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Maintaining test systems with extended life cycles is a constant challenge for test engineers, and the need to upgrade or replace system components is an accepted part of maintaining a test system.<Read More>

There are various strategies that can be employed to address the challenge, including:

Stockpile spares in advance or buy used instruments to replace failed units

The stockpiling of spare instruments is one way to mitigate system downtime and maintenance issues.  The life span for commercial instrumentation is typically 5-7 years and with new demands being placed on existing test systems, life cycles of 20-30 years are not uncommon. Therefore, this is only a short-term solution at best and the additional upfront, stocking and maintenance costs may make this approach unattractive.

Ongoing maintenance and repair of obsolete instrumentation is another option but several drawbacks including increased cost and repair time, as well as qualified component availability, are common.  Even if some systems are reserved for cannibalization, the source of instruments and parts will eventually be exhausted.  Obtaining new or refurbished instrumentation on the secondary market is another option; however, these instruments are often sold as-is and may not deliver the required performance.  Both of these alternatives deliver short-term solutions to a long-term problem.

To learn more about how to analyze the replace/maintain alternatives in terms of cost and level of effort, download the white paper, “Legacy Test Systems – Replace or Maintain

Replace obsolete or unsupportable instruments with FFF equivalents

One long-term solution involves replacing the obsolete instrument with a similar, new commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) instrument delivering comparable functionality and performance.  In most instances the replacement instrument’s software functionality will not be compatible, requiring a software driver wrapper, or adapter, to mimic the legacy instrument’s commands and response characteristics.  However, even with the use of a software wrapper that mimics the legacy instrument’s functions, this implementation will necessitate costly reverification and may require upgrades to all test programs (and system self-test), which can be an extensive effort.

For a more detailed look at addressing instrument obsolescence with Form/Fit/Function replacements, download the white paper “Addressing ATE Instrument Obsolescence with Form/Fit/Function Compatible Solutions – A Case Study

Technology insertion to add required resources as test needs evolve

When testing today’s advanced devices and UUTs with yesterday’s ATE is not an option, it may be possible to implement an upgrade solution that adds resources to an existing legacy test system to adapt to evolving requirements. Modular test platforms such as PXI can provide an upgrade path for a single legacy test station or an entire high-volume production floor.

Marvin Test Solutions designed the Marvin Test Expansion Kit (MTEK) to provide an easy-to-integrate solution for legacy semiconductor test systems to add capability to test new devices without the expense of replacing the entire system.                                                  
ATE System Replacement

In some cases, it may be necessary to replace an unsupportable proprietary system with new ATE when instrument repair, replacement or upgrade strategies are not cost-effective.  When evaluating alternatives for a new ATE investment, the selection of a test system based on a modular COTS (Commercial off the Shelf) platform such as PXI may provide all of the capabilities to address legacy, current and future test requirements as originally configured, or may facilitate future upgrades with minimal disruption to test programs.

Based on the PXI architecture, Marvin Test Solutions’ GENASYS platform offers a compact, flexible, scalable system designed to address both current and future test requirements. Designing a system with future upgradeability in mind provides the ideal solution for customers whose test requirements evolve with every new advance in technology.