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Manufacturing Test - Making Every Millisecond Count


September 3, 2007

Today's manufacturing organizations, especially those manufacturing new and emerging wireless applications such as WiMAX™ handsets, face a number of critical challenges. To be successful they must continually output new products and support existing products while also dealing with time-to-market pressure from R&D and meeting stringent time-to-volume production goals - all the while keeping costs as low as possible.

One way to deal with these challenges is through the use of effective measurement instrumentation, such as a signal analyzer which is commonly used during R&D and manufacturing to analyze signals in frequency, time and code domains. While commercially available signal analyzers can help mitigate these challenges, they fail to offer the performance and fast, flexible functionality necessary to attack the manufacturer's two primary concerns: improved throughput and yield. What's required is a new alternative - an economically-priced signal analysis solution with unprecedented speed and measurement accuracy. Such a solution will enable today's engineers to quickly and cost-effectively troubleshoot new designs, and increase manufacturing throughput and yield, while at the same time meeting both time-to-market and time-to-volume production deadlines.

Manufacturing Challenges

The manufacture of a cellular handset provides a perfect example of the magnitude of the challenges now facing manufacturers. Consider, for example, that a cell phone manufacturer receives a large order from a cellular service provider for cell phones to be delivered in a very short period of time. In order to produce the handsets, the cell phone manufacturer must first secure a particular component (e.g. a power amplifier) from its component supplier. Because the cellular service provider needs the cell phones quickly, the time pressure that the cell phone manufacturer is under also now applies to the component manufacturer.

In both instances, for the component and the cell phone, testing is required to verify product performance prior to delivery to the customer - in this case, the cell phone manufacturer and cellular service provider, respectively. How quickly, accurately and cost effectively that testing (e.g. via a signal analyzer) can take place has a direct impact on test system throughput and yield, and therefore also relates directly to the overall success of the supplier and manufacturer.

To adequately address these challenges, the signal analysis solution must have the following key characteristics:

  • Speed
    It typically takes under 2 seconds to run multiple tests (e.g. dynamic range) on a cell phone component. Component manufacturers today want to get that time down to a few hundredths of a second. There is also a move on to cut the time it takes to test a base station - primarily because the large cost of a base station is directly related to test time. The goal is to complete testing in one third the time it takes now, or triple the test system throughput. Achieving these goals requires a signal analyzer with unprecedented speed.
  • Cost
    Reducing cost is a continual goal of manufacturing. One way to cut cost is to decrease the time it takes to run a test by using a very fast signal analyzer. Another option is to choose an economically-priced solution. The problem, of course, is that all too often “economical” is equated with “low-performance and low functionality.” If the signal analyzer is fast though, this need not be the case. That's because the manufacturer can take advantage of cost reductions associated with speedy test time, as opposed to just buying the lowest cost solution on the market, with its basic performance and functionality.
  • Accuracy
    A key goal of any manufacturer today is to increase yield. Achieving these goals necessitates a signal analyzer that is highly accurate; thereby allowing engineers to optimize their test budget for manufacturing variances as opposed to test instrument uncertainties. Accuracy also benefits R&D engineers by providing them with the confidence to pinpoint signal quality issues and more easily facilitate troubleshooting and diagnostic evaluations. In turn, this enables an accelerated transition from design into manufacturing and helps reduce the overall cost of test.

A New Alternative:

The Agilent EXA Signal Analyzer is the industry's fastest, economy-class signal analyzer on the market (see the Figure). Featuring exceptional measurement accuracy, performance and application coverage, it provides flexible, scalable signal analysis to budget-conscious engineers who don't want to sacrifice speed, accuracy, application coverage or modern connectivity.


Figure. Whether the engineer is focused on time-to-market, time-to-volume or cost of test, the choice of economy-class signal analyzer should help save both time and money. The Agilent EXA Signal Analyzer makes this possible by eliminating the compromise between speed and price.

While the EXA comes at a lower performance point than Agilent's midrange MXA Signal Analyzer, it seamlessly integrates the same broad range of standards-based measurements with Agilent's industry-leading 89600 vector signal analysis (VSA) software - all in a single instrument. It includes a comprehensive set of standard one-button-power measurements (e.g. ACPR, Channel Power, Occupied Bandwidth, Spectrum Emissions Mask, CCDF, Burst Power and Spurious Emission) for characterizing signal quality. Optional measurement application software provides preconfigured test routines for GSM/EDGE, 802.16e Mobile WiMAX™, W-CDMA, HSDPA/HSUPA, and phase-noise applications.

