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PFAT helps strengthen automated testing strategies

“By automating our testing, we have reduced test time by 50% while increasing software quality.”

Susan Hoskins, VP Engineering at PEER Group

Software is often cited as the leading cause of equipment reliability, therefore improving software quality must be a key component of any reliability improvement program. As the industry’s leading supplier of equipment connectivity and testing products for automated factories, PEER Group is sharing our lessons learned from our internal software testing experiences. We not only offer products to the market but we also rely on our products during software development and integrate them into larger automation solutions.

Reducing costs with software test

At PEER Group, our quality software products and custom solutions are built upon a solid foundation of strong engineering processes where we focus on planning, information accessibility, and continuous improvement. The strategies we have put in place and the management tools we use help eliminate duplication of effort and allow us to spend more time on value-add engineering activities and innovation.

We use Microsoft® Visual Studio® Team Foundation Server (TFS) to manage our source control, planned work, tests, and results. After integrating TFS with our support system and software design tools, the next logical step was to integrate our dynamic software test application, PEER FACTORY® Acceptance Tester (PFAT™). Linking PFAT with our test results tracking system enables us to fully automate our testing traceability and to provide real-time visibility into results.


“We leverage the dynamic PFAT test infrastructure on all of our software development, running automated scenarios to increase the efficiency and quality of our testing processes” says Susan Hoskins, VP Engineering. “By automating our testing, we have reduced test time by 50% while increasing software quality.”

Integrated, automated test environment

As part of our strong software development process, it is standard practice to perform validation tests to verify that a software build is ready for extensive quality assurance (QA) testing. This first step ensures that we receive the maximum value for our testing investments. We also execute regression tests to ensure that software changes in the build have not adversely affected previous behavior and to confirm consistency in the software released to our customers. Identifying and automating repeatable test scenarios on each build reduces testing time for QA team members allowing them to focus on test strategies for new features and participate in continuous improvements to reduce our costs.

“Our quality assurance strategies focus on using automation to eliminate the manual effort for repeatable tests, complex test execution, and to create test sequences that communicate directly with low level software components. This is not possible with traditional test methods,” adds, Ms. Hoskins.

At PEER Group, we leverage Microsoft® Visual Studio® tools for our software development. An automated build infrastructure is a standard part of our environment and we have expanded our automated build sequence to execute our automated software test harness with a configurable set of PFAT scenarios. The harness uses PFAT to execute the selected set of test scenarios to record all the test execution details. Once the tests are complete, the test harness updates our TFS test case repository with results. With this approach, automated and manual test results are stored in one location, and PFAT execution can be run in the background while leveraging its results viewer and reporting capabilities to troubleshoot any error that may occur. Our integrated test environment provides PEER Group management and QA teams immediate visibility into software quality.

Unified approach to equipment software testing through PFAT

PEER Group offers the most comprehensive and advanced automation test solution in the semiconductor industry. PFAT, PEER Group’s flagship test product, gives engineers the ability to automate manual test procedures by rapidly creating complex test scenarios to validate equipment software. Regression tests can be combined with customer-specific tests to cover the variations in tool configuration, software changes and fab scenarios. Test scenarios can be created that combine SECS/GEM communications verification along with hardware and software simulation methods. PFAT’s advanced execution control facilitates designing tests that switch easily between simulated testing and verification with physical hardware. PFAT is the only product available that provides a unified approach to equipment software testing.

Test automation achieves quantifiable benefits

Integrating our build environment with automated testing using PFAT has resulted in a 50% savings in our QA processes, allowing us to further expand our use of PFAT internally, sharing test libraries amongst development, quality assurance and solution integration teams. By combining all test results in a single repository, we have reduced overhead associated with quality reporting and management, while improving overall software quality. We can now test scenarios that had been either too time consuming or impossible to execute off-site, enabling us to uncover software problems before releasing any software to our customers. PFAT is an integral part of PEER Group’s quality assurance program to increase equipment software reliability.

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