Latest Trends In The Consumer Electronics Testing Scenario

By Deepshikha Shukla

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Automation of electronics testing will help manufacturers save significantly in terms of costs and manpower. This will bring about a digital transformation in the electronics appliance testing segment.

With reduction in size of electronic gadgets having wireless capabilities, testing has become a vital process in the product development cycle. Testing and measuring instruments are required for timely elimination of defects and prevent equipment failure in consumer electronics. Testing is crucial at every stage of the production process, whether manufacturing, maintenance, or research and development.

There are several emerging consumer electronics divisions that require innovative and latest testing solutions to meet the demands of integration of new technologies into them. A few such sectors are automotive, data centres, power applications, the Internet of Things (IoT) devices, electrical appliances and 5G.

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A high number of components in a small package creates issues like signal interference, inductive or capacitive coupling, improper functioning of individual components, etc. Therefore every electronic product needs to be tested multiple times, using diverse test equipment for each component. The challenge is to identify the type of test equipment needed for the desired testing.

Testing and certification of electronic devices is done at different levels, namely, system, field, interoperability, factory test support, operator certification, device health diagnostics security, vulnerability and log analysis support.

Consumer electronics testing (Credit: www.csagroup.org)
Consumer electronics testing (Credit: www.csagroup.org)

Growth drivers

Growth drivers for test and measurement (T&M) of consumer electronics are explained below.

Automotives

Growing demand for connected cars, evolved infotainment systems and autonomous driving needs T&M equipment for the automotive industry. Adoption of wireless communications standards like Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and Wi-Fi are highlighting the need for more radio frequency (RF) testing.

Technologies related to driverless vehicles, collision avoidance and the new Wi-Fi standard 802.11p are looking to capture and analyse as much data as possible to maximise their product designs. Data analytics is a key driver in the growth of data acquisition and analysis.

Environmental testing for electronic automotive components

ISO 16750 standard covers test procedures for electrical systems and electronics for automotive applications. Testing ensures that all of the vehicle’s electronic components comply with relevant regulations and electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) test standards.

Data centres

Higher transmission speeds and new standards for applications in data centres are creating the demand for high-speed digital test equipment. Demand for greater bandwidth continues to increase the need for higher transmission rates in data centres.

Modulation schemes such as pulse amplitude modulation (PAM), differential quadrature phase-shift keying (DQPSK) and quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) require more channels and upgraded instruments. Continuous evolution towards greater bandwidths and sample rates has led to the emergence of new standards.

Power management applications

Power supplies are driving the demand for electronic test equipment as engineers strive to maximise their systems’ efficiency. Rapid advances in new applications like electric vehicles (EVs), energy storage, wireless devices and wireless power transfer are also driving the demand for high-resolution instruments.

Data centres are highly sensitive to voltage and current fluctuations, and power consumption and generation issues, driving the demand for electronic test equipment.

PicoLTE IoT narrowband and Cat-M1 test and measurement platform (Credit: www.nutaq.com)
PicoLTE IoT narrowband and Cat-M1 test and measurement platform (Credit: www.nutaq.com)

802.11ax Wi-Fi standard

Continuous evolution of communications standards boosts the demand for test equipment as more standards increase the number of test cases and add to the difficulty in performing measurements. For example, 802.11ax is providing growth for T&M vendors due to specific features requiring high RF performance and greater measurement accuracy.

The IoT device and network test equipment

Interconnectivity of consumer electronics has led to complex test scenarios that require new and scalable test equipment. Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and mobile IoT standards such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and LTE-M are creating a new part of the market that did not exist earlier.

The IoT is generating a growing need for inspecting, testing and verifying smart products and other equipment to ensure that these work correctly once deployed. This is driving the need for more field data acquisition (DAQ) systems.

This data can also be used to fine-tune designs in laboratories. With the IoT, DAQ has the potential to be put on a large number of devices to generate data on how it is used. This data would be sent to a server and data analytics application, and could be used by an engineer working on the design of the next generation of that product.

