Product Design Testing and QA Testing

by Jerry Bellott, MSEE

(V5.0 ©2022




Testing of products is performed to find design errors and manufacturing defects. The amount and degree of depth of testing planned often depends upon the number of available groups, staff members, and budgets. This document describes testing to be performed in the ideal, full-scale test scenario for a product that is perhaps large, has many components, and is very expensive.


The same concepts can be employed in a practical way for smaller, less complicated products.


Groups who perform product testing in corporations:

1.     Engineering – Each individual is responsible for verifying the correctness of their design components or design changes before releasing them to other engineers or engineering test groups that exist for additional follow-on testing in a large organization.

2.     QA Test Groups – Often exist in engineering division of a large company to add additional capabilities that can be performed in parallel with design engineering. Another advantage is that sometimes tests planned by a separate organization may find mistakes by having no pre-conceived notions or assumptions about the product function.

3.     Factory Testing – The goal of factory testing is to verify that each product is free of manufacturing defects. By contrast, the goal of Engineering QA (or “design verification”) is to make sure that designs are free of design errors (non-conformance to product requirements, specifications, and quality goals/checklists).


Hardware Designers and QA Engineers


These engineers take many technologies and quality criteria into account, including:

1.     Design Hardware Technologies (hardware design implementation engineers)

Examples: current standards, best practices, logic correctness, performance, analog circuit simulation, sensitivity analysis, impedance matching, design for EMI, thermal considerations, component worst case timing / de-rating of components, pre-layout simulation and post-layout simulation if applicable,  post-verification against simulation, component availability over manufacturing life, vendor reputation and longevity of vendor business, bill of materials meets budget, second sources for critical components, design complete on time, etc.

2.     Design Quality Goals and Criteria 

Quality areas of expertise that come into play for hardware designs: DFSS techniques (see Circuit Design and QA Test article), reliability of components, MTBF of overall system, testability by automated diagnostics, design for controllability and observability of behavior of all system components by central processor diagnostic routines (makes testing simpler, also facilitates accurate automated testing in field), use of user and software event activity logs, storage of error codes with timestamps, parts vendor reputation, second sourcing of parts, parts availability, inclusion of test points for troubleshooting, design for automated factory testing, PCBA layout specifications or other requirements on layout and components required for manufacturability are met (including: proper specification of PCB manufacturing tolerances for net impedances, use of manufacturer’s PCB precision and accuracy specifications when planning location of components and vias.).


Design Engineering System HW/SW Integration and System Testing


Typical steps include:

1.     Unit Testing

a.      Hardware Unit Testing - Using diagnostic test firmware (if the design uses a processor) and lab instruments (signal generators, storage scopes, spectrum analyzers, logic analyzers, protocol analyzers (many analysis capabilities are combined in modern units from Tektronix, other vendors. MatLab can be used to analyze downloaded signal information. Other common equipment: network analyzers, BERR testers.

b.     Software Unit Testing – Using code test utilities, custom test scripts and test code for analysis of behavior and returned values.

2.     Software System Testing of build - to the extent possible without running on system hardware.

3.     System Integration Testing of Hardware - Using system hardware diagnostic test firmware.

System hardware diagnostics can also be used to regression test system hardware when hardware problems are suspected later. This capability is invaluable and can save time.

4.     System Integration Testing of Software and Hardware - Often the goal is to boot the OS and get basic features to work, including a console and the ability to access each piece of hardware.

Hardware has ideally been exhaustively pre-tested with diagnostics that can also be used for regression testing during integration of hardware and software to help identify source of problems.

5.     Full System Testing – All product features


Additional Product Design tests typically include: (These steps help verify that the product will work in the field.)

1.     Interface Standards Compliance – Sometimes a third party test facility or purchased test suite is required to verify compliance of complex PC networking, telecommunication, and wireless interfaces.

2.     Environmental - temperature, humidity, altitude, and salt-air/corrosion

3.     Shock (sudden impact) and Vibration

4.     EMI/EMC Compliance

5.     Connected Product Compatibility Testing – Interface specifications and standards verification do not guarantee 100% that two products from two vendors will definitely work together properly. If advertising remarks about compatibility, an actual test of interworking of products should be performed by your company to guarantee results for customers.


Engineering QA Test Groups


Typical tasks performed may include:

1.     System testing of a new product.
This involves double checking the design with the QA group’s own system test. This can be beneficial because test designers think of test cases without knowing the details of the design, so a thorough test by a separate group is likely to catch additional areas to correct.

2.     Regression testing when a new product release introduces bug fixes.

When a project is large and integrates many designs into one product, the QA test group is able to repeat a full or partial system test to ensure that modified modules or components work properly, and that the overall system operates properly.

