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Ralph Hutson | December 09, 2016

Your Next Test System: Make Vs. Buy

How to Make the Decision to Create In-House or Outsource 


Today’s test engineering manager has many challenges. Chief among them is the decision to make the next test automation system internally or contract an outside company for test system development. This single decision influences most of the future decisions regarding each particular test system. And, can even affect the future of the test team at the company.

Because the decision to make or buy hits at the heart of the test team’s future, I’m going to discuss some questions and ramifications that I have seen – both as a customer and as a designer of turnkey electronic test systems.

Back in the old days, test teams commonly developed all the test systems required whether they were for research and development characterization or for manufacturing testing. Recently, however, more and more companies outsource their test system builds to companies specialized in designing and/or building electronic test systems. What has changed? With the vast pressure for less expensive development and manufacturing, more companies now make the choice to buy.

This has not always been the norm. There previously has been a spirit of self-reliance. Overcoming challenges, good engineering, and the experience of creating one’s own test systems foster engineer satisfaction. Whether simple fixtures, test racks of equipment, or distributed systems of racks, successful builds were all keys to keeping happy engineers.

Key factors to consider

While some dynamics that influence both engineer and manager satisfaction may not have changed, others have. Today’s test manager must weigh the costs of designing and building in house vs. outsourcing to a specialized company. Following are items that you – as a test manager – must consider before making this decision. Maybe you will notice something you have not previously considered:

  • Do I have enough engineers, with the appropriate experience, to design the needed test system?
  • Can my internal personnel get the tasks completed within my deadline?
  • Is there any programmatic control of the instrumentation required? If so, do the engineers at my company have these necessary skills?
  • Can my purchasing department acquire all needed parts before the build phase starts, so I can meet the schedule?
  • Do I have technicians that can assemble all the parts as designed by the test engineers?
  • Can I verify the operation of the test system in time to hit the manufacturing production target date?
  • What test risk am I willing to attach to the future of my company’s new product?
  • Should I fire all my test engineers and rely on external contractors?

Whoa! Don’t fire your test engineers. Without engineers to manage, there is no need for a test manager. Let them do what they do best. There are many tasks leading up – and necessary – to creating a successful test system.

Test requirements are one of the first items necessary; they are the foundation upon which everything in your system rests. Sometimes, intimate knowledge of the Unit Under Test (UUT) or System Under Test is necessary to create proper test requirements. With the best knowledge of testing your particular UUT, your own test engineers should author the test requirements if possible.

Perhaps your engineers are better at designing test systems. Maybe they are better at programming the automation of the test system. Someone must maintain the test system throughout its intended lifetime. To reiterate the point above: when creating the project plan for your next test system, let your engineers do what they do best.

Evaluating the risks

The test manager is also responsible for putting a dollar value on intangible tasks needed to to create a test system. A group of tasks often overlooked is specifying parts, ordering parts, and receiving parts. These tasks can make or break your timeline. An overlooked part with a long lead-time can certainly monkey wrench your project.

Just what risk are you taking using internal resources? Sometimes internal resources are adequate for your needs. Often you may benefit from working with a proven, risk-lowering partner, such as G Systems, L.P.. We areable to quickly assess and start work on your next test system.

Our company  specializes in all aspects of test and measurement automation. With mechanical and electrical engineers, each well vetted in their specialties, G Systems brings decades of experience to your test system challenges. Our company is International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) compliant, and a woman-owned small business. G Systems is a National Instruments Gold Alliance Partner; all of our engineers are certified with LabVIEWTM and TestStand programming certifications. We have delivered thousands of customer solutions, and we may be able to help you. Visit our online Technical Library to read about some of the test and measurement systems we’ve delivered. 

We are often called upon by test managers that don’t have the resources to complete a test system within the needed time. Consider the experience G Systems brings to your team. At G Systems, we work with engineers and program managers in the aerospace, defense, and energy industries to create reliable test and measurement solutions. With more than a century of combined experience designing and building test systems, G Systems overcomes complex electrical, mechanical, and RF test system challenges by identifying optimal COTS test technology, tailoring platforms, and leveraging proven expertise to achieve each customer’s technical, time, and budget specifications. We have the capabilities to meet nearly any test and measurement design challenge.

Weighing the costs

hammer-sign-dollar-shadow.pngAs a previous customer of G Systems, I remember thinking that G Systems’ prices were higher than using our internal engineers to create manufacturing test systems; however, I wasn’t looking at the big picture. This three-way seesaw indicates key factors that almost always influence engineering test system decisions:

  • Time to market
  • Cost to implement
  • Quality and longevity

When developing test systems, you must ride the seesaw until you finish (or get tossed off). If you want to improve one item listed above, you often need to sacrifice another. For example, to get your product to market sooner, sometimes you must spend more and give up some system quality. If faced with a scenario where you feel you’re comprising too much, you may find that connecting with an outside contractor makes sense. G Systems’ streamlined purchasing team frequently receives parts within one or two days of identifying the need. Documentation detail we supply is dictated by our customers’ needs, ranging from basic user manuals to full documentation packages that meet military aerospace and defense requirements. We implement automated testing or manual testing. Factory throughput is designed, not accidental.

Frequently, we make recommendations to our customers that bring a surprised smile. We often know more about our customers’ test processes than they know or realize. Because of our unmatched test experience, we know the right techniques and strategies to make our customers successful. If you do make the decision to outsource the build of your next test system, you may want to read our blog on writing test requirements; your requirements are key to optimizing your test system's performance, reliability and usability.

 

Contact us directly to discuss your needs with an experienced colleague. You don’t have to ride the three-way decision seesaw when you employ a capable partner as part of your test system strategy.

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