75885768 © Hxdylzj | Dreamstime.com
Pickering Dreamstime M 75885768 Promo

ATE Switching Subsystems: 3 Methods for Successful Implementation

Jan. 27, 2023
Switching subsystems are a critical part of automated test equipment. Learn how to build one for optimal performance, even at the earliest stages of product design.

What you’ll learn:

  • What to consider for a successful switch.
  • How to ensure your switch will last for the product’s full life.
  • What to look for in outsourced help.

Engineering departments face challenging macroeconomic forces such as supply-chain issues and price increases. To mitigate time-to-market and budget risks, test engineers must plan test systems earlier—often in tandem with product design. This means that during the early design phase, test engineers must come up with test systems, ensure they will be deployable with available components, and confirm what outsourced test system design or engineering resources are needed.

Switching subsystems are at the center of most automated test systems. By defining requirements for these switching subsystems early, engineers have the flexibility to select the ideal hardware components and software tools. This will ultimately lead to the creation of a customized modular platform that meets the demands of the current product and scale with product growth, or be reused for future iterations. 

Test engineers take one of three approaches for successful design, build, and deployment of efficient, effective switching subsystems:

  • COTS-based product selection
  • COTS products + guidance and/or support
  • Outsourced build

This article will overview each approach. It looks into the careful considerations test engineers must make to seamlessly move products from R&D to production test with modular switching solutions that are fit to spec, seamless to integrate, and built to last.

  1. Before beginning, consider the following:
  2. Are you modifying an existing test system or creating a new one?
  3. Will the system be based on industry standards such as PXI or LXI?
  4. What software will be used to program and control the system?
  5. What specifications will you be testing?
  6. What is the maximum voltage, current, and frequency your system must manage?
  7. Do you need to accommodate any legacy hardware or software technologies?
  8. Is this test for new technology, or for existing products?
  9. Will this system need to scale in the future to accommodate expanded requirements?
  10. Will the system potentially be reused to test additional products?
  11. Is there a strategy for maintaining the system?

Approach #1: COTS-based Product Selection

A COTS-based approach is appropriate for a project with well-defined requirements and an in-house team experienced in selecting and deploying switching instrumentation. This process typically begins by exploring the websites of switching vendors to find products that meet test system design requirements.

Critical factors to consider when taking a COTS-based approach include:

  • Managing obsolescence: Ensure test systems that need to be maintained for more than 10 years (common in aerospace/defense applications) have an obsolescence plan.
  • Navigating internal resources: Ensure internal teams have the bandwidth and skills to build and deploy an effective, future-proof switching system.
  • Integration with a complete test system: Ensure hardware and software compatibility for integration with other existing or planned elements of the test system.
  • Ease of acquisition and maintenance: Ensure selected switching hardware is available and will be maintainable for the entire product lifecycle.

For an off-the-shelf approach, some companies offer a vast range of industry-standard modular switching products, selectable via an easy-to-use automated product selector. Standard interconnect products are available for all switching modules to streamline integration. For example, the design of custom cabling can be simplified by using Pickering’s web-based Cable Design Tool.

Customers also could use Pickering simulation tools to design test applications and verify test system compatibility before purchasing components. In addition, the company’s Knowledgebase, datasheets, manuals, 3D models, and PXI and LXI platform overviews support customers’ product selection, while flexible software drivers, automated switch routing software, and diagnostic test tools can help speed up integration and maintenance.

Though some product companies begin with a COTS-based approach, they’ll often shift to Approach #2 when they need further consultation to address obsolescence, compatibility, hardware/software support, and future flexibility considerations.

Approach #2:  Products + Guidance and/or Support 

This approach is ideal for companies that haven’t yet decided what products will best meet their test system design needs or have a lack of internal resources (whether time, manpower, or experience).

This process begins when you reach out to a switching vendor or system integrator with an overview, schematic, or even just a basic sketch of what you want to achieve. Then the experts can advise you on hardware and software products that will best satisfy your system needs.

Seeking outside guidance is typically interactive and comprehensive, covering hardware, software, interconnects, integration, and operational life. The switching partner, along with the customer, will design a switch with products that meet all requirements, including technical specifications, budgets, and timelines. Selecting industry-standard, modular hardware throughout this process eases integration and ensures future-proof scalability, flexibility, and long-term performance.

Consider asking the following of your switching system provider:

  • How compatible are your products with other vendors’ hardware and software?
  • Does the complete switching system meet or ideally exceed the required system specifications?
  • Do you have the software drivers and application support that I will need?
  • Can you help with cabling and custom interconnect? If not, where can I turn for support?
  • What if I experience system failure after deployment?
  • Is this solution readily scalable in the future?
  • Will I be able to easily adapt it to support different applications?
  • What are the lead times on these products?
  • How long will these products be supported?
  • Do you have any tools and expert support to speed up my program generation?

On this front, Pickering works with clients when they have some internal resources but need to supplement them with outside technology or expertise.

Even for customers selecting the switching hardware themselves, Pickering experts can create custom simulation environments to speed software development, provide automated signal routing software that can reduce development time, and supply standard and custom cables to integrate the switching system into the larger automated test equipment (ATE).

Approach #3: Outsourced Build

This approach is a fit for companies looking to contract an expert partner to plan, design, and build the full switching subsystem. Outsourcing is ideal for companies lacking the time and resources for the do-it-yourself approach. Even when a company builds and manages its own ATE, switching systems can have such intricate requirements that it’s easier to outsource them and get one that will last 10+ years, rather than develop the knowledge to do so internally.

Outsourcing is particularly helpful when timelines are critical and you need a switching solution that you can receive, integrate, and have up and running quickly, or when there’s a possibility of build-to-print systems in the future as your product scales. An outsourced provider can create a switching subsystem with manufacturability in mind to future-proof operations.

In this process, a switching partner or system integrator is able to design and build the subsystem after first helping to define requirements. Subsequently, they will provide the tools needed to streamline integration, deployment, sustainment, and long-term system maintenance.

When Pickering takes on complete switching subsystems, clients can take advantage of many options, based on product lifecycle goals:

  • Quicker timelines
  • Switching systems tailored to the test system specifications for repeatable results
  • Future-proof, flexible, and scalable designs
  • Mating system interconnect
  • Supplied software drivers
  • Software support for all major programming languages including NI software
  • Graphical soft-front panel for manual control and monitoring
  • End-to-end switching simulation
  • End-to-end switch routing software
  • Proprietary diagnostic test tools
  • Fully documented components, tested to ensure performance repeatability in subsequent builds/orders
  • Worldwide technical hardware and software support infrastructure, including cost-effective RMA repair service
  • 3-year system warranties
  • Up to 20-year ongoing support including free software updates

This approach helps streamline the development and deployment of high-performance electronic test and verification systems. Companies can scale or repurpose system components in the future as needs, objectives, or requirements change while remaining as timely and cost-efficient as possible.


As technology innovation continues, intricate switching systems are at the core of ATE. Depending on budgets, timelines, internal expertise, system compatibility demands, and anticipated product-development lifecycles, a range of solutions are available for developing switching systems, from engineering a solution in-house with COTS products to completely outsourcing a subsystem.

Sponsored Recommendations


To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Electronic Design, create an account today!