Product testing can consume an inordinate amount of time and resources, slowing the time to market. Traditional technician-on-the-bench testing can take up to two weeks to fully characterize a product such as an RF power amplifier (PA). It’s a long, tedious, and repetitive process. It’s costly as well – the cost of manpower and the cost of lost opportunity for the technician to work on other projects equates to a loss of efficiency, loss of profit, and higher product pricing. That makes it difficult to stay competitive.
Enter the world of automated test equipment (ATE). Just as robots have further streamlined the automotive assembly line, ATE streamlines the testing process for RF products. To automate much of the characterization testing for new products, we have invested in National Instruments’ PXI line of test equipment. Since moving to ATE testing, the time required to characterize a new product has decreased from two weeks, to two days. Additionally, during the test cycle, the technician is free to work on other products or projects.
Implementing an automated test set up requires a significant capital investment upfront, as well as a savvy engineering resource to create the software to run the ATE and execute the desired tests. Adding up all the pieces, a rather basic ATE test set up will run $150k to $200k.
So, is it worth it? We firmly believe that it is. Our goal is to increase product sales by having more products in stock, cutting the time necessary to deliver custom products, and speeding up the development time for new products. Automated testing is critical to achieving these goals. Specifically in product development, the ability to measure the efficiency, gain, power out, and linearity of a PA over the entire frequency range in minutes, instead of hours or days, means less time spend testing and more time perfecting the design.
Figure 1. National Instruments’ PXI test equipment has streamlined our product testing process. Full characterization of RF products used to take two week, but now can be completed in two days. Shown here is the NI PXI-1044 chassis, image courtesy of National Instruments.