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Product Test Data Analysis: The Hidden Trick to Improve Product Design
by Chris Rehl, director of marketing, CIMTEK 
The recent cries over shoddy manufacturing performance have put electronic product designers in a tough spot – and frankly, left them baffled. Time after time, their design concepts that had the makings of a sure bet evolved into a product with deficiencies reported from thousands of customers – leaving many unanswered questions.
Was the concept wrong? Was it altered during manufacturing? Were certain components changed down the assembly line to save costs? As designers want answers, they aren’t getting them; rather they’re thrown into a vicious cycle were the chances of repeat mistakes increase even more.
To make up for low revenue when an issues arises, most manufacturers push to get the next product out faster than before – without real insight and understanding into what went wrong the last time. Communication between designers and manufacturers are fragmented throughout. At the end of the day, designers are left vulnerable to repeat the same mistakes again. And the cycle becomes never-ending.
Caught in the middle between this need for speed and innovation – and a commitment to quality – designers are tasked to stand up, and find a way where proud design concepts can be preserved throughout the entire product lifecycle, ended by ringing endorsements from customers.
It may come as a surprise – but taking a step back by honing in on product test data is proving for many electronic designers to be the best means to strike this balance between innovative, rapid product development – and high-quality. It produces the full transparency into where materials fail, where suppliers don’t live up to the bill and even the slightest areas where design concepts could pave way product deficiencies further down the lifecycle. Talk about real intelligence.
A Silo’d Design Process that Needs Repair
Of course, getting to a point where designers can use test data to think smarter and more efficiency, can be a complicated. The overall design process involves a deep, cross functional team consisting of various stakeholders across the entire organization – from design engineers and quality assurance processionals to procurement officers, test engineers and manufacturers.
Despite this immense opportunity for collaboration, it is usually a very silo’d process – as the insight from each department isn’t properly deployed across the entire design phase. Rather, most product development programs take more of a “toss it over the wall,” approach. Designers come up with new ideas and concepts, move them through prototype – and that’s it. Onto manufacturing it goes – and work on the next-generation product begins.
Unfortunately, this leaves gaping holes for unacceptable product quality, schedule slips and inefficient design strategies – all of which carry the most unforgiving consequences in today’s violate marketplace. Just the simplest spill of a product deficiency can launch a domino effect across an entire organization, with major hits on key customer service levels, brand and revenue opportunities – on top of plenty embarrassing, unwanted exposure.
The Foundation for Continual Quality Control
Test data puts an end to this growing risk – gaining intelligence to preserve high-quality product development, and setting a collaborative working environment with a bridge ensuring the proudest design concepts become a reality.
But product design and test? Seems like quite the unusual marriage. Of course, there is design for test – steps in the process that are supposed to overcome the gaps between great idea and real-world application. But using product test data in the design process might not seem logical to many. And especially not in electronics manufacturing, where OEMs still design and contract manufacturers do product testing.
But in a world where today’s design strategies are weighed more on quality, changes need to be put into place. And test is one change that can pay off both now, and in the long run.
By leveraging test data throughout the entire product lifecycle – from assembly to return and repair, designers can make better decisions. This means shifting the focus beyond concepts, beyond prototyping – well beyond the assembly process – incorporating post-sales data, and making them the backbone for design concepts.
Data collection and analysis should be implemented throughout the entire production lifecycle for electronic products. The key to this lies with creating complete product genealogies from the end-to-end production process, and the following information for correlations and optimizations to the original product design:
* Component quality data, to ensure key performance and margin specifications are verified before the production process begins, minimizing the risk of time and cost-consuming rework or scrap – and extra headaches
* Front end test in manufacturing, including automated optical inspection (AOI), X-ray, and in-circuit testing (ICT), where possible process and mechanical design issues can be identified as early as possible
* Functional test data, the foundation for primary product quality and reliability - ensuring sub-assemblies are fully operational, and set for subsequent assembly steps
* Final system testing data, verifying products are built and operated as designed
* Post-sales support and repair data, to report behavioral problems, component failure usage information, and other field exposure results – to enhance the efficiency of customer interactions, increase repair operations and provide a complete product genealogy linked back to the initial design phase
Creating the Competitive Edge
With the ability to access, organize and analyze test and quality data generated by production lifecycles quickly and efficiently, designers can be the backbone to ensuring continuous quality improvements stay across existing and future product design cycles.
And it allows them to think smarter, and become more strategic. They gain the time to focus on true innovation, rather than playing catch-up, or tweaking potential issues during product launch. Concepts can be updated as incremental design changes occur, to ensure the right suppliers and components are utilized.
And through this process, it provides a healthy, collaborative working relationship between designers and manufacturers. Ideas and information can be shared, to ensure a common ground in pushing a product from design – through assembly. And the floodgates can be opened for continuous process and quality improvements that are felt directly by the consumer’s hands – both now, and years to come.
Important Considerations for Developing New Products
by Ron Rausch, Senior Marketing Manager, Keithley Instruments Inc. 
Pressure to compress time-to-market has always been intense. In highly competitive markets, such as wireless communications, it seems more so than ever. How can test help the engineer shrink the design cycle time?
- Exploit the power of networking. Many modern test instruments are LXI-compatible, yet the traditional GPIB interface continues to be used in many new test systems. LXI can extend your test horizon, even linking people and systems across continents via the Internet. Explore new ways this powerful capability can save you and your company time and money.
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