Upgrading consumer technology is often advertised as being “easy,” and sometimes it is. But it’s the things they don’t tell you that can drive you crazy. That new cell phone looks sleek and perfect—until you realize you now have a drawer full of charging cords you can’t use. That high-resolution, eight-inch display in the new car is beautiful—except now you have to pull over to the side of the road to change the radio station.
Refreshing test technology can be like that, too. There are advantages and pitfalls, but a basic truth is this: No matter how much better your test floor will run after a technology deployment, getting there requires some disruption. The key is to minimize it. In test environments, that means addressing at least the following four things before you sign the P.O.
In my experience, customers who purchase new test equipment usually fall into one of three categories. Some buy too much functionality and end up overpaying for their particular needs. Others buy too little functionality and then need to allocate more funds to either upgrade their system or trade it in on a more powerful instrument. The third group—those who buy exactly the right amount of functionality and measurement accuracy for their unique needs—are in the sweet spot. To make sure you fall into that third category, take a fresh look at your products and development plan. Understand exactly what you need to be able to test today, and try to anticipate your test needs 18 to 24 months down the road. Chances are, your new test system will be faster, smaller, and maybe even simpler to operate, but if it can’t measure what you need it to measure today and a year from now, with the accuracy you need, nothing else matters.
I’ve been told that the cost of creating new code for test sets can be up to three times the cost of the instrument. That’s a sobering thought. What’s more, the speed with which code is deployed affects how quickly you can get equipment up and running. Although many instrument suppliers claim to have code-compatible equipment, be careful and read the fine print. Many companies simply transfer existing commands to the new equipment, so your old programs run the same way on new equipment that they did on your old systems. Even though you purchased state-of-the-art equipment, performance stays the same. It’s like buying a new hybrid car and disabling the EV battery, so you’re getting the same gas mileage that you got with your old car. An even worse outcome is if performance degrades. With old programs running on the new equipment, measurements might not perform the same way, giving you inaccurate or misleading results.
Does a new instrument need to fit into an existing rack? Is floor space limited or being reallocated? This is a case where a little planning goes a long way. Just as you measure the doorways at home before buying a new couch or a high-tech workout machine, make sure your new equipment fits the physical space you’ve allocated.
Does your new equipment have the right connections on the front and back panels? If not, there’s usually a workaround, so it’s not a showstopper. But like the new cell phone that has a completely different charger interface, it’s a good idea to avoid surprises—and deployment delays—whenever you can.
The good news is, there will always be newer technology. That’s the challenge, too. But with a little planning, your next technology refresh can be smooth and even transformative for your test floor. I won’t describe it as “easy,” but done right, it can be surprise-free.
What about you? What’s the most interesting surprise you’ve had when updating equipment in your test environment? I’m always interested to know what my fellow technologists are up to.