W Technology – an eC-test-mate user reports.

Alex Wilkinson of W Technology, 1 Chamberlain Place, Kidlington, Oxford, UK, became very interested in the eC-test-mate after seeing it demonstrated on the Eurocircuits stand at a recent trade show. W Technology develops and designs circuits, PCBs and firmware for a wide variety of products and product areas. Following on from the design phase, the prototyping and production stages which W Technology can also take care of usually require some degree of testing. As a result they are always looking for smart ways to speed up and automate testing while reducing the amount of manual intervention. The eC-test-mate looked particularly ideal for a product W Technology builds for John Wainwright Systems – an access control specialist. The board in question has an RS485 interface which could easily be used as a test interface into the board, and lots of relay controlled outputs, all of which need to be tested. It also has numerous inputs and outputs for inter-system connections, entry card readers, door sensors etc. For this board to be delivered to the client and meet W Technology”s high standards, all of these interfaces need to be tested.

That”s where the eC-test-mate looks ideal. On the surface, it looks like it can provide multiple automated test functions and measurements and take out the majority of the manual testing currently required. The fact that it runs a scripted test process means it should be easily adaptable to any future changes made to the board design or functionality, which is inevitable.

So W Technology took delivery of an eC-test-mate system complete with the Eurocircuits eC-test-mate Demo Board.

The PC software is freely available from www.eurocircuits.com/test. Version 1.2.1.1 was available at the time of writing. Installing the software is easy and only takes a matter of seconds. The demo board test scripts are available from the same location and come in a .zip format. The first thing you naturally do with a .zip file is to open it up and extract all the files, but in fact this is not necessary as the eC-test-mate software works with the zip file itself, saving you having to open it and create a folder for all the files it contains.

Open the eC-test-mate program and click the large blue “PCB manager button”. Then click the “Import” icon at the bottom left of the screen:

Make sure the required test head is plugged in to the PC (In this case, test head 1, green), click on the newly imported board and then the green tick at the bottom, “Activate”.

Once activated, you click on the “Test” heading at the top of the screen and you are ready to go. The demo board and scripts show a good selection of tests that can be performed:

  • Power supply to the board and testing for over-current conditions.
  • Reading analogue inputs, setting analogue output voltages.
  • Setting up on-board potentiometers to be within a certain range or allowing the operator to set them to a particular value and recording that value.
  • Setting outputs and requesting operator confirmation of the changed state.
  • Reading switch inputs and automatically moving on once activated.
  • Sending and receiving RS232 commands.

At the end of the test the screen briefly flashes red or green, as does the test head, to show the overall result. Failure in any one section of course results in an overall fail result. Helpfully, if it failed in one section and you go to test again, you have the option of retesting just that section which saves time by not going through the complete test process again.

Click on the “Edit & Debug” heading at the top of the screen and you have access to the test program scripts. These are a bit like a simplified version of C. Unusually you can”t actually type the text of the program script, instead you select the required command from the box to the right and fill in the appropriate parameters. A benefit if this is that you avoid introducing syntax errors that are otherwise quite easy to make, particularly with an unfamiliar language.

The test heads themselves look to be pretty robust – the test pins are shrouded in a spring loaded plastic cover to hide them when not connected to the target PCB. Only the steel location pins poke through initially allowing for location onto the PCB before pressing down and making all the connections.

They all have a USB connection so they can plug directly into the PC if the power requirements are low. For a board where you only need one test head this can leave you with less stuff on your desk. Otherwise you connect them through the base station which provides extra power – well above what USB can normally provide. The base station acting as a USB hub and power injector to the test heads. Also included in the base station are some little passive test boards – one for each head – which allow for quick verification that each head is functioning correctly. There are built in test routines to use these within the PC application.

While these can be removed from the base station, it”s quite convenient to use them in the base station as they hold the test head in place.

