By Stephen T. Sargeant, CEO, Marvin Test Solutions, Inc.
Leveraging COTS-Based Test
Platforms for Next-Generation
Automated test equipment systems are evolving to include commercial off-the-shelf solutions for hardware and software.
Automated test equipment (ATE) systems are used to test the functionality and performance of electronic
components, subassemblies, or complete functional
systems at the time of production and/or during the life
of the product to ensure operability. The requirements for
testing the device, board, subassembly, or system will vary
from simple to complex, and the approach to designing
a test system may be based on custom or proprietary
hardware and software, or on commercial off-the-shelf
Commercial ATE systems first made their appearance
in the marketplace in the late 1960s. These ATE systems
were based on proprietary digital, analog, and switching
architectures and were deployed by a wide range of
customers for the functional test and verification of high
value, mission-critical products such as:
• Board and box level avionics.
• Test and repair of armament and avionics electronics.
• Communications and satellite subsystems.
All of these test systems have now been out of
production for more than 10 years with maintenance and
repair support by the OEM often unavailable. However, in
many cases, the products (and their derivatives) originally
tested with these proprietary systems are still in use and
need to be maintained.
Over the last 10 to 15 years, many companies have
transitioned from proprietary ATE hardware to industry
standard COTS-based hardware to support their
functional test needs. With the advent of advanced,
high performance, card modular platforms such as PXI
(PCI eXtensions for Instrumentation), end users and
test system integrators have been able to leverage the
advanced capabilities of COTS instrumentation and
systems—replacing proprietary test platforms with cost-effective and compact footprint solutions.
COTS instrumentation products and systems offer
multiple advantages over proprietary/custom test
systems, in addition to the replacement of an obsolete
and unsupported system with a current and supportable
system (often referred to as “legacy replacement”):
Flexibility: The test system can be configured to fit the
test application exactly.
Affordability: COTS-based systems typically cost less to
develop, own, and operate than custom/proprietary systems.
Scalability: COTS-based systems can be large or small,
from portable or benchtop systems to large, rack-based
systems for complex test applications.
Upgradeability: Additional test capability can be added
by incorporating one or more modular instruments as test
Supportability: With many suppliers producing modular
test products in conformance with industry standard
platforms, users are able to select from a range of
compatible products to ensure the long-term viability of
their test systems.
Continuous Development: New and updated test
products are being released every year. With ongoing
investment in the technology, the ability to upgrade is
enhanced and the risk of obsolescence is reduced.
A typical ATE system for any test application (either
new design or legacy replacement) may consist of any
or all of the following capabilities, in whatever types,
quantities, and configurations are required in order to
meet specific test needs:
• A high performance digital subsystem that can support
both legacy and advanced digital test capabilities.
• Analog and digital test capability on each tester I/O
pin, allowing each pin to support analog or digital test
capability. This feature provides test system flexibility and
facilitates re-use of existing test fixtures (if required).
• A performance analog switching matrix and associated
software for managing end-to-end routing of signals,
allowing multiple analog test resources to be routed to any
of the tester’s I/O pins (i.e., any resource to any pin).
• Pin multiplexing capability, which is integrated with
the analog switching matrix, allowing the test system
to support high I/O count boards or multiple ITA
(Interface Test Adapter) configurations.