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5th August 2022

The Essential Guide to Electronic Product Testing

Contents

Whether you’re in new product development or looking to make alterations to an existing project, our Essential Guide to Electronic Product Testing will equip you the details you need to know about the testing process.

What is Product Testing?

Product Testing encompasses a variety of hardware and software-related testing methodologies and processes, from environmental simulation through to design verification testing.

Product testing is designed to maintain standards of quality throughout the product development cycle, securing your reputation as a prudent, reliable brand, whilst ensuring your customers receive the best possible product.

Different Types of Product Testing

Hardware Testing

Hardware testing involves utilising dedicated testing tools such as a flying probe or a PCB bed of nails test fixture.
In order to test your PCBA, you’ll need to ensure that test points are factored into the design at an early stage. This is because connecting hardware testing tools to the Device Under Test (DUT) is reliant on test probes being able to make contact with test points on the device.

It’s recommended that you work with a partner with expertise in PCB testing services.

Software Testing

Software testing is rather different.

Instead of using a physical device, software testers must write test cases to verify the functionality of the software features. These test cases simulate the logical functionality of the modules within the code, and feedback whether it works or not.

Whether you’re looking for embedded software testing, or just testing for dedicated software, we recommend a test-driven approach to development. This involves designing for testability by writing the test cases before writing the core functionality of software.

This may appear to be a long-winded way of writing software, but it’ll save far more time and increase the quality of code written in the long run. Essentially, design for testability is all about encouraging the software developer to write cleaner, more modular code in the first place.

Power Consumption Reduction

A power analyser is a good way to measure the flow of power into your device. Ideally, you’ll want to test the device in idle mode. This will identify the events that cause unnecessary power drain from your battery.

From here, you can isolate and remediate the events that are causing additional power draw and (hopefully) extend your battery life. You could of course just increase the battery capacity, but this brings a range of issues such as a bulkier product, compliance issues, and a more costly product.

Cost Reduction

Power consumption reduction is just one means of lowering cost. Cost reduction testing will assess the following:

  • Do certain functionalities justify the cost of inclusion?
  • Can certain components be replaced with lower cost alternatives that don’t compromise the quality of the product?
  • Are there design elements you can change to speed up the manufacturing process?
  • How thorough is your hardware and software testing? Failing tests will result in manufacturers passing on increased costs.

Of course, cost reduction and value engineering projects cost money themselves, so low volume product development tends to see a smaller return on investment. Because of this, you’re more likely to succeed on a cost reduction exercise with high volume projects.

Why is Electronic Product Testing Important?

The reason that electronic product testing is so important is because it safeguards your investment.

Product development is expensive, so it stands to reason that you’d want to ensure that the project meets the desired threshold of quality control.

Let’s take a look at a few scenarios where product testing is particularly important:

Improve Product Quality

Perception is everything, so once your product is in the consumer’s hands, you want it to be produced to as high a standard as possible.
This is why testing is so important for product development.

Quality of build is directly linked to public awareness of your brand. Failing to account for edge cases, critical bugs, or even shipping with crippling design flaws can sink your company’s reputation overnight.

On the other hand, a slick, well-made product that has gone through rigorous testing demonstrates to your customers that you’re a business that takes production standards seriously and can be trusted.

Avoid Costly Product Recalls

Unfortunately, recalls can happen, but as Christof Bentele, Head of Global Crisis Management at AGCS notes, it’s typically poor initial testing that leads to higher recalls:

“Failures can happen when there is a shortage of time and not enough testing. This is also where human error creeps in. And that increases the risk of a recall.”

This is where using a test fixture comes in. Designed entirely for that specific PCBA, test fixtures can run diagnostic tests rapidly on a large volume of boards, allowing you to identify the issue before shipping your product out to customers.

Enhancing Existing Projects

You may be seeking to make a newer version of an existing product, by updating the technology to match consumer demand. And this typically involves adding newer, more desirable features.

But as we all know, electronics are complex things, so adding new technology without testing has the potential to disrupt the existing design and even stop your product from working entirely.

Whether hardware or software, product testing is essential if you’re planning on making revisions to your tech.

Who Should Perform Your Electronic Product Testing Banner

Who Should Perform Your Testing?

In an ideal world, neither you nor people close to the project should be testing your design. This is because it can introduce unconscious bias, potentially exposing your design to accidental oversight.

