Testing times: electronic product launch fails & how to avoid them…

Author : John Johnston | Sales & NPI (New Product Introduction) Director | Chemigraphic

01 September 2020

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The continuing proliferation of IoT & smart devices has seen electronics become increasingly pervasive in virtually every category of product – with sensors, processors & wireless radio technologies providing the required sensing, intelligence & connectivity.

This article was originally featured in EPDT's 2H 2020 Electronics Outsourcing supplement, included in the September 2020 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

For design engineers, the pressure to rapidly bring new products and technologies to market have increased – with demand growing for both innovation and the incorporation of emerging technologies into existing products. John Johnston, Sales & NPI (New Product Introduction) Director at design-led UK-based EMS provider, Chemigraphic explains the implications for test…

A warning story of rushed design release: Samsung Galaxy Fold

In dynamic times, it’s vital to ensure manufacturing test regimes remain effective – but in a world that demands continuous technology innovation, even global giants can get it wrong. Samsung Head of Design, Kan Yun-Je recently commented: “Smartphone design innovation has hit a limit. That’s why we designed a folding phone, part of wider impact on the market, alongside devices like smart earphones and smartwatches… the technology will be seamless.” The foldable phone was supposed to be the next big thing to help Samsung breathe fresh life into its versions of a platform where innovative new features have driven growing sales for a decade, but had started to flatline with less-than-compelling minor updates.

But Samsung wasn’t alone in developing a phone that folds, which led them to rush the release. Galaxy Fold screen malfunctions reported by product reviewers caused the company to cancel its planned mass-release just days before the official launch date. Samsung CEO, DJ Koh admitted: “It was embarrassing. I pushed it through before it was ready… some issues, we didn’t even think about – but thanks to our Samsung Fold reviewers, mass volume testing is ongoing.” Or, to paraphrase, the product was not ready and we’re shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted!

All of which emphasises what most test engineers already know, but are not always allowed to implement to the extent they would like: robust test policies should begin at the earliest stage of a product’s development – and then continue to evolve throughout its manufacturing lifecycle.

Other examples of premature product release…

Samsung Note 7

Post-launch reports started filtering – and then flooding – through of batteries overheating, spontaneously catching fire – and even exploding or burning users! Samsung replaced the units with new devices, but the problem persisted. It is estimated that Samsung lost $14.3 billion in investments, while the cost to its reputation and brand are incalculable.

What went wrong?

Rushed product development and QC (quality control) testing. One mistake was committed by Samsung themselves, in regards to inadequate battery size; the other was incorrect welding of batteries by a third-party manufacturer.

Fitbit Pulse, Charge HR & Surge

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The Fitbit Pulse was recalled because it caused some users to have allergic reactions. And the Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge fitness monitors were met with a class-action lawsuit in 2016 from users claiming the devices provided false reports.

What went wrong?

Here the issues lie both with selection and testing of materials, as well as rigorous user-testing to ensure that devices perform under diverse conditions.

Hoverboards

Another product badly burned by lack of testing was the hoverboard: the self-balancing scooters that created a craze in 2015 – which became a blaze, with fires starting during charging or even while users were riding them. By July 2016, the US CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) had recalled half a million units. It was determined that the root cause of the fires was overheating lithium-ion batteries.

What went wrong?

Top retailers demanded that each individual component passed a safety test – but validation of the entire product was lacking, although hoverboard manufacturers were at pains to point out that there were no safety guidelines published for the manufacture of the emergent products.

Why design-test-launch is not enough

The lesson to learn from these examples is that product testing must be agile and responsive to changing requirements. The pressure to rapidly bring new technologies to market is not going to subside – and is not limited to high-volume global commodity consumer products. Even sectors which have traditionally seen stable platforms for many years, such as medical devices and industrial controls, are now under increasing pressure for innovation and the incorporation of emerging technologies – often driven by wireless connectivity and big data management.

Of course, the recent COVID-19 pandemic and global lockdown restrictions have introduced a whole new range of volatility and uncertainly to product design and manufacturing fulfilment strategies – challenging conventions and timescales for players in every geography and at every scale. The resulting manufacturing fluidity can then impact test requirements.

Indeed, some may argue that big global brands have it easy, with massive R&D budgets and vast engineering teams – but if they can get it so wrong, what chance do the rest of us have? There are no easy answers, and if recent experiences tell us anything, it’s that things can change, often rapidly. We “don’t know what we don’t yet know” – so a one-size-fits-all test regime is simply not good enough.

OEMs clearly need early engagement and ongoing review with proactive EMS partners to ensure that effective manufacturing test strategies are implemented at every stage of a product’s lifecycle – from design to supply chain to each phase of assembly and field performance monitoring. And we call them strategies because there isn’t a fixed set of tests to run – you must let the product’s evolving development, its changing profile of risks and unavoidable BoM changes arising from availability and obsolescence guide you.

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This is why OEMs need high-capability EMS partners with a variety of testing options and a track record of ensuring integrity in products. This extends far beyond implementing a singular customer-consigned process, which is too often simply derived from initial design verification platforms. For electronics manufacture, the key test considerations are:

•  To ensure the test policy cost effectively captures the actual and changing profile of risks exposed at each stage, rather than just design performance.

•  The ideal manufacturing test for mid-volume products should be a quick go/no-go, pass/fail process that any trained operator can perform. It shouldn’t require overly complex manual software setup or interpretation of results.

•  Single tests are often not enough and while investing in an expensive fully automated, high-speed test solution may be possible, if a number of more modest setups can be run concurrently, allowing more thorough testing, while maintaining overall throughput, the cost-per-test can be better.

At Chemigraphic, we offer comprehensive QC programmes and test development services that ensure you have complete confidence in your product integrity. Our test capabilities include:

•  Inline AOI (automatic optical inspection) on all SMD lines

•  X-ray & endoscopic inspection for defect analysis

•  Formal inspection processes, such as FMEA, PPAP, FAI

•  ICT, F-ATE & flying probe for intermediate testing

•  JTAG / boundary scan / device programming

•  Development of bespoke functional test solutions

•  Safety, reliability & user-level testing

•  Traceability & tracking of metrics to satisfy rigorous regulatory compliance requirements

And our services don’t end at initial setup. Our advanced ERP system allows comprehensive performance monitoring and reporting of yield and throughput, which allows data-driven test optimisation to ensure resources are effectively targeted – helping identify current and emerging defects and non-conformances. Early engagement with your trusted EMS partner can help identify faults early and ensure your launch runs smoothly.


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