Testing Todd: Too Much Automation?

The last six months have brought monumental changes to commerce, manufacturing, recreation, and almost every aspect of our daily lives. As we slowly begin to emerge from this pandemic, we are finding that what was routine six months ago has drastically changed and may never be the same.  

This has caused us all to rethink our daily lives and how we go about existing in this new normal. Workplaces have changed for those that still exist, while others have become extinct. Virtual workplaces are gaining traction, as well as telecommuting and more reliance on the internet for virtual meetings, webinars, and many other daily activities that required face-to-face collaboration. For many of us, life has changed forever. 

We have to rethink our personal lives and adjust to the changing conditions so that we can continue to thrive. As humans, we have the ability to experience, review, react, and change quickly to adapt to changing conditions. Whether it’s staying home, wearing a mask, telecommuting, or doing nothing, those decisions come from our ability to think and analyze. We rethink, adapt, and thrive. 

With that in mind, it causes us to rethink other aspects regarding manufacturing. The hot topic over the last decade or more has been automation—automate, automate, automate. Of course, after the initial investment, automation can save on costs. Fewer humans are required, throughput is predictable, and repeatability can be expected. Flip the switch, turn off the lights, and the required products will be ready to ship in 12 hours. Right? Not so fast. 

Although automation can save costs and provide repeatable results, when something goes wrong, very bad things can happen, as Apple and Foxconn have learned[1]. Automation lacks one critical component: the ability to question, reason, and evolve on its own. At the end of the day, the robot does exactly what it is told to do, over and over again. Yes, robots are predictable, can work in the dark and don’t need breaks except for periodic maintenance. However, all the optics, conveyors, arms, and brute strength that automation can provide is no match for the grey matter of the human brain. Highly skilled human labor is still needed. 

In many aspects of automation, providing the human replacement for mundane, repetitive tasks works out fine. More complex tasks, although campaigned for automation, should be rethought. Here, the human element still makes a valuable difference—the ability to question, analyze, think critically, and create are traits that automation will always lack regardless of how strong the AI may be or the complexity of the program driving the process. It is not thinking. It is doing exactly what it is told. To quote David Bourne, principal systems scientist at The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, on his work with Apple and Foxconn [1], “Robotics and automation are fantastic and amazing when it works, But when something breaks, God knows what happens.” Enough said. 

As we are all in our rethinking mode, retooling our lives and considering how we do business, we must ask, “How much automation is enough?” We can easily get caught up in the cost savings and immediate gratification. But remember, the automation you implemented is a snapshot of today’s technology. It will do what you want today, but it will not evolve. It cannot learn without costs. (maintenance contract, service agreement, etc.). 

However, your employees at these critical processes think dynamically, analyze, criticize, ask questions, provide options, and evolve. They will always be necessary. There is a place for automation, but balancing the cost savings vs. the liability the automation may create are bullet items that should be on any engineer and management whiteboard. 

Be safe.  

Reference
1. W. Gallagher, “How Apple learned automation can’t match human skill,” AppleInsider, June 5, 2020. 

This column originally appeared in the July 2020 issue of PCB007 Magazine.

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2020

Testing Todd: Too Much Automation?

08-03-2020

The last six months have brought monumental changes to commerce, manufacturing, recreation, and almost every aspect of our daily lives. Todd Komodin shares his thoughts on how much automation is enough?

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Testing Todd: Down-shifting to the New Normal

05-17-2020

Today, we find ourselves in a place none of us even thought could happen due to the global COVID-19 outbreak. Todd Kolmodin encourages readers to be heroes and shift down to the new normal for a bit.

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Testing Todd: It’s Not Easy Being Green (or Is It?)

04-24-2020

“It’s not easy being green,” are well-spoken words from our amphibian friend, Kermit the Frog. Now, more than ever, there is a focus on being green. Todd Kolmodin explains how one of the largest—if not the largest—contributor to waste is paper, but the difficulty is letting go of it in the consumer and manufacturing segments. For the workplace, this can be more difficult, or is it?

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Testing Todd: Waste Not, Want Not

03-15-2020

Any time we overestimate our projects, we lose costs. For individuals, it may not be as monumental, but for manufacturing, it can be painful.

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Testing Todd: Looking at Digital With 11111100100 Vision

02-12-2020

Todd Kolmodin explores how far technology has come, from the challenge to "plug in" in the '80s, to how difficult it can be to "unplug" in this digital age.

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2019

Testing Todd: Go To Bed Hungry

12-19-2019

Another decade is coming to an end, so, forward thinkers, let's take this time to review the past, evaluate past decisions, and hopefully make prudent decisions to move forward in the ever-changing marketplace in which we exist. There has never been a Magic 8 Ball to predict what is going to happen, so we all do our best to calculate, look over the fences, and aim to remain in this competitive meat grinder we call “the market.”