The Agilent EXA Signal Analyzer features a number of unique characteristics which make it amply well qualified to address the challenges of today's manufacturers. These include:

  • Speed
    Allowing measurements that are up to 300 percent faster than other economy-class signal analyzers, the EXA can comfortably perform base station tests in 4 hours that would normally take 12 hours with other commercially available signal analyzers. It returns a marker peak search result in less than 5 ms, local updates in less than 10 ms, and remote sweep and transfer (via GPIB) in less than 12 ms. Its measurement mode switching speeds are typically less than 75 ms. As a result, it provides the fastest local and remote measurements (via LAN, GPIB, or USB 2.0) for expediting automated tests and accelerating design verification. In the manufacturing environment, this increased test speed translates into improved test system throughput and yield.
  • Accuracy
    The EXA features 0.4-dB total absolute amplitude accuracy, resulting in increased yield and reduced variances.
  • Bandwidth
    The EXA supports multiple frequency ranges from 9 kHz to 3.6, 7.0, 13.6 and 26.5 GHz, an internal fully calibrated pre-amplifier option up to 3.6 GHz, and standard analysis bandwidths of 10 MHz. Note that measurement instrument sweep time is dictated by the narrowness of its bandwidth. The 160 resolution bandwidths provided by the EXA, allows the engineer to effectively see smaller signals.
  • All Digital IF
    Complementing the EXA's fully scalable functionality and industry-leading accuracy is its +13 dBm third-order intercept, -146 dBm/Hz displayed average noise level (without pre-amp) and 66 dB W-CDMA ACLR dynamic range. These capabilities are made possible by the signal analyzer's all-digital, 14-bit ADC IF section.

    Note that dynamic range, like repeatability and throughput, are orthogonal functions. This means that if increased dynamic range is required, test time will also increase. Thanks to the speed of the EXA, the engineer can effectively achieve more dynamic range compared to the same amount of time for a commercially available signal analyzer. And, because the EXA's dynamic range can be further improved with an optional 2 dB mechanical step attenuator over the full frequency range, the engineer can achieve a high level of performance for lower cost.
  • Cost
    The EXA is an economically-priced signal analyzer. Despite its economy-class price tag, it features the same broad range of measurements available with Agilent's MXA Signal Analyzer - the industry's fast signal analyzer with the highest accuracy of any midrange analyzer. And, because the EXA can accommodate multiple standards-based measurements and functionality in one instrument, it eliminates the cost and space associated with the need to purchase multiple instruments - each performing its own individual task. Additional cost savings stems from the EXA's speed which reduces the cost associated with test time.
  • Ease of Use
    In addition to the use of an open Windows(r) XP Professional operating system, the EXA provides an advanced signal analysis user interface. All measurement features and functions are intuitively grouped and accessible from the front panel or via a USB keyboard and mouse. Because of the similarity of EXA's software to the MXA Signal Analyzer, engineers familiar with the MXA require little training time. The EXA can also be easily updated via downloadable software to keep it up to date with changing test needs and evolving budgets; thereby helping manufacturers maintain a competitive edge and maximizing instrument uptime.


Utilization of a signal analyzer like the Agilent EXA is quickly becoming a critical part of the successful manufacture of new and emerging wireless applications like cellular handsets. Its industry-leading speed and accuracy, coupled with its economical price, allow today's manufacturers to realize substantial cost savings, as well as increased throughput and yield. More importantly, these capabilities mean manufacturers can now make the most of each millisecond to fully differentiate their products in the marketplace and realize commercial success.

About Agilent
Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) is the world's premier measurement company an

d a technology leader in communications, electronics, life sciences and chemical analysis. The company's 19,000 employees serve customers in more than 110 countries. Agilent had net revenue of $5.0 billion in fiscal 2006. Information about Agilent is available on the Web at www.agilent.com.


Windows is a U.S. registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation.


Janet Smith, Agilent
+1 970 679 5397

Related links for more information
  Press Release: Agilent Technologies' New EXA Signal Analyzer Breaks through Speed, Budget Barriers
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