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Bucking Conventional Wisdom to Boost Quality and Reliability
Eric Taylor is Vice President of Customer Experience and Quality at Agilent Technologies. He joined the company in 1992 at the former Colorado Springs Division. He held a variety of positions before being promoted to product support manager in the Electronic Measurements Division in 1997, where he worked on several cross-EMG processes, such as out-of-box defects. Over the next four years, he held several division marketing positions, including sales and business development manager for the Measurement Products Unit, and division marketing manager for the former Basic, Emerging, System Test (BEST) Division.
In 2002, Eric joined the product planning team for the System Products Division, where he developed roadmaps for several product categories and was instrumental in the development of the 34980A LAN-based switch/measure unit. He next accepted a position in MIBU marketing managing cross-EMG marketing programs and, with his team, helped create the LXI Standard for the LXI Consortium. In 2006, Eric was named the EMG strategic planning manager, working with EMG senior management to develop long-term goals and strategies. He accepted his current assignment in May 2008. Eric holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Central Michigan University, and an MBA from the University of Arizona.
If you are developing RF or microwave devices, verifying your design works correctly and meets specifications is a critical task that requires you to accurately characterize your RF/microwave signals. To accomplish that, you need high-performance test instruments - that's a given.
But technology evolves quickly. Sometimes it seems like new standards emerge at about the same time you've finally worked all the kinks out of testing to the current standard. So, the definition of "high-performance test instrument" is a continually moving target -- with performance requirements climbing ever higher to levels that were unimaginable in the not-too-distant past.
We know the conventional wisdom: higher-performance test instruments means higher complexity, which automatically means higher failure rates.
At Agilent, our goal has been to stay a step ahead of your frequency and phase noise requirements, while simultaneously driving down the failure rates of our high-performance instruments. And we have made great strides in reaching this goal. We now have the best product reliability in our history, as well as the best reliability in the industry. As a matter of fact, we have reduced electronic test instrument failure rates by 50% over the last 10 years. That's not an easy feat.
So how did we overturn conventional wisdom to achieve this remarkable reduction in failure rates? Of course, our long history of expertise in high-frequency design was an important factor. And the fact that we make our own RFICs means we have more direct control over their reliability. But just as important, was developing an internal quality system that supported our "design for reliability" philosophy.
Here's what we did:
- We implemented a systematic customer feedback process. We analyze quality from multiple angles and evaluate failures to root cause, so we know where to focus our improvement efforts. Looking at various metrics allows us to understand which products are doing well and which ones are not. Once we identify a product that is not measuring up, we look at other products of similar complexity that aredoing well and adopt best practices from them, adapt them as necessary, and apply them to the products that need help.
- We established a set of formal tools and processes for R&D engineers and quality managers to use in product development. They can choose parts, processes, and test procedures at every stage in the design process that help them create the most reliable instrument possible.
- We set extremely high expectations for reliability for new products. We require the reliability of each design to be higher than the previous generation of products. And then we grade ourselves on how well we have met that standard.
I know it sounds simple when I describe it, but it is not simple. It took focus and hard work to systematically apply these steps to all of our instruments, to get everyone in the organization aligned, and to develop a culture where an unwavering commitment to continuous improvement can thrive.
We did it because we know reliability is important to you, and we want to help you be successful. Agilent’s new three-year standard warranty on all instruments—worldwide—was enabled by your feedback and our rigorous quality focus, and it allows Agilent to partner more closely with you to achieve your project and business goals.