Let's Talk Testing: Don’t Reinvent the Wheel—Find an Expert!


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Back in the day when I was an engineer fresh out of college, I quickly learned that experience is the solution to many problems. Now that being said, experience comes in many forms…it could be knowledge learned from a textbook, it could be an observatory comment jotted down in a notebook, it could be a conversation with a co-worker or colleague, or it could be an Internet search that finds a scholarly technical article, etc. My point is that “experience” is all around you if you’re eager and willing to look for it, and when problems or issues arise, tapping into that experience is invaluable.

Expanding on that idea, it’s likely, unless you’re working in a cutting-edge, R&D-driven field, that someone out there in the world has dealt with a similar (or possibly the same exact) issue/problem that you are currently facing. My advice to you today is to seek out that information and utilize the knowledge and experiences of others before you as best you can. As an example, the Internet is an almost bottomless pit of information and when used appropriately can likely get you the information that you need or, at the least, get you headed in the right direction.

Technical knowledge and experience can be found in many places and in some cases, a good bit of the hard work in finding those places may have already been done by others, so why not make your life easier by learning from their experiences? Focusing in specifically on the printed circuit board/assembly world, a good place to start is with IPC. For those not familiar with IPC, it is an organization that has been around for nearly 60 years, focused on the advancement of all sectors of the printed circuit board world—design, manufacturing, assembly, and test. With respect to our topic today, this organization’s membership is heavily populated with true experts in the printed circuit board field and if a problem arises in your day-to-day travels, it’s very likely that someone within IPC can help you solve it, as they have probably dealt with it before.

IPC has a couple of specific areas that can be used for your benefit. Various conferences and meetings throughout the year are held around the world. These events typically contain technical sessions, where someone can learn about a variety of topics pertinent to the printed circuit board world, as well as meetings in which various sectors of the industry are discussed at the highest levels. Of specific interest to many would be the standards development meetings that occur twice per year. These meetings focus on the many test methods and test specifications that IPC issues for the industry and the sessions are organized into various topics. A tremendous amount of experience can be found in any of the meeting rooms and much information can be gleaned just by attending and listening. The chairpersons and co-chairpersons of the various committees and task groups are all experts in their fields and the attendance in a single meeting will likely span all four of the sectors mentioned above: design, manufacturing, assembly, and test.

In addition to the conferences and meetings, IPC also has a Validation Services division. This group is tasked with qualifying companies to a variety of lists, depending on their specific role in the industry. Specifically, there is a Qualified Products List (QPL), a Qualified Manufacturers List (QML), and a Qualified Test Laboratories list. From these lists, you can search for companies and contacts that can likely help you directly with the issue you are dealing with. For example, if there is a widget that you are looking to obtain to help with your issue, it’s possible it already exists and the QPL could help you find a source. At the same time, if you’re in a time or resource crunch and you need help with your production process, using the QML might be a good resource. And, lastly, if some form of testing is of interest, the Qualified Test Laboratories list could be a good place to start. Similar to IPC, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), which is a supporting agency of the Department of Defense, also has QPL and QML lists in the military arena…along with a certified list of test laboratories that are suitable for testing PCB-related items for military-based applications. Once again, these various lists are stacked with knowledgeable colleagues and companies that can surely help you with the issue you are currently dealing with.

While there is certainly merit in the notion of solving a problem completely and totally on your own, that never really happens if you think about it, as you’re utilizing someone else’s experience in some way or another whether you realize it or not. Even a “problem” as simple as being asked to draw a line on a piece of paper is “solved” by understanding Euclid’s geometric principals. It’s his “experience” that allows you to solve the problem, whether you know who Euclid is or not! So when a problem or issue arises, don’t be afraid to ask around and get some help. Experts (and information) in all varieties of fields are everywhere if you’re willing and able to search them out. 

Keith M. Sellers is operations manager with NTS in Baltimore, Maryland.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of The PCB Magazine.

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