Bill Hewlett used to say that measurement is the key to changing behavior. For example, if a driver wants to consume less gasoline in a car, measuring how driving habits affect gas mileage is the way to go. If a homeowner wants to use less electricity, measuring consumption over the course of a typical 24-hour day would reveal where usage is highest and thus where savings can be made. The “aha” moment—whether for consumers or product engineers—almost always comes from measurement. That’s what ends up driving a big change or breakthrough. Measurement is what brings insight, improvement, and innovation. It’s especially true in electronics because human beings do not have the senses to “measure” variations in electrical phenomena. Instrumentation is the only way to do it.
I’ve seen proof of the connection between measurement and innovation in the high tech world many times over the years. And I know from experience that the bigger the innovation, the stronger the connection. Here are three scenarios where I think it’s vital for manufacturers to “look beyond the catalog” when working with a measurement vendor. In each of these cases, manufacturers found that collaborating with a measurement supplier as a true partner was the key to bringing innovations to market.
Scenario 1: The technology you’re bringing to market goes far beyond existing technologies.
Incremental advances in technology can usually leverage existing test instruments. But big, disruptive advances in technology often require a similar leap forward in test and measurement equipment and processes. One good example is terabit transmission in long-haul optical links. This technology is in high demand and evolving quickly due to the explosive increase in internet traffic. The technological innovation required to achieve terabit transmission speeds was made possible only through the cooperation between measurement companies and manufacturers: Optical modulation technologies could be developed, characterized, and finally produced only by creating a new category of measurement instruments—today’s optical modulation analysis tools.
Scenario 2: Your innovation crosses domains from one market to another.
There are many examples of innovations that were initially developed for one market or industry and then found their way into other markets. Tech-laden innovations from the electronics manufacturing world can make the jump, but quite often, the cross-over requires input from a measurement vendor to address deployment challenges and measurement problems. For example:
- Connected car technology. Most cars today have a radio unit that connects the car through the wireless network to the internet, making these cars essentially fast-moving cell phones. Many car makers have experience designing mechanical and electro-mechanical systems, and can benefit from the deep insight a measurement company brings to the game with rich experience in testing wireless systems. Expertise across both domains is table stakes when developing today’s vehicles.
- Phased-array antenna technology. Widely deployed in aerospace/defense applications, this technology is now crossing over to the automotive world with breakthroughs in adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection, and collision avoidance/mitigation systems. The challenge in automotive applications is related to consumer expectations—the technology needs to be small, affordable, and utterly reliable to be viable in consumer applications. While phased-array technology might be new to automotive engineers, it’s well known to measurement vendors who have experience in aerospace/defense. Automotive manufacturers can tap that expertise to more quickly integrate the technology.
A Keysight customer recently made the case for collaboration between manufacturers and test vendors when crossing domains. “With 5G…we’re tapping into an area of the radio spectrum that has been a big unknown for the mobile industry,” said Woojune Kim, vice president of Next-Generation Strategy, Samsung Electronics, in a recent press release. “Being able to work closely with Keysight and leveraging their expertise with network simulation, RF, and millimeter wave technologies is an advantage for our product validation efforts.”
Scenario 3: You need to transform a manufacturing process to meet business goals.
One of our customers, a large Asian manufacturer of lithium-ion battery cells, had a business challenge, a process challenge, and ultimately a measurement challenge for Keysight. The company’s manufacturing process typically yielded a number of battery cells that got flagged for retesting in post-production test. Retesting is expensive: The cells are charged, measurements are taken over a period of a few weeks, and finally the level of discharge is calculated. The expense comes not only in lost time but also in warehousing: cells needed to be stored somewhere while they’re self-discharging, adding inventory expense to the manufacturing process. The customer had a measurement request for Keysight: Could we find a way to reduce their retest cycle from three or four weeks to one hour? Behind it were the twin business goals of reducing inventory and reducing production-related expenses. Our answer was to invent a new product—a self-discharge analyzer—that uses advanced voltage and current matching techniques to measure a battery’s discharge rate in less than an hour. This solution eliminated both the self-discharge wait time and the inventory storage space for retesting batteries. It’s one of my favorite examples of how collaboration between a measurement vendor and a manufacturer can trigger significant innovations—at the business level, the process level, and the product level.
I’ve seen each of these three scenarios play out over my career. Today I'm more convinced than ever that collaboration is the catalyst for all great innovations in electronics manufacturing. What about you? Where do you think manufacturers and measurement teams are having the biggest impact? Comment on this post and share your story. I’m willing to bet you know additional scenarios where manufacturers and their measurement partners are changing the world.