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Ramping To A Large Quantity Of Electronics Functional Test Systems

On Jul 5, 2019

In the manufacturing functional testing environment, quickly building a large quantity of test systems is often necessary to prepare for high volume production for your new product introduction (NPI). But simply completing the work isn’t maximizing the potential value to your business. The faster you can ramp your production capacity, the better your company’s margins will be. Time to market is key, and as a test engineer or test engineering manager, you need to execute a plan that will get the systems delivered while also capitalizing on these three areas:

Speed – Ramping test capacity quickly is critical. You don’t want your department to be the gate to a new product launch or volume ramp.

Quality – Test systems must be reliable, well designed, and effective. You must provide systems that not only will provide full test coverage but are also well built and durable. Electronics functional testing is impossible without quality testers that can carry out the test and avoid breakdowns.

Consistency – For reasons ranging from test consistency, to process consistency, to being able to easily maintain and support, the consistency of test systems is critical to minimize downtime, training, and support costs.

In order to successfully build a large quantity of test systems without losing speed, quality or consistency, here’s how to approach the work in each phase of the process.

The Project Planning Phase

A great deal of planning and timely execution is necessary for any end-of-line (EOL) functional test system build project. You want to optimize for both efficiency and quality in this phase. Once you have the prints, BOMs, test procedures, delivery requirements, shipping location, and other documentation for the test systems, you need to quickly conduct an initial review and assessment of the project and build an initial project plan.

The Procurement Phase

Next, you need to immediately begin material purchasing and lay out the timing of the receipt of material. Your first consideration is to determine which materials have long lead times so that these items will be ordered first and expedited if necessary. Overall, the goal is to ensure all material can be delivered on time for test system production. The procurement phase should not only guarantee delivery of all materials, but also align the timing of its delivery with the time of the build. If you receive the materials too early before your team is ready to build, your shop will carry the costs and inconvenience of storing the material until it’s ready to be used. Planning keeps the project on time and minimizes expenses.

The Build Phase


After procurement has been initiated and materials are on order, you need to properly evaluate your production capabilities, experience and costs to chart the best path forward for the build of the testers. Forecasting your team’s bandwidth to support the project is crucial. You may find that you have the capacity and the capability to complete the project but need to adjust current production priorities to meet this schedule. Conducting this type of project review and forecasting is critical to ensuring resource availability. For a mature build organization with mature processes, this often includes automated labor forecasting tools that not only consider orders in hand, but also automatically take into account seasonal trends and quoted work volumes, probabilities, and timing.

Once you schedule out the build, you want to assemble the tester sub-assemblies in a batch manufacturing approach so that builds of common assemblies can occur simultaneously. In doing so, you not only create a more efficient assembly operation, but you also allow for inspection of these sub-assemblies prior to final integration. This reduces the likelihood of errors downstream in the build or testing process. In the event an error does occur, you will reduce your debugging time as you will spot an issue that can be quickly corrected across each sub-assembly instead of having to go back and determine and fix the issue after multiple testers are fully completed. Is the circuit board that’s malfunctioning? The tester? The cable? If you don’t test sub-assemblies early, it is more difficult to know where the error is occurring, which will add delays in delivery to your customer.

Ensuring quality and consistency through the process

To achieve consistency in building a large quantity of testers in the manufacturing test environment, you want everything in each system to be identical. Testers of the same design should look the same, function the same, and have the same composition and construction. You shouldn’t be able to tell two apart, something that isn’t always true in organizations which lack consistent process and build standards. This approach should even extend to the wiring, labeling, and cable routing as well. For example, wire and cable routing should be implemented identically across each tester. This ensures your customer receives a system that’s easier to maintain and debug in the future.

Process is important. Having a quality management system (QMS) in place or working with a vendor that does creates a more easily to replicate process for consistency. If you plan to work with a build-to-print partner, ask for a certificate of their QMS. That allows you to better understand their standards. Examples of QMS systems include standards such as ISO 9001-2015, AS-9000, and others. Key areas to look for in a QMS that enhance consistency include robust inspection processes, a comprehensive ERP system, sub-assembly traceability, and project tracking tools such as project travelers in the production workflow.

What to do if you decide to hire a test partner

We know that just because you are outsourcing the build of functional testers doesn’t mean you are relieved of the responsibility of overseeing the build and providing your customer with status updates. Having these standards in place helps reduce unnecessary stress over the life of the project. Beyond a QMS, you want to establish regular communication with a test partner to further alleviate concerns. Depending on the nature of the project, this could mean a weekly or bi-weekly meeting that offers project updates, or these updates could be sent via email from the project manager assigned.

To ensure the effectiveness of communication, ask that one project manager or a project engineer at your test partner's company take sole responsibility for providing updates. This allows you a single point of contact when the project is in process. Often our project managers will engage customers on documentation review, material procurement, and keep them abreast of schedule and target shipping date. Additionally, our customers are free to engage with project managers during the project cycle.

The Delivery Phase

Finally, if you are shipping the test equipment, you want to ensure that your team has experience shipping multiple units (including any international considerations if applicable). Experience working with freight providers can also greatly reduce time and costs and ensure quality delivery. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you experienced in both boxed and crated international shipments? Do you have the following items?
  • Do you have ISPM compliant packaging so the crate won’t be held up at customs?
  • Do you have windows on crates to allow inspectors to look inside crate without having to open and remove items?
  • Do you have a commercial invoice form to identify the product being shipped for importation control?
  • Do you have experience with freight forwarding?
  • Have you determined if you are choosing Less Than Truckload (LTL) or Full Truckload (FTL) to ship? LTL can offer you substantial cost savings but may add risk of damage or loss due to the potential for multiple load and unload situations. FTL may be necessary for your custom order.
  • Do you have multiple partners with long standing relationships that can save you time and money?
  • Do you have air ride suspension trucks should be used to transport sensitive equipment?
  • Are you able to build and crate the test equipment on site?

To ensure crates will be transported effectively and to assess the care that was taken on your load, you need the following:

  • Bracing and padding inside the crate and vehicle and inspection to ensure safe loading before it leaves the dock
  • Tip-N-Tell Indicators to help alert you of any possible damage in transit
  • Shock and impact sensors to detect any blows to the equipment in transportation
  • Bill of lading for receipt of freight services
  • A packing slip to make sure the delivery is accurate, and you can check it into your system

Lastly, you want insurance for your delivery. Develop ICO Terms so the liability and transaction terms between any companies involved is clear.

If you’re interested in quickly building a large quantity of high-quality functional testers, please contact us to see how adding a test integrator can ensure the quality of your new systems.

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