Specs are important but three criteria used to determine cost of ownership are key to making test equipment productive over the long haul.
Choosing equipment that meets specific performance requirements is critical to an R&D engineer's success and productivity. Beyond specifications, having a keen understanding of the equipment's cost of ownership is critical.
While cost of ownership is often an overlooked consideration, the increasing pressure to maximize productivity and reduce cost, coupled with the dynamic environment of the communications industry has thrust it firmly into the spotlight.
Not only does a lower cost of ownership improve R&D productivity by maximizing uptime, but it can also offer a company a key competitive advantage when it comes to being first to market.
Cost of ownership is impacted significantly by an instrument's downtime. Any downtime directly impacts productivity and can ultimately threaten a project schedule. The time and cost associated with getting a piece of equipment functioning and back on the bench can be a key competitive advantage when you are working to meet a demanding project schedule.
Three factors that impact downtime include calibration, reliability and repair, each of which must be fully explored prior to making any test equipment purchase.
- Calibration: Calibration includes verification of factory-specified performance and adjustments to correct any deviations in performance. Each activity results in downtime, the length of which is determined largely by where the calibration is performed (e.g. on-site or off-site) and the complexity of the verification and adjustment process. Engineers should therefore select test equipment with features like calibration software to allow on-site calibration. Also, select test equipment that is supported by a local service center. Doing so will ensure that calibration can be performed quickly with minimal downtime.
- Reliability: Test equipment reliability is directly proportional to failure rate. A high failure rate can cost a design team substantially in terms of the cost and time to repair the failure, as well as the impact on an R&D schedule. Consequently, the engineer should consider only test equipment with a high level of reliability and quality, as it will have a lower failure rate and as a result, a lower cost of ownership.
- Repair: Repair of a piece of test equipment may take place either on-site or off-site, depending on the scope of the problem. In either case, there is a cost associated with the downtime due to the repair and the time it takes to complete the repair " including any required diagnostics. Engineers therefore should select test equipment with self-maintenance capabilities such as self diagnostics which can pinpoint failure. Test equipment that features customer-orderable and replaceable assemblies will also ensure a fast return to the bench and therefore maximize productivity.
The costs associated with the calibration, reliability and repair of test equipment can quickly add up, impacting not only the manufacturer's overall bottom line, but its end-product cost as well.
As a result, it has now become more important than ever for engineers to make test equipment considerations based on the total cost of ownership. Test equipment like the new Agilent MXG signal generators have been specifically architected to provide a lower cost of ownership.
It achieves this goal by delivering high reliability and simplified self-maintenance; effectively allowing any user to quickly and easily maintain and repair the instrument, in-house, in less than 1 hour.
Solutions like this are key to providing engineers with a better perspective on how to minimize cost and maximize productivity, while offering companies a critical competitive advantage in the dynamic landscape of the communications industry.
About the author
Herb Upham Upham is the Product Support Manager for Agilent Technologies, Inc. Signal Sources Division in Santa Rosa, California. He has 34 years of experience at Agilent and its predecessor Hewlett Packard, Inc. including positions as a R&D Engineer, Manufacturing Engineer, and R&D Project Manager. As part of his current role, he influences new product designs to optimize supportability. He can be reached at Herb_Upham@agilent.com.