How to Improve Your Electronics Design with Reliability Testing

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Written by
James Latham


Leaders in industries ranging from avionics and aerospace to automotive, telecommunications and beyond know the importance of electronics reliability in today’s competitive electronics market.

Without consumer confidence in electronics functionality, brands’ reputations and sales goals can suffer. But how do companies ensure reliability when products are manufactured using many components provided by many different suppliers, leading to standardization problems andcostly testing to identify failures?

How to Design for Reliability

An important factor when manufacturing electronic hardware is the decision to design for reliability rather than test for reliability. A large portion of product development costs are caught up in a test-fail-fix-repeat cycle, with an average cost of $50,000 for physical testing. Designing for reliability ensures that you are looking for potential failure risks during every step of the design process, potentially saving thousands of dollars by bypassing the dreaded test-fail-fix-repeat cycle.

Step 1: Material Characterization and Supplier Assessment

When designing for reliability, it is important to begin at the part selection level to ensure each component in the assembly functions as expected. A components’ bill of materials (BOM) often lacks essential data needed by the manufacturer, such as reverse recovery diode behavior, out of plane thermal conductivity or internal geometries. Material Characterization can provide manufacturers with this critical component data.

It is also essential to assess components provided by a supplier. Electronic hardware can contain hundreds of parts from many different suppliers. Without a supplier assessment in place there may be components that vary widely across the board, leading to an inconsistent and unreliable product. Supplier assessments evaluate a supplier’s components, including a review of manufacturing, quality control, inspection, testing and handling processes to identify practices that may adversely impact reliability.

Step 2: Design Review, Integrated Circuit Reliability and Battery Reliability

Design Reviews are an essential step for electronics reliability, and include establishing a reliability goal, quantifying the use environment and evaluating part selection, circuit simulation and more. For many manufacturers, a design review helps determine potential design flaws that save time and resources before going to prototype. Implementing a design review as early in the design stage as possible, before decisions are finalized, is consistently the most effective measure for improving electronics reliability.

Additionally, many emerging market segments require reliable electronic operations for up to 10 to 15 years, even in severe environments. Robust prediction of integrated circuit (IC) life in modern, high-reliability applications remains essential. Determining integrated circuit reliability involves using information from the technology node and functional blocks within the IC to predict susceptibility to hot carrier injection, negative bias temperature instability, time-dependent dielectric breakdown and other common IC failure mechanisms.

Finally, if your product relies on battery power, it’s important to check for battery reliability, because batteries can be highly reactive and susceptible to thermal runaway events or even catastrophic failures. Particularly as more electronics rely on batteries, such as wearables, smart phones and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, battery reliability is essential in the product design and manufacturing processes.

Step 3: Test Validation

Test validation is especially useful for executives and managers who have a vision, but struggle to convince engineers on the ground to trust simulation outputs. Test validation provides physical testing to ensure the validity of electrical, thermal-mechanical and reliability simulation, which helps to give engineers confidence in the simulation results and workflows.

Step 4: Failure Analysis and Accelerated Life Testing

Perhaps one of the most important steps when designing and testing for electronics reliability is failure analysis. Failure analysis is a critical step to recover from test and field failures, and to learn how to prevent similar failures in future designs. From a reliability physics perspective, failure analysis means seeking to understand the physical, electrical, mechanical, materials, physics and chemistry issues that may contribute to failure. Once these issues are determined, design changes can be made to improve the overall reliability of the product.

In addition, accelerated life testing (ALT) is an expedient and cost-effective solution to determine the reliability and robustness of an electronic product. ALT uncovers potential failure risks and quantifies the life characteristics of a product or component at a much faster rate than in the field — leading to improved product design and faster time to market.

Step 5: Education and Training

Finally, education and training are essential to ensure that across departments, and across job positions, engineers and executives are aware of the importance of designing for reliability. Electronics are changing every day — including electronics standards — and it’s critical that engineers and top-level executives are aware of new materials, new manufacturing methods, new component technologies and increasingly harsh use environments that present significant challenges for reliability. Education and training ensure organisations are informed and prepared to design successful, long-lasting products that achieve customer satisfaction.

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