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Testing Todd: Staying in Your Lane

12-15-2019

As 2019 comes to a close, Todd Kolmodin addresses the importance of standardization, which comes down to an agreement that we are to perform a task or set of tasks the same way every time. Putting your engineering hat on, this provides predictability with a high degree of accuracy.

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Testing Todd: Understanding the Fine Print

10-08-2019

New technologies are emerging each day with more stringent requirements than the past. Also, reversals in obsolescence programs bring products back to the market for which the original documentation and/or requirements are ancient compared to today’s standards; in some cases, this documentation is even lost. Further, it is not uncommon to find that original artwork isn’t available or that the part must be recreated from a finished circuit board sample.

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Testing Todd: What Do You Mean 'Passed' Isn't Enough?

08-05-2019

From a reliability standpoint, we need to quickly assess what risk we may have uncovered when faults are detected during electrical test (ET). "Passed" is not always passed. We must be diligent to scrutinize the failures found during routine ET as a high yield may not indicate high reliability.

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Testing Todd: The Evolution of Probers and Fixture Testers: Blinded by Science

06-26-2019

The evolution of the PCB has come a long way in the last 30 years. The science of electrical test has had to travel that road as well. It's not just a question of screening for opens and shorts. Today, the library extends to interrogating passive components, efficiently and cost-effectively evaluating dielectrics with multiple planes and pairs involved, and adhering to strict requirements from the military, export regulations, and OEMs alike.

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Confidence in Inspection

04-12-2019

The job of third-party inspection is to provide an unbiased review of the customer requirements versus the final product manufactured. This inspection can include both physical and functional criteria. Read on to understand the growing acceptance and requirement of third-party inspection in many areas of the manufacturing industry, including military, aerospace, and medical.

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2018

Testing Todd: What’s in your ET?

07-13-2018

With all the buzz around automation, paperless operation, and integrated processes, it’s time to think about how the connected systems work within an electrical test department. We are all familiar with computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), but with electrical test we can also add computer-aided test (CAT) and computer-aided repair (CAR).

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Testing Todd: How are the Ratings?

05-24-2018

Hello, readers! Thank you for stopping by again. Let’s talk about ratings. No, I’m not talking about the latest Facebook likes or Twitter retweets, but a topic that confuses many final QA technicians the world over. I’m talking PCB voltage ratings.

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Testing Todd: AVI—Your Tireless Friend in Final Inspection

05-01-2018

The “automation vs. human” debate continues. There are experts with many years of experience -performing final inspection with precise detail. This is not debated. However, in the course of human events, circumstances change with unpredictable results. This presents challenges to manufacturers striving to deliver product on-time and within specification guidelines.

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2017

Testing Todd: No Missed Steps—5S Methodology

08-22-2017

In today’s work environment, a company should strive to produce quality product, maximize margins and reduce cost as much as possible. At times, this can be very difficult. Work ethics and methodologies of “how to do things” have developed over many years and can be deeply rooted in many manufacturing theatres. We find at times the “way we have always done it” may not be the most practical way today. This is apparent with the advances in automation, labor force reduction and shifting market demands.

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Flying Probe Testing vs IPC-9252B

05-30-2017

Flying probe testing is extremely popular in today’s manufacturing theatres. The main factor is cost reduction in contrast to dedicated fixtures and fixture testing. However, there are some limitations in flying probe testing when gauged against industry specifications—specifically, the use of indirect vs direct testing in Test Level C.

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Testing Todd: Go With the Flow

04-18-2017

In today’s testing theatre, the flow of information from the OEMs and manufacturers to the independent contractors is mission-critical. Missing information can cause delays, incorrect processing and ultimately scrap or end user rejection of the product. The buzz term being used a lot today is “flow-down.” It pretty much describes itself: It is the flow of information down the supply chain.

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Testing Todd: Plating and Surface Finish—The Challenges to Electrical Test

01-23-2017

Plating and surface finish applications are not without their own set of challenges but these manufacturing processes also affect the electrical test theatre. Microvias, high-aspect ratio plate quality, and surface finish all have their own challenges in ET.

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2016

Testing Todd: Are You a Leader or a Manager?

10-21-2016

The question can be asked, are you a manager or a leader? Can you be both? Is there even a difference? The answer to this latter question is, yes. In a successful organization there are many people performing different tasks all in harmony to make the business successful. Some individuals can be phenomenal leaders while others can be excellent managers. Some can actually be both. How do we define a leader from a manager?

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Test & Measurement—The Case for Validation

07-15-2016

Test and measurement (T&M) are terms that can strike fear into the most robust of minds. Many engineers create designs and products of the future with specific results predicted for performance.