Either speak to another engineer in your organisation separate from the project, or alternatively, consider outsourcing your testing to a dedicated electronics design consultancy.

The testing stage of product development is where using an external partner (like us!) can really shine – you’re getting a highly qualified second opinion from an objective position.

Good product testing is the difference between a world-class final product versus one riddled with bugs and technical shortcomings.

Where Does Electronic Product Testing Fit into the Development Cycle?

For hardware, you can begin testing once you have a prototype. Upon your receipt of your A Model or B Model from the manufacturer, it’s time to put the design through its paces.

In software, however, you can test whilst writing the code without the need for a dedicated test fixture or physical prototype.

And yet, despite this, you want to have electronic product testing at the forefront of your mind near the beginning of the project. Something to consider is whether you have test points designed into your printed circuit board (we highly recommend this).

Adopting a Design for Testing (DFT) approach to product development will always result in a better result than foregoing the core testing principles.

What Types of Testing Does My Product Need?

This will depend on the purpose of your product, in addition to the manufacturing volume required.

Environmental Simulation

If your product is expected to function in either extreme weather conditions, or environments of humidity, then environmental simulation testing is a must.

This is because changes in temperature & humidity in your product’s operating environment can impact device performance, introduce reliability issues, and even become a safety concern – especially if there’s are risks of condensation or overheating.

Using a vacuum-sealed environmental test chamber, your PCBA can be heated or cooled to the climate in which it’s expected to function. This is a great way to highlight potential issues, as well as further fine-tuning the design accordingly to ensure your product thrives in its natural environment.

More on Environmental Testing

In-Circuit Testing

In-circuit testing is performed using ATE (automated test equipment) such as a test fixture. Making precise contact with your PCB test points, the probes in a bed of nails test fixture allow you to run test programs on your design.

Test fixtures do need to be custom-built for your specific PCBA, which adds additional time and cost to the product development cycle, but it’s well worth it in the long run.

In-circuit testing can be used for prototypes, but also for products that are already in the field. If you suspect you have a bad batch for example, running a test on that batch can help quickly isolate the problem.

Of course, if you’re designing your product for low volume manufacturing and would prefer a lower cost option, flying probe testing may be more appropriate. Your choice will depend on budget, time constraints, and volume of manufacturing.

Explore Our Range of Test Fixtures

Design Verification Testing (DVT)

Your design might seem flawless, but in many cases, that isn’t always the case. Issues can come from all sorts of places – memory leaks, drops in power supply, overheating, stack overflows, and more.

And you can’t account for all these potential design flaws, which is why DVT is so important. Verification testing will involve creating a representative system of your design and run it through a range of tests including use case testing, edge case testing, firmware updates, power interruptions, amongst others.

This is all about ensuring that you find design flaws, before your customer does.

Functional Testing

Prior to shipping out your product, you’ll want to know that the boxed product functions as intended, from the board through to the various inputs.

Functional testing verifies the integrity of the assembly and will iron out any last-minute issues. Functional testing is an essential part of ensuring your PCBA meets your standards.

Do I Need a Test Jig?How to Choose a Test Jig

It depends.

If you’re shipping in higher volume, then it’s highly recommended that you invest in a test fixture. The tests are reasonably quick to conduct, and you can easily test more than one board at a time. Many of the models from MG Products allow for multiple boards, reducing the cost per PCBA tested.

If, however, you’re only doing a limited run of 100 or less, then the cost becomes more difficult to justify. In that situation, you can opt to test each board manually.

Creating a Culture of Test-Driven Development (TDD) for Software Projects

Test-Driven Development (TDD) is a framework which developers use to achieve higher quality software.

In practice, this means adhering to the following practices:

  1. Breaking down the project into functional modules or “units”
  2. Thinking about the interfaces to each of these units
  3. Determining the desired behaviour of these units and how they should handle errors
  4. Writing tests that check this behaviour
  5. Finally, implementing software to implement this behaviour and ensure tests pass

An Introduction to Test Driven Development Banner

The purpose of adopting a TDD approach is to ensure that code is written to higher quality standards, making it more likely to pass tests in the first place, and therefore saving time and money.

This strategic approach to writing software also means that you’re clear about the needs (and pitfalls) from the start, making it easier to design software with use cases and risks in mind.

Plus, with a planned approach, you’re far less likely to fall victim to the dreaded scope creep!


More on Product Testing