Physical testing of products is growing, even in the face of simulation software growth. In fact, the two kinds of testing can go hand in hand, says Yahya Gharagozlou, general manager of Instron, which makes equipment for materials and structural testing.
Can finite element analysis modeling replace physical testing? No, but it does give fast results and it can reduce the R&D cycle for customers and cut the number of physical tests. R&D engineers use FEA to see if designs meet specs. Other customers use FEA in the early stages of design to get a prototype to the floor. We work hand-in-hand, but at different stages of the design process.
Where will the next breakthroughs in testing be? I think they will come in the nanotech world and the biotech world. In the nano world, we are looking at indentation methods of testing. There will be physical testing of very thin paint coatings and parts the size of integrated circuits. It's hard to grab and hold such devices. Testing in the nano world requires a lot of new theories. At this stage of material testing, you're very close to the atomic level, where results are not as theoretically sound. We are working on sensors that will allow for more accurate physical testing results.
With biotech, there will be physical testing on how bones heal and how prostheses hold under load. Testing here is multi-axial; it's not just a matter of pulling in one direction.
How big of an issue is time to market in manufacturing? It's major. It's hard to determine schedules and to predict when you'll get a new product to market. Halfway through a project you often get surprises that delay you.
What's one of the things that delays time to market in the design of testing equipment such as yours? Predicting software schedules. I don't know of many industries (including software industries) that can predict their software-development projects with confidence. Users' expectations for software have risen considerably. But when you're developing it, problems crop up that you would never think of. We have to know our customers and how they'll use the testing equipment.
Most of your testing machines are in labs. Is there a place for hand-held testers? Yes, in fact hand-held testers are being discovered as a means to reduce waste and improve quality in several areas: spot-checking products at the end of the production line without waiting for lab tests, testing agricultural and food products outdoors, and other applications where portability, mobility, and immediate test results are paramount. To give some examples, in the automotive industry, they are using hand-held testers to check weather stripping for material properties. It's the beginning of a move to in-line testing outside the lab. Other companies are looking at portable testers for near-line or end-of-line QA testing, and to upgrade the capabilities from those offered by force gages and simple test standards.