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Testing Todd: Quality Management and the Hidden 'I' in Team

05-24-2016

Today, businesses of all types are jumping on the quality bandwagon. The more critical the product, the more the consumer/customer wishes the highest possible quality in the goods or services requested.

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Quality Management and the Hidden 'I' in Team

05-06-2016

Today, businesses of all types are jumping on the quality bandwagon. The more critical the product, the more the consumer/customer wishes the highest possible quality in the goods or services requested. Customers send surveys with buzzwords like ISO, QMS, and AVL for their suppliers to complete so they have confidence that what they receive is of the highest quality.

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Testing Todd: Process Management: Doing It Right

04-27-2016

Simply put, process management is the idea of figuring out how to do something, documenting it and then monitoring the effectiveness of the steps you created for the end result. Simple, right? Unfortunately, many who take on this endeavor fall short due to missing some key attributes to creating and maintaining a robust process. This article features eight steps in building and maintaining a robust process.

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2015

Flex and Rigid-Flex Circuit Testing: Challenges & Solutions

06-24-2015

Although flex circuits are nothing new in today’s technology roadmap, the testing of unpopulated flexible circuits can be challenging. In this article, columnist Todd Kolmodin writes about the different methods available to test these circuits.

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Electrical Test: Surface Finish vs. Water Marks

05-20-2015

New finishes have come to market; some allow better conductivity, while others reduce the overall cost of precious materials. Regardless of the finish, electrical test must be performed on these circuits. With that comes the caveat of how much of a witness mark can be left on any given landing pad and still be acceptable to the CM or the final OEM user. Todd Kolmodin explains.

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Challenges of Electrical Test

01-28-2015

In our arena today, we can solve pitch and density with flying probe machines, and volume with our grid testers, but the catalyst that is in the mix is that pesky soldermask! Here's why I bring up that necessary process as a problem for electrical test.

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2014

What is 4-Wire Kelvin?

12-05-2014

"I've been asked many times, 'What is 4-Wire Kelvin?' So, this month I will explain the 4-Wire Kelvin Test and how it can help uncover defects that normally would go undetected in standard electrical test methodology," writes Columnist Todd Kolmodin.

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Where Do We Go From Here?

12-01-2014

In this installment of "Testing Todd," Gardien's resident expert Todd Kolmodin answers questions from Dan Beaulieu concerning the future of electrical test. His focus is on the future of testing technologies, testing equipment, and E-test.

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Testing Todd: Where Do We Go From Here?

12-01-2014

In this installment of "Testing Todd," Gardien's resident expert Todd Kolmodin answers questions from Dan Beaulieu concerning the future of electrical test. His focus is on the future of testing technologies, testing equipment, and E-test.

View Story

Flying Probe - Indirect Testing vs. Military

08-19-2014

The use of flying probe testers has become increasingly popular in recent times, mainly due to the affordability of the equipment and also the reduced cost of testing, as no dedicated or "bed of nails" fixture is required. When using flying probes to test military product, one must be diligent to make sure the test method is allowable.

View Story

Testing Todd: Flying Probe - Indirect Testing vs. Military

08-19-2014

The use of flying probe testers has become increasingly popular in recent times, mainly due to the affordability of the equipment and also the reduced cost of testing, as no dedicated or "bed of nails" fixture is required. When using flying probes to test military product, one must be diligent to make sure the test method is allowable.

View Story

Everything You Wanted to Know, But Were Afraid to Ask

07-30-2014

This month, "Testing Todd" author Todd Kolmodin of Gardien Services USA presents readers' questions about the basics of electrical test, including the different types of testing available today.

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Testing Todd: Everything You Wanted to Know, But Were Afraid to Ask

07-30-2014

This month, "Testing Todd" author Todd Kolmodin of Gardien Services USA presents readers' questions about the basics of electrical test, including the different types of testing available today.

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Seven Tips for Choosing the Right Test Service

06-12-2014

Do you need to go outside your company for your testing service? Maybe you have capacity issues, maybe your equipment is down, or maybe you just want an established back-up plan? Whatever the reason, it is very important to choose the right outside testing service because, ultimately, you're not just choosing an objective service provider; you're choosing a partner.

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A Summary of Various Test Requirements

06-03-2014

The PCB industry has advanced significantly in the recent millennium. OEM specifications and requirements have also advanced due to the maturing of technologies, which has caused the requirements of electrical test of these higher technology products to advance and increase in intensity.

View Story

Testing Todd: A Summary of Various Test Requirements

06-03-2014

The PCB industry has advanced significantly in the recent millennium. OEM specifications and requirements have also advanced due to the maturing of technologies, which has caused the requirements of electrical test of these higher technology products to advance and increase in intensity.

View Story
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