Can Test be a strategic asset?

Martin Rowe, senior technical editor of Test & Measurement World magazine, posed this question in a recent blog. What do you think?

Martin’s blog was referencing National Instruments’ Automated Test Outlook 2012, an annual report which analyzes key trends in the test and measurement industry. Most notably, the section on Optimizing Test Organizations talks about the emerging trends for electronics manufacturing companies to use Test as a competitive advantage. Specifically, catching defects earlier in the design cycle dramatically accelerates time-to-market, reduces cost, and improves the end-user experience.

Interestingly, our CEO, Glenn Woppman, wrote about this same subject in his Connect article, “Test: A value center”, back in 2010.

I thought the conclusion of the NI report summarized it all:

“When test engineering organizations become strategic assets, they create standard test platforms, develop valuable test-based intellectual property, deliver a more productive workforce while lowering operating costs, and align with the business objectives by continually contributing to better product margins, quality, and time to market.”

But, being in the Test industry myself, I know that this is an endless tug-of-war. On the one hand is the inexorable pressure to cut direct costs by cutting corners – for example by outsourcing Test, or reducing it to an ad-hoc or reactive function with a fragmented organization and outdated technologies. On the other hand is the compelling need to speed up product development, reduce manufacturing scrap, and improve customer satisfaction. Which camp you are in depends, variously, on current Wall Street pressures (is my company having a good quarter?), whether you’re in a high margin or low margin business (a company making routers will spend, for example, more on Test than one making low-end feature phones), and the background of the executive in charge of Test (does he/she have a background in Test or Design Engineering? and/or a degree in Finance?).