3.     Reproducing problems that are escalated from the factory or field to the engineering division. Often finding a way to reproduce a problem is half the battle when it comes to solving the problem because the conditions which cause the problem to manifest itself usually point to specific areas to study in more detail to find the underlying root cause.
Often QA test engineers are able to pinpoint the root causes after reproducing problems.

Identification of root causes may also involve additional analysis by the designers after a problem has been reproduced.

4.     Use of Factory QA Data - QA engineering groups and can study factory yield data to prioritize areas for improvement. Often other organizations become involved, including parts procurement, manufacturing engineers, and design engineers to work to improve yield (% PASS success in all QA factory processes before delivery).

5.     Contribute to Design Reviews

This not only allows QA testers to become familiar with designs and changes being implemented, but also to contribute comments using their expertise.


Product System Test Plan Example Contents – Example Outline by J. Bellott, MSEE


1.     Introduction

Overview of Goals and Purpose

Change History

2.     Applicable Documents  and Reference Info - requirements, specifications, and quality criteria documents

3.     System Version to be tested

Which hardware and software versions are to be tested.

a.      Hardware Versions

b.     Software Versions

c.      Firmware Versions

d.     FPGA HDL Code Versions

4.     Test Configurations

a.      Diagrams - Shows DUT, main test equipment, and other systems connected during testing.

b.     Lab Test Equipment (Serial Numbers, Calibration Status)

c.      Diagnostic or other Custom Software/Scripts used with Test Configurations

5.     Overview of Test Strategy
Testing is accomplished by several means: (b-d are often described in their own documents).

a.     Test Cases

b.     Compliance Certification –EMI/EMC agency certification, safety, environmental per product requirements.

c.      Standards Certification – e.g. verification of complex protocol stacks supporting networking, telecom, or wireless interfaces. May required third party test house with good industry reputation.

d.     Verification by Analysis (paper analysis of QA factors; e.g. a table of MTBF info or DFMECA)

Test cases are run in the engineering lab and often fall into these categories:

·        Functional tests - try each major feature in representative ways

·        Hardware tests include test cases that exercise specific components within the system and cover the product requirements

·        Software/firmware tests cover feature requirements

·        Performance tests introduce loading (I/O traffic or other real-time demanding background activity)

·        Test Scripts, when applicable, feed in simulated controls and monitor the correctness of system actions, using input permutations across the feature set.

Compliance and interface standards certification tests are typically describe in separate documents, and may re-use the test cases from the system test document.

6.     Test Descriptions for Each Test Case – Can be reviewed before test procedures are planned in detail; very efficient approach.

a.      1-3 brief paragraphs describing the approach to be taken to test each area. (This section can be submitted for peer review before Test Steps are planned in detail.)

b.     Test Cases are Numbered as: [CATEGORY]-[SUBCATEGORY]-[NUMBER]
Example Test Case Numbers: HW-Memory-001 or SW-DiskAccess-001 or SYS-UserInterface-001

·        Prefix is category name, Make up your own; make them easy to remember.

·        Subcategory is portion of the category to be tested (e.g. PS for Power Supply, MEM for Memory, SATA for type of disk interfaces, PCDVD for DVD player/recorder, etc.)

·        Number is several digits, starting with 001.

As engineers work with the test plan, it becomes easy to remember or look up the tests in their records with this system of naming.

7.     Test Procedure Steps - Lists of lab steps for each test summarized in Test Descriptions section.

a.      Configuration

b.     Equipment Required

c.      Setup

d.     Test Steps

8.     Traceability Table (List of Requirements and Test Case #’s that provide coverage.)

·        Table lists requirements (line items in any documents that drive the product design) and shows which test cases in the system test plan provide coverage for each requirement. This helps ensure that the product has been adequately tested for conformance to the project goals.

·        A multi-column traceability table can be created in Word or Excel using cut and paste, prepared in about half a day after test cases are listed (It is an easy, convenient method).

·        More complex approaches such as hierarchical document linking can sometimes be cumbersome and time consuming, without improving results.

9.        “Test PASS Criteria” list and Test Results Log
It is sometimes practical to print a copy of the test plan and write results and observations in directly in this section for each test case. This can be filed.

Final results can be summarized in a brief Word or Excel Table with comments about testing.

·        Test PASS criteria reflect the appropriate requirements, specifications, or quality criteria covered by the test cases, as listed in the Traceability Table.

·        Note: When an organization lacks project requirements and specifications, testers sometimes are asked to proceed to help the organization. In this type of situation, testers can best proceed by documenting the test pass criteria they will use in terms of the product data sheets or other product features and performance info available to them. The test pass criteria can be made a part of the test plan document for the record, and is ideally reviewed by engineers prior to testing.