1 April 2005
Enterprise test systems evolution
By Richard House
New tools made possible by emerging technologies are expanding the automated test revolution.
Decades ago, manual test predominated. Fueled by new technologies, automated test emerged, revolutionizing the test industry. With the increased speed and ease of automated test, engineers suddenly had more data stored than ever before, and it often spread across geographic locations.
Today, enterprise test is solving these test data management (TDM) challenges through new tools that do not replace, but instead build upon the advantages of automated test. Enabled by database, networking, and Internet technologies, these new TDM tools provide easy access to data and reports across all groups and locations. With TDM systems that leverage these enterprise technologies, engineering managers now have easy real-time access to the information necessary to make critical business decisions.
Before the emergence of automated test, labor-intensive hand testing was the only option. Manual test involves the time-consuming process of manually setting up instrumentation, taking measurements, and recording the results on paper or entering the test data into a computer. Manual test is also dependent upon the skill of the person performing the test, which leads to quality, productivity, and turnover risk problems. As the number of tests or quantity of products grows, the labor and its associated costs increase linearly. And, because manual testing leverages only traditional stand-alone instrumentation technology, it is usually very inefficient.
Using the PC, instrumentation, and test software, automated test required little to no operator intervention. Tedious, repetitive test and measurement tasks were now PC-driven, with tests executed at significantly faster rates and with greater precision than possible with human operator driven manual test.
The automated test revolution shifted the concentration of testing effort and skill away from expertise in manually performing the test to expertise in developing the test. Test became more efficient and cost effective. Companies could now scale the number of tests and the number of test stations without also simultaneously increasing the number of operators needed to execute the tests. Off-line engineering analysis, visualization, and report generation tools emerged to gather and examine the results generated from the automated test station.
With the advent of automated test, companies were able to create large quantities of test data more efficiently and economically than ever before. But difficulty accessing, organizing, aggregating, analyzing, and reporting on the data often left companies without the ability to effectively turn the data into actionable information. That information is necessary to make critical business decisions, which would reduce costs, increase product quality, get products to market faster, and provide a competitive advantage.
Building on the advantages of automated test, enterprise test automates the tasks of organizing, finding, and reporting on test data across multiple test stations. A key component of enterprise test is test data management, which provides all groups involved with product design, validation, manufacturing, or service with easy, real-time access to test data and reports across all company locations.
With enterprise test, automated test systems first execute design and manufacturing tests. The TDM system then sends results to an enterprise database using fail-safe data transfers. Once in the TDM database, engineers and managers access real-time test data and reports, which allow them to take action to improve product designs and processes. Manufacturing groups analyze yield reports, SPC reports, and defect reports. Design and manufacturing use this real-time information to quickly identify trends and correlate test results between the two groups.
Enterprise test further shifts the concentration of effort away from managing and reporting on test data to the identification of actions necessary to improve products and processes.
With the evolution of test systems into the enterprise, the value-added skill in the company moves from the people performing tests and collating data to the people developing the tests systems and making key decisions to improve the company's products. Valuable time previously spent running tests and managing data can now take action to improve the company's products and processes.
Behind the byline
Richard House is president of VI Technology, Inc., an Austin, Tex.-based systems integrator and a registered member of Control and Information System Integrators Association (CSIA). He earned a bachelor of science in electrical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. His e-mail is email@example.com.
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