Today’s global marketplace is marked by demanding customers and ruthless competition. Add to this mix stringent product regulations and rigid precision requirements and it becomes clear that everyone engaged in producing commercial products must engage in rigorous product testing. This testing must take place both before a product is brought to market and on a continual basis to ensure high standards are being maintained (a process known as quality assurance).
Product testing takes place in almost every industry in one form or another. A selection of some of the industries which are notable for the levels of precision required for their testing are discussed below.
In the crowded grocery store shelf it is difficult to stand out. For a brand to endure it must promise consistency and high quality. Consumer product companies need to have efficient, cost-effective controls set up to ensure that defective products never reach the store shelves. Two types of consumer products are notable for their continued innovation and rigorous quality standards: personal razors and paint. Both of these items, while they may seem low tech, are continuously being improved through the application of cutting edge technology and exacting process controls.
FOOD AND DRINK
While we may not spend much time thinking about the packaged foods that we consume every day, you can be assured that the producers of these items go to great lengths to ensure fresh, quality products reach their customers’ shopping carts. These companies employ food scientists and advanced analytical tools like laser particle analyzers and microbalances to guarantee continued quality in their production lines. Even seemingly mundane details like the coarseness of a coffee grind or the weight of a bag of potato chips are examined at high levels of precision.
It is not surprising that medical device manufacturers must exercise a strict level of control over the quality of their products. Without exaggeration, their customers’ lives depend on the performance of their products. These devices are subject to strict regulation by the Food and Drug Administration (or other regional authorities). The failure of a single line of products can be disastrous for both the producers and consumers of medical devices.
Implantable devices like stents, pacemakers, and defibrillators require an additional level of scrutiny. If the materials of an implant are not well-characterized, the patient’s body may reject it. If the size and performance of the device is not uniform down to an exacting level of precision, it may be ineffective or exacerbate the condition it was designed to treat. For these reasons, medical device manufacturers employ some of the world’s most sophisticated scientists and instrumentation for their product testing. The staffs at these companies include experts in materials science, engineering, bioscience, and microscopy.
When you’re in the business of producing components to be incorporated into another company’s final product, there are only two things for sure: your customers will always want better quality for lower prices and your competitors will consistently try to give it to them. Purchasers of original equipment manufacturer (OEM) components have very exacting standards. As well they should: it is their name which goes on the package and they’re ultimately responsible for any defects. So it is critical that OEM suppliers undergo routine product testing to ensure that they are consistently meeting and exceeding the standards set for them.
There are a number of industries that are notable for their utilization of OEM suppliers and their high production standards. Computer makers will externally source everything from the microprocessors on the motherboard to the mousepad. Automotive companies have very long supply chains and must ensure that their suppliers are disciplined so they can ensure the safety and performance of their vehicles. Defense and aerospace companies likewise apply stringent standards to their OEM networks because of the high-stakes nature of their business.
PHONES AND AUDIO DEVICES
Products which produce and record sound must meet guidelines regarding sound quality and fidelity. Sharp-eared consumers will be able to distinguish between minute differences between products. The proliferation of digital media and cell phones has increased the need for competent testers for phones, headphones, personal recording devices, and other audio devices.
People engaged in product testing face a unique set of challenges. First of all, their testing set-up must be designed to test their unique product. This means they have to construct the testing system themselves or employ a third-party systems integrator. The singular nature of their testing often has them probing a novel property, which means they must develop a special analytical technique tailored to the application. As the unknown factors increase, so does the potential for environmental issues to disturb the testing.
On top of the unique sensitivities of product testing applications, they are often placed in production environments. Companies want to keep their testing stations near the production line so the testing process won’t decrease productivity. These environments are quite hostile to any sort of precision testing. Large machines in operation, significant levels of foot traffic, and shipping and receiving operations all contribute to high levels of acoustic noise, seismic vibration, and electromagnetic interference (EMI). Doing any sort of testing in these environments usually necessitates a high performance vibration isolation system, soundproof hood, and EMI cancellation system.
Some product testing involves a significant acoustic aspect. For example, products with fans or pumps inside them will often have their noise levels tested to diagnose potential misalignment or faulty parts. Of course, testing of phones and audio devices naturally involves taking sound tests. These testing set-ups absolutely must be isolated from external noise to ensure accurate measurements. It is essential to use a high performance acoustic enclosure to ensure a static baseline of low noise.