The Product Development Lifecycle with Managed TestingMay 19, 2014
Product development in today’s world is difficult, stressful and costly. The pressure to ‘Get to Market’ quickly is ever increasing. We have developed tools (FEA, Solid Modeling, etc.) to aid this process, shorten the life cycle and get to a finished product with less chance of failure. Still one thing remains, and usually is the last item considered in the life cycle: Product Testing. For various reasons, it has been necessary for the testing world to address this question; should we keep our testing in-house, or should we outsource? Many companies today are closing their costly in-house test resources and outsourcing the bulk of their testing. When a company outsources its testing, they are free to focus on delivering their product without having to develop a test lab at the same time.
Outsourced testing is favorable due to the cost associated with developing a test lab. These costs include equipment, maintenance and repair, instrumentation, fixturing, labor, training, laboratory certifications, as well as a host of other ongoing costs. This leads to the question; why should we expend such cost and investment of time into something that will not be utilized at maximum capacity? Others have already invested the cost and are utilizing the resources to near maximum capacity. The one benefit to in-house testing would be control over schedule or efficiency found in repetitive testing, ie: production control or quality assurance sampling. Both are very valid reasons, but is there another alternative? Could the same ‘convenience’ be found elsewhere?
The answer is a resounding YES. An excellent alternative is to partner with another organization that specializes in product testing (Managed Testing). NTS is one company that offers Managed Testing. What do we mean by Managed Testing? How is that different from just everyday product testing? What are the benefits to Managed Testing? These are all great questions. Let’s consider what makes up Managed Testing.
Managed Testing – What Is It?
First, let’s consider what it is not. It is not simply offering a specification to a lab, asking for a quote, submitting a purchase order, shipping parts and hoping all works out well. Unfortunately, that is the way many test programs are handled today. This is a reasonable approach for the group that needs a simple or routine test performed, with the expectation of a given result. The Managed Test path in this instance would be costly and burdensome. A group that requires a broad scope of program support should not pretend their tests are simple tasks. If they do, they will be disappointed with the results. In this instance, Managed Testing is a better solution for the broad scope programs’ variety of needs.
Managed Testing is a partnership between two companies, one developing a product and the other offering testing services. Managed Testing involves the test house be involved with their customer’s product development team from the very beginning of the development life cycle. Discussions can be held that will help shape the test program, develop procedures, tailor tests that are relevant and easily completed, and provide meaningful results. Consider the Managed Testing components below and how they fit into your product development life cycle.
It seems silly to ask, but have you read the test specification? You might be surprised at how many people do not, until the test lab begins asking questions. There may be external measurements required, extremely tight control tolerances, or some variables undefined entirely. This is often true when specifications are being developed along with the components. There may be parts of the specification that are not required, or changes that are necessary. Consulting with a Test Engineer can help eliminate unnecessary complications or identify missing requirements. It also helps both parties to understand the expectations of the test program and the expectations of each other.
How would you like your components held during the test? Identifying who will be responsible for the fixturing, and what that fixture might look like is an important step in the beginning of the test program. What impact does the fixture play in the role of the test and could it unduly influence the end results of the test? Oftentimes, fixture problems are the root cause of a product failure and not the product itself. A Test Engineer has’ been there and done that’ in many cases and can help guide the fixture design and test rig interface. The quantity of test samples the fixture should accommodate is essential in striking a balance between fixture cost and test run time.
Do your components require external inputs and high-speed data acquisition, or are a few checks during testing sufficient? Identifying the data your test requires is a good way of streamlining the measurement and reporting processes. When it comes down to how much data should be collected and processed, simply saying “everything” is not cheap.
Logistics and Scheduling
During development programs, part availability is often delayed for various reasons. Scheduling a fixed date for a test cell to be available and then having no parts to test is bad business all around. Sending components to the test lab that are not yet ready for testing will also create its own problems. Test duration is also something to consider, particularly if the test samples are intended to be run until failure. Since tests are typically quoted in hourly or daily rates, samples that fail prematurely, or exceed expectations will change the cost of the program. Similarly, putting the test lab on hold while the design team evaluates unexpected results will also introduce unexpected costs and delays into the program. If a lab has a large backlog, you run the risk of losing your test slot, and have to wait for a new slot to resume testing. Sometimes the lab has a long lead time because fixturing, adapters and specialized equipment and instrumentation are required. By partnering with NTS, and planning the test program, these long lead items can be developed and fabricated early in the life cycle, and are ready when the test schedule demands a start.
In summary the purpose of testing is to reveal the unexpected or to prove the expert design. Thinking carefully about the request for testing and putting contingency plans in place will help create a robust program and ensure the test facility has everything necessary in order to deliver on time and on budget. Unanswered questions and uncertainties create issues that must be resolved, and this is best done at the beginning of the life cycle, not at the end.
NTS is willing and capable to support your product development life cycle through the areas discussed above, by offering Engineering Services/Solutions, Project Management, Product Testing and, Complete Program Management. We can offer Engineering support early in the life cycle with software and analysis tools to challenge your design prior to test. Possible failure modes can be identified and corrected before the product goes into test, breaks, and then requires a redesign. ‘Shake and break’ is a costly design practice. NTS can help in the development of the test program, so when the test is scheduled to start, all questions have been answered, the test plans are well vetted, expectations are understood and necessary hardware is ready and in place.
Feel free to contact NTS in regard to your testing needs. We have many experienced engineers who can help you with the details and planning of your test program and ensure your testing experience is successful. Remember; “Advice is free, failure is costly”.
NTS – WE ENGINEER SUCCESS
By Randy Cobb and Roger Hartzell