Today’s test systems are often developed in silos – specific test systems designed for the specific products or processes needed now – without forethought toward future testing needs. However, shifts in demand require today’s products to scale in production or grow in functionality. When engineering teams design test systems without taking into consideration entire product lifecycles or future product roadmaps, they end up with rigid systems and struggle with insufficient capabilities, obsolete components, and, ultimately, expensive overhauls.
Signal switching subsystems are at the crux of test system success, with switches extending channel capability. Test solutions designed with signal switching at their core, therefore – built on standardized electronics test and measurement platforms – result in systems that are not only reliable, but scalable for growth and flexible for reuse across multiple programs and projects.
Streamlining testing can help companies get to market faster without the stress of technology lock-in, surprise project delays, or ballooning costs. This article will outline how to design a streamlined switching subsystem at the core of your test system for the ultimate:
1. Design Standardized Switching Systems for Reliable, Repeatable Results
As extensions of the test instrument and device under test (DUT) I/O, the switch and associated cabling/interconnects must be precisely specified to ensure a system design meets requirements – freeing engineers from questioning the test system’s ability to produce consistently reliable results.
The first step to a reliable test system is to select the software to control the system. This allows engineers to easily verify (as they select hardware) that each component has the appropriate level of software support required – whether for application development environment (C/C++/C#/LabVIEW/Python) or OS (Windows, Real-Time or Linux).
Selecting the right products the first time is also imperative. Changing products mid-stream because they don’t meet unforeseen requirements can cause ripple effects in interfacing and software development efforts. Use Pickering’s Product Selection Tool to explore the right products for specific requirements.
2. Design Standardized Switching Systems for Maintainability
While the priority is designing for reliability, every system will have maintenance issues at some point in the product lifecycle. Relays are mechanical in nature and will ultimately fail over time. It can be difficult to determine whether a test failure is with a relay, cabling, connector, or mass interconnect. Test system success hinges on its ability to be serviced easily and back up and running quickly.
Test system issues must be straightforward to diagnose and remedy. Traditionally, engineers must first establish which subassembly is faulty, then test individual modules to find which relay has failed. This manual process consumes hours of engineer or technician time. Alternatively, teams can write a self-test program. However, this approach is also time consuming and costly as engineers seek to understand the system’s design and verify the final diagnosis to avoid failed repair attempts.
With Pickering’s BIRST (Built-in Relay Self-Test) and eBIRST diagnostic software test tools, engineers can quickly isolate switching modules from the rest of the system to determine if they have a fault, so time is not wasted trying to debug other parts of the system.
Maintainability also requires managing obsolescence. When components become obsolete, teams face substantial costs to re-engineer systems. By choosing modular components, proven, supported software and industry-standard platforms like PXI, teams can ensure backward compatibility if specific components become obsolete.
3. Design Standardized Switching Systems for Scalability
When designing switching subsystems for test systems, scalability can take many forms. Addressing both current needs and possible future capability requirements helps organizations future-proof systems with a scalable solution. By finding a test partner that can design or modify COTS solutions to meet current and future requirements as needs evolve, test engineering teams get a solution that will scale.
Software compatibility is also important as product lines grow since industry standards evolve, and software will be required to certify new standards. Streamlined software promotes interoperability across different vendors’ products (large-scale ATE systems are almost always multi-vendor).
Avionics/defense industries tend to favor PXI and LXI standards. Adopting a vendor-agnostic hardware approach frees test engineers from unnecessarily spending time learning proprietary architectures or communication interfaces that won’t scale well as systems evolve.
With a modular approach, modules can be included or excluded in a system build as needed – and it’s easy to add capacity. Engineers can take advantage of a range of chassis sizes with varying slot counts, from half rack 1U 2-slot mainframes all the way up to full rack 4U 18-slot chassis.
4. Design Standardized Switching Systems for Flexibility
Selecting equipment that is robust enough to be used over time in different projects and flexible enough to meet different demands future-proofs investment and streamlines technology and domain knowledge needed across an organization. Building a system with future systems in mind allows engineers to reuse equipment. Over time, engineers using modular solutions can swap and reuse instrumentation as projects change.
Pickering helps engineers confidently move from R&D to production test using modular switching interfaces and simulation solutions that are fit to spec, seamless to integrate, and built to last. With a focus on high-density signal switching, including power, microwave and signal switching in discrete, multiplexer, and matrix topologies, Pickering can create switching solutions that are reliable, maintainable, scalable, and flexible.
Work with Pickering to select components, get the guidance you need, or outsource your complete switching subsystem: pickeringtest.com/success
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