This article is meant to give a comprehensive overview of what is hardware testing, what does automation in the hardware testing process means, why should you automate your hardware testing process, and what to consider before deciding to automate.
Hardware Testing is a necessary step in a product development and manufacturing process.
The product that is tested is usually called the Unit Under Test (UUT). Testing can be:
- manual, fully performed by engineers or production line employees, or
- semi-automated, in which there is human intervention during some of the testing process, or
- fully automated, where the operator simply places the UUT in the test system and presses a single button, that runs all necessary tests and test sequences.
Why test industrial products?
Industrial products need to be tested to make sure that they are safe to use, and to prevent faulty products from reaching paying customers. Most industrial products fall into one or more of the following categories:
- a safety/mission-critical component/system, or
- a product that is expected to work flawlessly out-of-the-box, or
- a product that is regulated by a governing body.
There are two main types of hardware testing:
- Product Validation – this is meant to ensure that the product’s design meets the product specifications and/or requirements. The UUTs that are tested during product validation are usually tested up to, or beyond, their design limits – to the point of failure. The UUTs that go through product validation testing are usually not intended to be sold.
- Manufacturing Test – this is meant to verify that the UUT answers to key qualifications before it reaches the customers. It is usually performed at the end of the production line, or before a complicated subassembly is integrated into a bigger assembly.
Automated Hardware Testing
Automated Hardware Testing validates or verifies the way products work using automated tools. Automation tools include testing hardware and software.
Why should you automate your hardware testing process?
The main reasons to automate a product’s testing process are:
- Decreasing test time – saving time is important both in product validation and manufacturing tests. Consider the time it takes to perform each step in your testing sequence. If automation can significantly lower the time it takes to perform the test, the company can gain substantial profit from it.
- Reducing human errors and increasing reliability – people are generally more prone to mistakes than machines. They get distracted, bored, pre-occupied. This could cause false passes, or false fails, both of which waste your time and money.
- Quality assurance – automated testing can allow you to catch bugs in your products before they reach the customers, thus providing you with advanced quality control. Plus, using an automated tester allows you to better your design – testers produce reliable test data, that engineers can learn from.
- Improving productivity through repetition– machines perform repetitive tasks better, and faster, than people. Full automation can have one operator do the job of many.
- Safety – this includes both personnel safety and product safety:
- Hands-off automated testing keeps people safe when the testing process includes safety hazards.
- Expansive products, that might suffer damage from the testing process, can be safely tested by automated test systems. For example – an automated shutdown when certain limits are exceeded can help avoid part damage.
What to consider when deciding whether to automate?
When deciding whether to automate your product validation testing process, consider:
- The amount of time that a UUT needs to be under certain conditions or in a particular state. When this is a substantial amount of time, according to your consideration, automated testing might be helpful.
- The amount of measurement points – the larger the amount, the greater the possibilities for human error, both in setting the parameters and in taking the measurements.
- Whether the testing process involves safety hazards for the engineer/technician (high voltage, high current, fast moving parts). Alternatively, whether the product is fragile/expansive, and the testing process might cause damage to the UUT.
- The number of units that need to go through product validation. Repetitive tasks are usually performed better by machines.
If your production volume is high, let’s say of about 1,000 units per year or more, it’s generally recommended to automate as much as you can of your testing process. If the production volume of a specific product is lower than that, than you have a few things to consider when thinking of automation, or semi-automation:
- Demand for increasing production volume.
- Avoiding malfunctions in shipped products.
- Various corporate decisions.
Plus, you should consider automation if your testing process involves safety hazards for the operator/technician, as in product validation, or if your product is mission-critical and needs to be highly reliable.
How to do it – automating your hardware testing process:
Automated testing is performed through an automated test system. The development of an automated test system begins at the test system requirements. Those are the hardware and software specifications of your test system. After that, the test system development is split into three different parts:
- software development – developing the software that will run the test system.
- hardware interface – interfacing with the various hardware components that will comprise the test system.
- system integration – integrating the hardware interface into the developed software, in order to be able to control the hardware, as parts and as an assembly, through the software, and run hardware tests.
How can we help?
Testview is the leading company in Israel when it comes to LabVIEW™ based software and test system development – contact us for consultation, or to outsource your test system development.
We developed a test automation framework that is meant to reduce your software development time to zero during the test system development process. Click here to learn more about the Testview Integrator (TVI) or to get started with a free trial.