Product Testing Glamour and The Big Flush
A deluge of rain this weekend gave me time to catch up on a bit of drudgery - reviewing my engineering budget. Crunching numbers rates somewhere between balancing the checkbook and an appendectomy on my Saturday to do list.
When I'm slugging away at a wearisome task like this, particularly when sitting home at the kitchen table, a devious portion of my brain is frantically searching for distraction. I had no sooner tallied (and re-tallied) how much I've spent this year on various forms of product testing when I heard a radio headline about testing toilets with "The Big Flush." Clearly distraction-qualified material - off to Google I went.
The Big Flush - 250 students were hired last week to perform The Big Flush at the Penguin's new Pittsburgh hockey arena by simultaneously flushing every toilet in the arena. I'm pleased to report that The Big Flush was a success.
But, funny how distractions work - and here I am over an hour later writing this month's eletter on - product testing - of all things.
Product testing is getting more attention in 2010 than any time that I remember. Boeing's 787 Dreamliner struggled with huge delays as testing uncovered numerous design and technology problems (an engineering project of enormous size and complexity, but hardly Boeing's first).
Ongoing consumer product troubles from China, pet food, milk, toys.
Even the mighty have fallen. More has been written about the manufacturing and quality prowess of Toyota than any other company - yet 2010 found them struggling with fundamental product problems.
And while it's not yet apparent exactly what category it falls in, the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico can't be ignored.
There's little glory in product testing. While being the 787 test pilot will impress the ladies, you're not likely to find a mate describing your panache for testing the robustness of an Ethernet Serial Server against the ravages of static shock and electrical surges.
While I don't recommend it as a dating technique, it's the unseen efforts of test engineers that ensure product greatness. According to my spreadsheets, it's also quite an investment. Specialized equipment, annual calibration, scores of engineering hours, lab time, on and on. What exactly am I getting for my money - and - more importantly - how are you benefiting?
The short answer is rugged and reliable products - the result of one heck of a lot of investment in product testing, combined with a long history of communications product design for critical applications.
It rarely comes up in polite conversation, but here's a peek behind the closed lab doors at what it takes to pull that off.
ESD testing - electro-static discharge - we zap every nook and cranny of our products with plus and minus 15,000 volts of ESD. Now, you're not likely to generate that kind of energy even with a herd of fuzzy kittens - but improvements in chip design and our own tricks of the trade have given us the ability to survive serious ESD zaps. ESD can do more than just blow out data ports - it can also send microprocessors off into never-never land, cause destructive latchup of inputs and cause general mayhem.
Surge testing - there are all kinds of nasty causes of surges that are conducted or induced onto data and power lines and we do a lot of testing to ensure that each of our ports not only withstands those surges but also keeps your connected equipment out of harms way.
Isolation - you've heard me soapbox about the benefit of isolating data circuits. There are many tricks to the trade here - particularly since there is a gaping lack of industry standards in this area. Component selection, power supply design, chassis design and printed circuit board layout techniques all play a critical role. Since isolation is only as good as the weakest link, I can tell you without a doubt that I've seen many companies really bugger this up - making bold isolation claims without the design practices to back them up.
Radio Frequency Immunity - even for the casual observer it's not hard to imagine that in this wireless age it's important that electronic equipment be oblivious to all the RF energy zinging through the air. Yet the reality is that it's unlikely to be your iPhone that takes down your electronics, it's more likely to be the variable frequency drive that's controlling that pump or compressor. To prevent you from being a victim of this invisible instigator of communications glitches, we put our products into an RF chamber and bombard them with energy across a broad frequency spectrum. And we rarely stop at the prescribed limit (heck, if a product passes a test you really haven't learned much of anything). We crank the knob up to find just how far we can go.
And don't forget the more mundane - temperature chamber testing, vibration, and the economical but potentially vicious drop tests.
All in, it adds up to quite the spend - time and money. But it's how we know that we've achieved truly rugged and reliable products - stuff that will withstand some seriously tough environments. And, we've got the test specs to prove it.
Need an industrial Ethernet switch that's qualified to sit in an outdoor traffic control panel (including the abusive truck ride to the construction site)? Check out our EIR300 line.
How about RS-232, 422, 485 and Fiber converters that are qualified for installation into electrical substations?
Or a USB isolator that meets the demanding isolation requirements of the medical industry?
Maybe you need an outdoor, wide temp 802.11 access point certified for hazardous locations and tough enough to withstand not just mother nature but wash downs as well.
This testing is serious business - whether it's The Big Flush or bombarding an Ethernet switch with RF energy.
Is there other specialized testing or certification that you require? Any bizarre product tests required for your industry? I'd love to hear about it.
Comments welcome at our blog.
Happy, reliable connections,