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Essential Skills for Hardware Test Development: An Overview

Key Disciplines and Processes for Successful Implementation

Developing hardware test setups is a complex task that requires the integration of multiple engineering disciplines. This comprehensive guide delves into the essential skills and positions necessary to assemble a high-performing team capable of creating reliable and efficient test stations. The absence of these skills can lead to significant delays in product development and slow down production processes.

In this article, we will look at four major skills/positions:

  • Test Engineering - How and What to test

  • Hardware Design - How to interface with the test article

  • Manufacturing and Assembly - How to put everything together

  • Test Automation - How to bring the test station to life

Test Engineering - Planning

The test engineering position is like a glue for any hardware test development. This person is involved from the beginning to figure out how and what to test all the way to the end to commissioning the test station and executing the testing.

So what does a test engineer do?

Figure Out What and How to Test

The first task when a test engineer is assigned to a test development project is to quickly learn about the product that is being tested. This means doing homework on their own by reviewing documentation and talking to the person requesting the test. Things like "stupid" questions do not exist and as a test engineer, you need to make sure that you understand the why's behind the test.

Oftentimes by asking hard questions, you will find yourself in a position where things don't add up and the test request needs to be modified. This is crucial because things are easy to change now, but once the test station is built, changes are painful and cause major delays. The test engineer's role is to make sure that the right things are being tested, the testing scope is not too big not too small, and the overall objective is being met.

This phase can vary in length based on the test complexity. Sometimes it's straightforward and in some cases, there is a lot of back and forth. As long as the discussions are productive it's good to spend some time here because as the project progresses making changes is harder and harder. Once ready you can go ahead and move to the next phase.

Selecting Measurement Methods and Instrumentation

The next step is to figure out how to translate the test objective/requirements to a testing method that will satisfy all of those. How will we measure the current, voltage, force, and pressure? Are those sensors readily available? How many sensors do we need and in what arrangements? Do we need to build a custom fixture? What type of test equipment do we need? These and many more questions are necessary to make sure the test objective of the project can be met.

If you're not able to find a feasible measurement method and equipment you might need to go back and compromise on the test objective. Although this is not desired sometimes this is needed to stay on schedule and within budget. Here the role of a test engineer is to weigh the pros and cons to make sure you still getting sufficient results.

After you get through this you should have a list of requirements that can be used to start designing the test station.

Hardware Design and Assembly

Once you agree on the project scope and test requirements you move on to the implementation stage where you need to design the physical setup. This is usually split into mechanical and electrical design but we'll break it down in terms of two major physical components of any test station - the test article interface and the rest of the test setup.

Test Article Interface

The most critical aspect of the test station design is the test article interface. It can have different shapes and forms but the purpose is always the same. It is to provide a reliable and efficient interface to the test article and connect it to any test equipment that is required for the test.

Here the designer needs to pay attention to every detail to account for all connections and be aware of any constraints and restrictions. For example, making sure to interface with all test points on a PCB or to interface with connectors using the right mating counterpart.

Test Setup Design

This design is to enclose all the necessary equipment and test article interface to a compact solution that provides easy access for test execution and maintenance, as well as safety for the personnel. There can also be constraints on the overall footprint based on specific applications.

The complexity of the design can be anything from desktop applications to large standalone machines.

Manufacturing and Assembly

Finally, after the design is done, you will need to manufacture and assemble everything. For that, you'll need a team of technicians with mechanical and electrical skills. For this stage, it is best to have the design engineers and technicians under one roof if any adjustment or re-work is necessary during the build process.

Software Development

When the test station is built you need to have an engineer to develop the software to control the station, gather all the data, generate reports, and provide an operator interface for test execution.

Data Acquisition and Control

This piece of software is absolutely critical to ensure all the necessary data is being collected at the required sampling frequency for further post-processing as well as controlling the station for test execution. This can be as simple as collecting data from a few channels to an autonomous machine that performs multiple tasks simultaneously.

Test Operator Interface

Next, you will need to design the test operator interface which will let the operator execute the test. This includes displaying interactive procedures, allowing manual intervention, displaying live results, and much more. The goal here is to have an operator interface that is easy to use to ensure fast training of the operators.

Data Evaluation and Reporting

And last but not least after the test is done you want to perform automated data evaluations and provide a way to view the results. This can range from detailed test reports for each run to overall test station statistics. Here it's important to not overwhelm the user with tons of data but create an easy-to-understand dashboard so the user can make informed decisions.

Test Engineering - Execution

As mentioned at the beginning the test engineer skills are needed at the start and at the end of the project. This final phase, it's all about making sure that the final test setup meets all the requirements.

Bringing Test Station to Life

From turning on all the equipment for the first time to running full end-to-end dummy tests, this is usually the most fun part of any project. Here you get to see all the hours of planning, designing, and manufacturing come to fruition and see the results of all the work.

Test Execution

And finally the last phase - test execution. During this phase, it's all about maximizing the test efficiency, reporting any anomalies, and performing regular maintenance. If everything was done right this phase should be smooth.

Building an internal test development team

As you read above in order to develop a hardware test setup, you need quite a team and infrastructure. Building this takes time and resources. What if you use an existing team instead?

We've built a test development team so you don't have to

With FPC you get access to a team that has all the skills mentioned above. We've done this process over 1000 times and learned what works and especially what doesn't so you don't have to repeat the same mistakes. Reach out to us today and learn how can we help you develop state-of-the-art hardware test infrastructure.

With FPC you will:

  • Access to a team that has the expertise gained through more than 1000 project

  • Develop your test solutions faster

  • Save time by not building a whole test development team internally

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