The IoT is taking us into a new world of connected devices, which is enabled by the network infrastructure, the Internet and World Wide Web. To prevent network security breaches, the network stack, security layers and firewalls on these devices need to be tested by simulating various use-cases.

The IoT devices are tested across different cloud IoT platforms to ensure their effective usability. All connected devices need to be tested across various protocols when there are multiple components in an IoT system. Different components in such a scenario will use different protocols to communicate with each other. In IoT testing, it is critical to test passwords and credentials, data interfaces and constantly update the devices to ensure data security.

Sensors use low energy but can run out of memory when loaded with many requests in the system. In an IoT environment, devices generate data with high velocity and variety. These use the IoT gateway to forward those messages to the devices, instead of directly exchanging information, which can help in balancing the load of requests received by the components. For optimised battery life and balance, these components have to be tested under various scenarios or conditions, and the right battery has to be chosen to maximise the life of the IoT devices.

Mobile testing

The challenge for mobile testers and application developers is to ensure that applications can adapt to the various types of displays on mobile devices. This means that content needs to be shown within the right boundaries so that user interaction is not hampered. Vital functions like scrolling need to be considered. To ensure mobile devices do not harm users and are compatible with devices from other manufacturers, tests have to be conducted to make sure that these satisfy all defined specifications and protocols.

A mobile device is tested thoroughly for quality before releasing to the market. Tests that are commonly performed are mobile application, hardware, battery life, signal, network, regulatory, protocol, SAR, compatibility, pre-certification, conformance, interoperability, antenna, test result analysis and debugging support.

Mobile testing services (Credit: www.testingxperts.com)
Mobile testing services (Credit: www.testingxperts.com)

Safety and efficiency testing

In today’s global market, products must meet numerous safety standards and industry requirements. Electrical appliances are energy-star-rated to indicate energy efficiency. Electrical safety testing is carried out to evaluate the potential risks of electrical shocks to customers while using the products. Evaluating a product for electrical safety includes tests such as high voltage, insulation resistance, leakage current and ground continuity.

An electromagnetic field (EMF) test measures the amount of electric, magnetic and electromagnetic exposure a product emits to its users, including static, extremely low frequency and RF fields. There are different regulatory limits for occupational and general public exposure. EMF testing helps meet regulatory requirements, improve product safety and reduce the risk of costly non-compliance. Third-party EMF tests and conformity assessments also help strengthen the competitive position in the market by indicating a commitment to consumer safety.

Testing by robots provides a huge opportunity for companies to prevent faulty devices from being shipped to stores from their production lines. Automation of electronics testing will help manufacturers save significantly in terms of costs and manpower. This will bring about a digital transformation in the electronics appliance testing segment.

SR-SCARA-Pro robot designed by Sastra Robotics used for testing ensures that electronic devices are well-tested before deployment towards actual usage without human intervention. This robot can integrate with renowned software quality assurance frameworks and control systems to automate testing of all software components and check against desired functionality outputs. On hardware side, it ensures that sensitivity, touchscreen intuitiveness and usability are thoroughly tested during the entire product lifecycle.

Future outlook

Integration of the IoT in consumer electronics has led to the production of more and more connected, smart and standards-compliant devices. Testing is required for these designs at every step of the product development cycle, including while designing a wireless chipset, or while integrating it into a product like a cellphone.

Test equipment that validates IoT capabilities has become an important focus for the mission-critical IoT ecosystem that must perform without failure and meet necessary compliance certification. Consumer expectations from IoT devices for reliability, performance and quality of experience are extremely high, and wireless connectivity will continue to be a critical success factor.

Each product that goes into the market needs to be tested for functionality, performance and safety. Testing in the consumer electronics industry is done at multiple stages of the design and development process. These are mostly component tests followed by integration and end-of-line production tests. Consumer electronics capable of taking autonomous decisions also need to be tested on network security, battery life and connectivity grounds.

Consumer electronics testing (Credit: www.csagroup.org)
PicoLTE IoT narrowband and Cat-M1 test and measurement platform (Credit: www.nutaq.com)
Mobile testing services (Credit: www.testingxperts.com)

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