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Choosing the Right Software for Automated PCB Testing

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

Introduction


Choosing the right platform for developing automated test sequences for Printed Circuit Board (PCB) testing is a critical decision that can significantly impact both the efficiency and effectiveness of your quality assurance processes. With the ever-increasing complexity of electronics, rigorous testing has become indispensable, making the platform selection even more crucial. In this article, we will explore three options for PCB test automation: LabVIEW/TestStand, Python, and FunTEST. By dissecting the advantages and disadvantages of each, we aim to provide you with the insights needed to make an informed decision tailored to your specific needs and constraints.


So, how do you make the right software choice for your PCB verification needs?




LabVIEW/TestStand: Test Automation with a Learning Curve


LabVIEW/TestStand is a formidable option for high-end applications requiring real-time processing, comprehensive test automation features, and intricate hardware-software integration. It's engineered for industrial-grade needs, excelling in environments that demand exact timing, sophisticated data analytics, and seamless interaction with various hardware components.


However, it's worth noting that the platform's extensive capabilities often exceed the requirements of most projects. The plethora of features it offers can result in unnecessary complexity for simpler applications. This not only requires a steep learning curve to master its graphical programming environment, but also necessitates the hiring of a specialized workforce capable of developing, debugging, and maintaining the extensive codebase.


In this sense, the tool's richness can become a double-edged sword: while it offers capabilities to handle almost any conceivable testing scenario, many projects may not need such expansive features, making the investment in both the software and skilled human resources potentially disproportionate to the project's actual needs.


Example of LabVIEW code


Python: The Open-Source Alternative with Development Flexibility and Challenges


Python offers a compelling alternative to LabVIEW/TestStand, especially from a cost perspective. Unlike the latter, Python is open-source, meaning the tools are free to use and come with extensive community support. This support often materializes as a myriad of open-source libraries tailored to various testing scenarios. However, the freedom and flexibility provided by Python come at the cost of having to develop much of your test infrastructure from scratch.


While crafting a simple test sequence might be straightforward, scaling that into a comprehensive test system requires a significant investment in time and specialized software engineering skills. In practice, this means you might find your team spending a disproportionate amount of time troubleshooting the test automation infrastructure itself rather than focusing on the actual product you're testing.


So while Python can be an economical option, it often demands considerable overhead in terms of software development and system debugging, especially as your testing requirements grow more complex.


PyTest Framework


FunTEST: The Optimal Blend of User-Friendly and Capability in Test Automation


FunTEST offers a unique middle ground that captures the best of both worlds, combining the robustness of platforms like LabVIEW/TestStand with the flexibility of Python. Designed to minimize overhead and accelerate time-to-market, FunTEST features a short learning curve, enabled by its intuitive spreadsheet interface for crafting automated test sequences.

This ease of use democratizes test automation, allowing team members with minimal experience to contribute effectively.


The platform further distinguishes itself by offering an extensive library of plug-ins that can cater to a wide array of testing needs. Should you require specialized functionality, the system is open to custom plug-in development. In terms of scalability, FunTEST excels with features like user and configuration management, making it simple to expand your testing infrastructure as your project grows.


By significantly reducing the overhead associated with both software development and workforce training, FuntEST empowers your team to focus on what truly matters: thorough and efficient testing of your product.



Main FunTEST Features:

  • Plugin Library to Interface with Hardware: FunTEST comes equipped with a comprehensive library of plug-ins, allowing for seamless integration with a variety of hardware components. This modular approach means that you can easily adapt your test setup to different hardware configurations without having to reinvent the wheel each time.

  • Creating Automated Test Sequences in a Spreadsheet: One of the standout features of FunTEST is its user-friendly spreadsheet interface for crafting test sequences. This intuitive setup eliminates the steep learning curve associated with other platforms, enabling team members—even those with minimal experience—to efficiently create automated tests.

  • Built-in Operator Interface: FunTEST includes a built-in operator interface that provides visibility into test progress and can display manual instructions when needed. This allows for better monitoring and control, ensuring that the test sequences are executed as planned and that any manual interventions are clearly communicated.

  • Built-in Test Reporting: The platform offers comprehensive test reporting capabilities. Not only can you generate detailed reports for each test run, but you can also collect overall test station statistics. Moreover, it provides options for uploading this valuable data to a database, facilitating more advanced analytics and trend monitoring.




Conclusion

Selecting the right platform for automated test sequences in PCB testing is not a one-size-fits-all decision. The choice greatly depends on your specific project needs, budget, and available skillset. LabVIEW/TestStand offers robust, industrial-grade features but comes with high costs and a steep learning curve, often exceeding the needs of many projects. Python, on the other hand, provides an open-source, flexible alternative that is budget-friendly but may demand a lot of development work, especially as the testing requirements become more complex.


FunTEST emerges as a compelling alternative, balancing the robustness of industrial solutions like LabVIEW/TestStand with the developmental flexibility of Python. Its user-friendly interface, extensive plugin library, and scalable features significantly lower the overhead associated with test automation, enabling your team to focus on what truly matters—delivering a high-quality product.


As the landscape of electronics continues to evolve, so too will the need for comprehensive and efficient testing solutions. Whether you opt for the tried-and-tested, the open-source, or the innovative new kid on the block, the most important factor is how well the platform aligns with your project's unique needs and constraints.


To learn more visit https://www.funtestfpc.com/

FunTEST - create automated test sequences in spreadsheet (left) and use built-in operator interface (right)



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