Will Simulation End Physical Test?
Advancements in modeling and simulation are driving the shift towards digital engineering.
The holiday season is upon us, and Santa’s testing elves are scurrying around the workshop ensuring that the latest gadgets make it to your stocking with more functionality and reliability than ever.
So, what exactly does the product test process look like for some of your favorite holiday gifts? Let’s take a deeper look at how test engineers are helping Santa’s workshop to modernize and deliver the season’s most sought-after gifts, from wireless earbuds to skis, and everything in between.
Wireless earbuds may be the smallest package in your stocking, but their features go beyond simply playing your favorite song or podcast. Gone are the days when headphones consisted merely of speakers and microphones. Modern day earbuds come with many more capabilities, such as active noise cancellation, accelerometers to help track your speed during activity, and even sensors to identify if they’ve fallen out of your ears. Engineers must perform extensive testing to ensure these additional capabilities work properly. With advanced testing, engineers can assess the functionality of more features in less time, helping to get better products on the shelves before the holidays.
For example, in a single earbud’s production test, one engineer simultaneously tests wireless transmission, accelerators, and pressure, which are essentially three different computers working inside one device. Previously, this process took months to complete, but as highlighted in a case study with GN Audio, engineers can use standardized platform architecture and rapid development tools to meet test coverage in a matter of weeks on products with a 2.5X complexity increase. Consumers can expect a better, more intuitive listening experience in a shorter timeframe than ever with help from these test innovations.
Consumers tend to have an itch for sleeker, smaller, and better performing devices, and sophisticated fitness watches are one of the more sought-after holiday gifts in the gadget world. Power validation plays a big role in making sure advanced smart watch features can fit in extremely small packages, while optimizing power use and charging efficiency. Test engineers know that you want your fitness watch on your wrist for as many hours of the day as possible to track your activity, and even your sleep, so optimizing power consumption to minimize interruptions for charging is a must. To optimize power consumption, test engineers work hard to figure out which subsystems of the watch use more power than others and test various areas to diagnose why a battery is draining. NI helps test engineers tackle device battery challenges by using test data through automation, as opposed to manual testing, which by nature is much more time consuming.
Modern video games feature new, beautiful environments, life-like characters, and other visual flair. While impressive, these technological advancements can also place heavy demands on the gaming console. Test engineers ensure that graphic-intense loops use power more efficiently to conserve energy and improve safety, meaning the product is not dangerously hot to the touch or a potential fire hazard. To test how much power a console is consuming and how hot it may get, test engineers often run the same graphic-intense loop on different consoles with firmware that is speeding up some circuits and slowing down others until they find an optimal use of power in the circuitry.
This manual process to identify if your video game and console are performing as they should is clearly time consuming and requires a great deal of hardware and power consumption on the testing end. Imagine a room with 25 screens playing the same gaming scenes repeatedly to find the loop failure so that it doesn’t occur in your living room. This type of testing is becoming less common due to the growing use of hardware-in-the-loop testing that uses a simulated environment to extensively test the firmware early in the design cycle, reducing the requirement for lengthy testing at later stages. Regardless, testing in some form has been critical over the years in guaranteeing high-performance games work as they should.
And finally, a gift that will take up a bit more space under the tree. Ever wonder how much skis are tested before they hit retail shelves? Most avid skiers realize that while different varieties of winter equipment may look very similar to the eye, each brand touts its own unique benefits to battle various mountain terrains.
Some brands may try to differentiate themselves by style and aesthetic and others through a certain level of technology, speed, versatility, or durability. Brands that want to hit certain metrics of quality and reliability for their products will invest significantly in testing to make sure that their skis consistently perform on the mountain.
On a functional level, every ski is created by compressing sheets of fiberglass together around a solid structure, which is then laminated. Although each ski may look the same, ski functionality can vary. A way to differentiate one ski from another is through a factor called “flex,” which is how flexible or stiff a ski is, to help you navigate a mountain by easily bouncing out of snow or holding an edge. Both skis in a pair need to have the same amount of flex, and this is tested using a machine that applies pressure to the center of one ski, measures how much force is needed to move the ski a particular distance, and then assigns an individual ski a flex number. Individual left and right skis with the same flex number can then come together to form a pair.
Essentially, testing makes the process of building a pair of skis easier, quicker, and more efficient. Skis don’t need to be crafted as a uniform pair from the beginning with a pre-determined left and right but can instead be brought together after testing because they are measured to be the same and consistent. Just think about that when it’s time to hit the slopes!
Finding a ski pair match is just one of the many incredible challenges that engineers solve with test. At NI, we’re lucky to be immersed in an industry that helps turn great products into even better products. Test engineers work tirelessly to help deliver holiday miracles of every size to your stocking and under the tree. As creative minds brainstorm new, innovative products and features, you can rest assured that our testing elves will help turn new ideas into reality.