequate testing coverage if a component can’t be accessed, for example. Easy access speeds up testing time, thereby reducing costs.

Most of the testing should be done during the design phase. At this point, the goal is to get complete coverage because it’s more cost-effective. Conversely, electrical testing should be done on a small sampling of your actual product.

Measure twice, cut once to reduce costs

Companies doing their own manufacturing should do production testing in-house because not only does it help catch problems with the device, it also monitors yield. The “first-pass yield” is an essential metric for understanding true costs and measures manufacturing quality and production performance. It provides feedback to help improve processes and eliminate waste while reducing the possibility of needing to do a costly rework for final production.

There is an argument to be made for outsourcing your testing, especially if production has been outsourced. Doing in-house testing requires an investment in expertise and equipment which may not be cost-effective if it’s going to sit idly most of the time. A third party can help with test design and development and brings knowledge and best practices accumulated from previous engagements to the table.

Just as a product is likely aimed at making customers’ lives easier, tests should be designed to make life easier. Look to automate testing where possible and incorporate self-diagnostics. Not only should it reveal if something isn’t working, but also why, which means that it can be fixed quickly.

A well-defined test strategy reduces risk because it increases the likelihood that the finished product will work properly. Doing the bulk of your testing upfront during the development process avoids costly rework later, and it’s simply not feasible to test every finished product.

Test smarter, not harder

Testing components and products may look expensive, but the price tag for not testing is higher if the product fails. By thinking about testing early in the design phase as part of the overall product lifecycle,  issues can be caught earlier before they become an expensive surprise, and improve processes overall.

A smart test strategy for components ultimately delivers a clear return on investment by eliminating the lost time, added expense and negative brand perception that comes with a failed product.

Interested in learning more?

For more information on this topic, or to get in touch with engineering specialist who can help answer any questions you might have, head to arrow.com

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