The intended way to use the test heads is for the land pattern to be designed onto the target PCB itself, therefore not requiring the traditional “bed of nails”. In some cases this may not be possible though due to space requirements, or perhaps where you need additional external circuitry to be able to test a system. In this case you could design the footprint for the test head into the board containing the external circuitry, and for example, use the I2C interface on test head 2 to drive an I/O expander chip to allow an almost limitless number of inputs and outputs to be multiplexed into the eC-test-mate system, and still all be tested and controlled from scripts within the PC software.

All in all it looks like a pretty versatile system. W Technology sees it being more than capable of testing the board originally identified as being a good contender for its application, and they look forward to incorporating its use into other product lines in the future.

W Technology, www.wtechnology.co.uk and contact via test@wtechnology.co.uk

Virtec – an eC-test-mate user reports

VIRTEC S.R.L., Hurlingham – Buenos Aires, Argentina, customer of eC-test-mate

VIRTEC S.R.L., located in Hurlingham, Argentina, is a committed user of the eC-test-mate. Its CTO, Mr Juan Andres Mondolo, chose the eC-test-mate (and its accompanying software eC-my-test) to cover all testing needs within the company. Already, Virtec has realized testing solutions for two products with the eC-test-mate, and more are coming up this year.

Virtec provides products for data collection in vehicles and transport applications as well as for environmental monitoring, e.g. for agricultural purposes. With over 300,000 systems sold, Virtec offers solutions for fleet monitoring and telemetry in several South American countries. In order to withstand harsh working conditions with high reliability, the products must be robust and the electronics must fulfill high requirements regarding durability and long term functionality.

Why choose eC-test-mate?

Virtec was one of the first companies to purchase an eC-test-mate, which was introduced at the Electronica 2014 trade fair in Munich. What were the main reasons for Virtec to choose the eC-test-mate?

As Mr Mondolo puts it: “We use the eC-my-test software for the development and execution of our product testing, and we ask our contract manufacturers to implement it as well, using our test scripts. This offers the possibility of a high level of production standardization and guaranteed quality at very low costs. Also, our trust in Eurocircuits as a supplier played a significant role” Virtec is an innovative company that releases six to eight new products every year. These include completely new products as well as variations of existing solutions.

“Flexible application is therefore a key requirement for any test equipment, and with the eC-test-mate we have found just that. We only have to incorporate a standard footprint in each PCB design, assign the 21 test points and write the test commands for every test pin. That is why we use the eC-test-mate in the development, as well as in the production phase of the PCB”.

Before eC-test-mate….

Mr Mondolo explains that the eC-test-mate means a breakthrough for Virtec’s test strategy:

“Using this functional automated test system enables the company to test its PCBs thoroughly and in a shorter time period than before. A complete test of one of our newest product with the eC-test-mate, including programming of the firmware, takes around six minutes and now our contractors are able to process proximally 1600 tested PCBs per month. Additionally, providing the contract manufacturer with a user friendly and ready-to-use test solution helps to ensure that every PCB is tested to our specific requirements.”

Standardization

As a result of this standardization of our testing process, it now becomes interesting to be able to store the test results. With eC-test-mate it is possible to store the results in a dedicated database via TCP connection. It also allows the programming of an ST microcontroller as part of the test process.

Virtec mainly uses the following eC-test-mate functions: Analog and digital in- and outputs, power supplies, UART, RS-485 and CAN. These functions are all included in either test head 1 or test head 2.

More possibilities in a very short learning period

According to Mr Mondolo, it took him only a few hours of ‘getting to know the program’ and working through a complete test development to master eC-my-test, and to be able to execute the first tests. The process was significantly easier than developing tests using standard programming languages such as C, C++ and Visual Basic.

“Overall the step from simple (manual) testing over connections and optical inspection to the implementation of the eC-test-mate was quite easy, and as we move forward we continue to see more advantages in working with the eC-test-mate system. We don’t need separate test fixtures or custom made beds of nails for our products, and we don’t have to purchase test software from yet another supplier. With one investment we now completely control the test development and test execution of all of our products and can therefore offer highly reliable and cost-effective solutions to our customers.”

Virtec SRL, www.virtec.com.ar

Eurocircuits NV, www.eurocircuits.com/test

TEST-OK BV, www.test-ok.nl