Research Findings Reveal the Impact of Calibration Challenges

Earlier this year, Keysight commissioned Frost & Sullivan to conduct a research study to identify the most pressing challenges for calibrating electronic products. Maintaining the performance of test and measurement functions is a critical factor to ensure your business success, particularly as the electronics market grows more complex and form factors shrink to astonishingly small sizes, new features emerge daily, and designs need to perform at higher levels.

Calibration is a procedure used to verify that a test instrument is operating according to its specifications under defined conditions. Using calibrated instruments in a test system gives you confidence that your measurements will deliver accurate results because all the measurement uncertainties have been accounted for.

Calibration matters in all stages of the design workflow because it’s important to be able to correlate measurement results from the early design phase through the manufacturing phase.

The study’s findings reveal the importance of test and measurement accuracy and the role calibration plays in assuring it. When calibration is integrated into the electronic design and production testing as a key business process, it can help streamline production and reduce the potential for mistakes and costs.

We’re sharing the research findings in a series of white papers and a report summay. Download the report summary here.

The findings drive home the need, across industries, for a deep analysis of test strategies and underscore why calibration is an urgent business requirement. The findings also offer insight into opportunities to identify new calibration measurement techniques that will help us develop new calibration services.

As the pace of technology innovation accelerates across industries, test strategies and protocols are under increasing pressure. As complexity grows, manufacturers need to reassess test strategies and processes to ensure they’re evolving to adapt to new technology requirements.

The research findings discuss various aspects of test strategy and raise four key questions:

In this post, I’ll highlight four key findings from the research and why they’re relevant:

#1: Major technology transformations are driving an urgent need for new test strategies

It’s no secret that technology transformation is quickly disrupting the automotive, aerospace and defense, and communications sectors. These industries are all at major inflection points, as illustrated by the rise of 5G, IoT, cybersecurity, and advanced developments in electronic warfare. As the pace of development quickens, all stages in the process require stronger, more reliable test strategies.

Based on my experience partnering with a U.S. electronic components company, I saw first-hand the challenges it faced, and why it’s important to upgrade and improve your calibration strategy on an ongoing basis. The company was moving to higher volume manufacturing of a complex RF chipset design and needed to correlate measurement data between its design validation and production test systems.

I worked closely with Keysight’s team and the company to help rework the company’s entire test workflow and software. We were able to build a test system that shared calibration and test data across test platforms. This allowed them to determine the root cause of its test issues. While this is one specific case, it’s representative of what’s happening in many companies that are developing electronic products.

While calibration challenges have always been important to engineers, the pace of change in today’s market makes it even more important to streamline calibration processes and develop more effective strategies.

#2: Adoption of appropriate test strategies has a positive impact on the bottom line

This finding highlights the impact of test strategy on product quality and, more importantly, on company profits. Simply put, if you have weak test strategies, you have a high risk of lowering your production yields, which directly impacts your bottom line. Conversely, this speaks to how poor testing affects the brand image and profitability of large companies across industries. Most of us can remember when cell phone batteries were exploding or catching on fire as a result of improper product testing. These scary episodes had a big impact on the brand image of the companies that relied on the batteries in question.

For decisionmakers, the takeaway is that it’s critically important if you’re in a fast-moving and hyper-competitive market to continuously review your test strategy to ensure product quality and yields aren’t negatively impacted.

For example, while working for Keysight in China for seven years, I had the opportunity to discuss test strategies with leading Chinese electronics manufacturers. I witnessed a significant change in some of the companies as they pivoted to focus more on the processes near the beginning of their manufacturing processes to improve yields. One best practice I’ve learned is to have the production engineering team spend as much time as it needs to design well thought out test strategies upfront, to avoid costs and delays when the production results don’t meet expectations.

#3: Tighter measurement guard bands and complexities are impacting business as never before

This finding focuses on the impact of measurement uncertainties on test accuracy and its influence on product quality and yield. It also addresses the role of test equipment calibration on minimizing measurement uncertainty and improving product quality.

In the past, when labor was less expensive in certain regions, you could overlook low-yield manufacturing test processes because it wasn’t expensive to rework or scrap products that failed. However, given today’s markets, it’s difficult to remain cost-competitive, so it’s even more important to ensure that your processes have the highest yield possible. How do you accomplish that? By looking at calibration with new eyes.

A decade ago, it was hard to find an engineer in one of our customers’ organizations who focused on calibration and cared about the calibration status of the test equipment. Fast forward and today, more engineering departments have dedicated engineers who work with the production teams to ensure that test equipment is calibrated and loaded with the latest software revisions. Teams embrace calibration as a best practice because they need to ensure that calibration isn’t affecting their production yields or any other business results.

#4: Calibration is a critical component of a company’s test strategy

This finding offers insight into the importance of various elements of proper calibration in your test strategy. It advances the idea that calibration is an integral part of your company’s DNA. The finding also underscores the importance of calibrating test equipment to the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) standard.

In the last few years, I’ve noticed that companies in the electronics test industry have shifted to calibration and specification traceability and made it part of their culture. Increasingly, they’re working closely with test companies to educate their engineers on the importance of calibration and metrology.

While working with customers in China in a marketing role, I often had requests from customers to help them train their engineers. They were quick to sign up for any courses Keysight offered on test process design. The managers also participated in the training which demonstrated that they were being held accountable for acquiring knowledge about calibration techniques and test processes.

Get it Right: Prioritize Calibration and Test Strategy Development

We have seen a major shift over the last decade among global companies that design and manufacture electronic products to prioritize calibration and test strategy development. In fact, both are now high on the priority list.

When I worked in China, I was fortunate to work closely with customers who were aggressively pursuing a leading position in their markets. This allowed me to gain insight into their strategies and approaches in electronic test and measurement. I was amazed at how quickly they learned so that they could catch-up to the multi-national companies they competed with.

All global companies across industries need to pay attention to calibration and test strategy development as a key to their success. To regard them as an afterthought is a risky business.