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Extreme conditions - what makes great electronics great?

What makes an electronic device great? Definitely a brainy guy by the steers, state-of-the-art lab equipment and, not so rarely, a project which allows for withstanding extreme conditions of the device’s environment. And the pressure of a few atmospheres or huge temperature amplitudes not always bring off such. Sometimes, 65 degrees Celsius is way enough for conditions to make them extreme.

Date of publication: 12.06.2019

Electrostatic discharges have pervaded the tech world as the best example of understanding that to humans and electronic components extreme means something different. We begin to just feel (!) the zap when discharges reach about 3000 volts while some devices break down at the level of 200 volts or less… That is why you try to comprehend extreme conditions as a little chip does, not you. Where does it come from, however, to define ‘extreme’?

Extreme definition

Some products are designed to withstand predictable temperature amplitudes, like HFC broadband amplifiers, so they wait for the customers ready on the shelve. Some components, however, need lines of tests so that engineers learn all ill-effects of tough conditions exposition.

Wojciech Jesionkowski, Senior Engineer at VECTOR BLUE HUB, says. “When you need to suit a component to what client needs from the technical and business perspective, you need lab tests of which we offer environmental chambers, both thermal and humidity ones. And if necessary, we organize vibration and pressure tests outside our lab. The set of them arises during a thorough interview with the customer.”

Intuitive as it may seem, the whole process plays many tricks on the engineers who must predict not only the longevity of their prototypes but also their viability. Moreover, they need to place the project in business – and that sets the game in play.

To withstand conditions always and for long

Usually, two push most of strain on a device, and they are: quality and reliability. Some may treat them interchangeably while they live as two completely different stories.

Quality is all about longevity, functionality, and things concerning efficiency. Think of a hardware that processes data quickly or does not change its efficacy even if exposed to rough conditions – a nice toy to have, isn’t it? Reliability works rather differently and here enter all sets of tests that check whether the device would ever decrease quality or stop to work. Continuity is something in demand when you rely on, for instance, power supply unit or transceiver performance – they had just better not die ever.

How to execute quality and reliability of the components, though?

“With the first, you get the components and tests reports with a possibility to conduct all required audits on the manufacturer’s side. With the latter, in most cases, we need to repeat parts of examination due to the wide scope of industries we work with and which have different quality standards,” Wojciech sums up.

Depending on the process, you may either outsource testing or keep it in your lab – assuming, of course, that you own one.

The moment the industry enters is always a switch in a project. When you next add the natural environment, which takes part in product performance, the puzzle begins. The fun, however, of combining the parts of this jigsaw comes together with the business aspect.

When engineer and customer talk

The business sprint in the whole process takes the crucial part – that’s the momentum for the last shape of a project and the future features of a device. At this stage, one needs to establish what is vital to the device to work. What the lab checks, thus, when it comes to reliability, is not the whole but the percentage of a device’s reliability.

“Even in the case of a power supply unit, there are solutions that you can service without influence to the main functionality of the device, for example redundancy,” Wojciech sees.

For an entrepreneur, this is the pivotal point in planning as it determines the cost of services and allows for better budget evaluation. MTBF and MTTF are examples of calculations which predict respectively elapsed time between inherent failure during normal system operation and expected  time to failure for a non-repairable system.

It is also part of the natural process where extreme conditions stress electronic devices, indeed, but no one said you cannot set yourself against this process. HALT and HASS come with help. HALT is a series of tests performed on a product to aid in improving product endurance. The main idea of HALT is to find weaknesses in design as quickly as possible and then fix them. HASS turns the focus from finding defects during the design phase to finding defects during the manufacturing phase.

“When you prototype, you can make out many potential ill-effects in advance. Not rarely does it occur that new conclusions come up exactly during prototyping. Thinking of it, having a delegate from the customer’s side, a Product Owner, for instance, is priceless. You can update the project at the moment of receiving new outcomes from tests,” Wojciech points out.

That is, however, the agile management advantage over other processes. In VECTOR BLUE HUB the project teams have given the agile mindset their own shape. They engage Product Owners in participating during designing and prototyping. Altogether, it reduces not only the time necessary for production, but also costs which, without calculations and tests, prove to be higher.

You plan more, you try less

As a company holding to the agile mindset, VECTOR BLUE HUB recommends one, and the only one, remedy for dealing with extreme conditions. “However general it may sound, you just plan the production, evaluation, and prototyping. The more information you receive from the calculation and measurements, the less effort, and money, you will put into the device that can’t simply withstand the conditions it was set in,” Wojciech says.