What Is Automatic Test Equipment (ATE)?

Automatic test equipment (ATE) aka automated testing system (ATS) can be a single instrument or a host of different instruments that make measurements at very high speed and accuracy. ATE/ATS are useful data acquisition and diagnostic tools for testing a variety of power electronics, from automotive to aerospace, and from industrial to consumer.

Automatic test equipment ensures that devices under test (DUT) perform and function as intended by engineers, and that users are not exposed to dangers. Many electronic devices, especially in the electric vehicles, are tested by ATE to ensure performance, functionality, and safety.

A typical automated testing system consists of:

  • Probes & Handlers – these establish a connection between the test instrument and the device under test
  • Test & Measurement Instruments – these can be oscilloscopes, power analyzers, electronic loads, power sources, etc.
  • Signal Sources – these can be arbitrary waveform generators, network analyzers, LCR meters, etc.
  • Hardware – these are usually 19 inch rack cabinets with interfaces, controllers, alarms, AC/DC input and output, etc.
  • Software – these can be SCPI, LabView, MATLAB, or even your own codes

An example of an automated test solution can consist of multi-channel oscilloscopes, DC electronic loads, programmable AC sources, and all feeding measurement data to a centralized test management software.

A single test & measurement instrument (Credit: Keysight Regenerative Power Supplies)
A host of different instruments (Credit: ITECH Automated Test System)

The measurements made on a device under test are usually managed by some form of software at the platform level. These software platform can be bundled with the ATE/ATS (such as EA’s Battery Simulation, Chroma’s PowerPro, or ITECH’s ITS5300), or you can write your own programming code (using SCPI, LabView, and others).

Leading automatic test equipment manufacturers and instrument suppliers include:

  • National Instruments
  • Tektronix
  • Chroma
  • Arbin
  • Keysight
  • Rohde & Schwarz
  • NH Research
  • Elektro Automatik
  • Rigol

(Credit: Rohde & Schwarz)

(Credit: Rigol)

Companies that use ATE and ATS-related equipment include:

  • Honeywell International
  • Northrop Grumman
  • Tesla
  • LG Chem
  • Ford
  • Momentus
  • Rivian
  • Inventus Power

A typical application of ATE/ATS is the BMS (battery management system) in electric vehicles. The health of a battery is most often estimated by keeping track of how much watt hour throughput there has been in the life of the battery (along with things like rate of charge/discharge, temperatures, ACIR, etc.).

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to automated test solution, every power electronic has a different parameter and every engineer has a different approach.

The important thing to note is that not all automatic test equipment are the same, their configurations can vary depending on the device under test and the electrical requirement. Most ATE/ATS work by measuring raw data using a variety of test instruments. These measurements are then analyzed to determine if changes to the device need to be made (for example, engineering QC).

The right automatic test solution will allow engineers to repeat the test cycle at high speed and accuracy, generating millions of data points for reliable statistic analysis, in a safe and controlled environment.

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