NI uses modular hardware to help improve PCB production test efficiency
For years, NI has focused on software that connects its test equipment together and captures development-time data to help technology companies reduce time to market and build better products.
But at its annual NI Connect event, NI also introduced a new hardware product called TestScale for testing circuit boards for consumer electronics, medical and other high-volume electronic devices.
TestScale is based on modular, off-the-shelf hardware. NI says customers can plug digital and analog I/O and power modules into the backplane and connect via USB to a PC running application software to test the PCB before shipping. NI says the modules can be arranged in custom configurations to meet different functional testing needs. The company plans to add other instrument modules in the future.
NI says TestScale fills a gap in its product portfolio for test engineers and system integrators. TestScale is suitable for NI's high-performance PXI-based automated test equipment.
Each PCB design is rigorously tested and verified during production to ensure that the entire system and all components on it are free of failures that could adversely affect product performance in the field. One of the steps in manufacturing a circuit board is functional testing, which checks the functionality of the final product and whether it complies with specifications.
During functional testing, the board is subjected to a series of electrical signals and power supplies that simulate operating conditions. Depending on the complexity of the PCB and customer needs, these tests may involve simply checking if the product can be opened, or delving deeper into whether its functionality is safe and reliable.
In many cases, companies must use large amounts of high-end test equipment similar to data center server racks to run all the tests required on a finished circuit board—called “test coverage.”
But NI says TestScale will enable its customers to spread functional testing across several different stages to control costs, and each test board can be designed around different aspects.
According to NI, this is ideal for testing circuit boards in medical, industrial and consumer electronics, as well as other high-volume manufactured devices - or those with multiple circuit boards in automotive electronics.
NI says that because of its smaller footprint, TestScale is also flexible, allowing its customers to swap test modules more quickly and replicate test systems to more economically scale up production.
The small form factor also allows TestScale hardware to be installed within a test system, placing it directly beneath the product under test, thus saving space. Mounting the test system as close as possible to the PCB creates shorter signal paths to help simplify routing in the system. NI says this also reduces points of failure and provides better quality and reliability than custom board-level hardware.
According to NI, the in-fixture architecture can reduce the final test system footprint by up to 50%. It is also expected to reduce test station costs by up to 40% compared to standard rack-based box instruments.
The hardware uses the company's NI-DAQmx library to connect to NI and third-party software such as TestStand, LabVIEW, and Python. It also supports various Linux versions for desktop PCs.
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