HP Product Testing: Tech Torture

 

Ever wonder about everything that happens before your computer actually gets to you? Same here. I braved Houston’s summer heat to discover how HP handles its customer service and product quality from the inside. This is part of a series of blogs looking at some of the people and technologies that make HP tick.

 


Outside some of the glass-enclosed labs reads a sign that says, “Corporate Reliability Engineering.” I think that’s HP-speak for politely saying, “HP Product Torture Room.” We described some of the CSI-like tests that these labs perform on components and computers, but there are also several other areas in the Houston offices ear-marked for beating gear.

 

tech torture - electron.JPG

Take Diego Gutierrez, Manager; Reliability, Metrology, & Sales Support, HP Global Engineering & Lab Services. Long title, but In short, his job: Test products as far out as a year before they ever come to market. However, he doesn’t perform tests that you’d be able to do at home. That is, unless you have an electrostatic gun that shoots electricity, an army of robotic limbs for attacking computer parts or a device that can subject these machines to some ridiculously drastic weather conditions. In short, it’s a nerd’s dream job – and I’ll get to all that soon enough. Especially the gun.

 

Walking around here is like being on the back lot of Mythbusters. Giant ovens cross-bred with sinister microwaves line various rooms inside the sprawling HP complex. Some of these chambers are relatively small – maybe looking like what you’d find in a restaurant’s kitchen. Most products are meant to run between 10 and 30 degrees Celsius. But why think so small? Some of these ovens are giant walk in chambers  that are literally powered by jet engines. And they push the gear well beyond what anyone would consider normal wear and tear. (Spoiler: Shoving your laptop in one of these machines would likely void your warranty). You can learn a little bit more about the environmental testing in this video.

 

Actually, here’s a little story I learned during my visit: The labs were running round-the-clock tests on computer fans in a ginormous Thermotron – the fancy name for the above-mentioned sinister-looking ovens. Meanwhile, someone was giving folks a tour of HP’s labs and she made the mistake of cracking open a walk-in chamber’s door. Don’t worry, nothing horrible happened. But the gust of hot air instantly melted away all her makeup. And this is in Houston, a place where people are used to the heat.

 

Devices like the HALT (Highly Accelerated Life Test) machine, the culprit in the story above, push extremes. In the HALT’s case, this single machine bakes a product at high heat, then drops down to arctic temperatures and then it rumbles gear like an earthquake.  And they run it until the test subject seizes up. No escape. No survivors.

 

Going beyond baking, things that have a moving part are tested. Hinges, screens, keyboards, you name it. In fact, if we got the rights to Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” I’d have made a video of my own with all the robot limbs going to town on HP hardware. The slightly less musical takes on those videos are right here:

 


Those robotic limbs do everything from perpetually open and close laptops to bang on keyboards all day long. In fact, there’s a specific set of tests that go down, simulating a lifetime of keyboard abuse in a matter of days.

 


One thing I may not have mentioned about the labs team is that they frequently need to tap their inner MacGuyver. That is, they often build their own devices for new tests they develop. Take the dust room for example. You know that dust collects around the house. Lint, cat hair, maybe you're just a little too busy to clean. Hey, I won't judge. Whatever the case, all these contaminants in the air can mess with your electronics. And it’s nice to know that HP tries to think of torture tests like this dust room. Basically, in a back corner of the labs, the team bought supplies and built a sealed room. Inside it, various bits of debris get shoved in and blown around. Not that I’d recommend walking in, but it looks like Pig-Pen's playhouse when whipping up a dirt storm. While you won’t see that in this video, you can learn a little bit more about how it works.  

 

The electron gun tests, though, have to be my favorite. I'm sorry, I mean electrostatic discharge tests. You know how when you dragged your socks across the carpet only to touch and zap your little sister? Well imagine doing that to your computer with a device that looks like something you wield in Half Life 2. But I digress. This gun is made to stress test the electrical currents that the computer is capable of handling without malfunctioning. Think of it as a creative way to test surge protection. And with that, time to fire a couple test rounds!

 

 

Another series of tests check the ability of the hardware to work in odd circumstances – say, when you’re trying to type while in a Humvee or when a computer is getting shipped to retailers. Imagine giant plates built to shake products like crazy.  A series of giant plates sit in one room that simulates everything from vibrations from the cargo hold of a plane to being front-and-center at a concert.

 

Another destructive test is to literally see if the team can break a palate of PCs. Stack up the boxes, wrap them up for transport, and then shove them down a ramp into a steel wall. Think of those old crash test dummies ads – except instead of dummies, HP uses computers. Yeah, I’m cringing at the thought as well. But it's better than the alternative of getting that brand new computer home only to find that it got destroyed in transit to your house.

 

Diego says that his teams are part of the HP Global Engineering Services. "They are comprised of Engineers and Technicians who excel at designing and improving existing designs of HP products while minimizing cost. The work done by the Reliability, Design, and Sales Support (RDSS) team has contributed to warranty savings and profit optimization totalling $32.5 million so far in 2010." That's a LOT of people without computer-related headaches at the end of the day.  

 

As you may have noticed the theme throughout this series, all of these procedures in all these buildings serve one goal: To do everything HP can to make sure your PC delivers a great experience when you get it home. That’s the mantra I heard from everyone as I walked these nerdly halls. But more important, these guys behind the scenes are always coming up with new tech torture tests…and I plan to be in on some of the next ones. I like breaking things.

 

I hope that this look behind the curtain helped you understand a little more about the process that goes into creating – and shaking out any bugs – in your computer gear. If you found this series helpful or have any questions, hit the comment box below and let us know what you think.

 

Comments
by sabiha pakkan on ‎02-26-2011 12:20 PM

 


GizmoGladstone wrote:

 

Ever wonder about everything that happens before your computer actually gets to you? Same here. I braved Houston’s summer heat to discover how HP handles its customer service and product quality from the inside. This is part of a series of blogs looking at some of the people and technologies that make HP tick.

 


Outside some of the glass-enclosed labs reads a sign that says, “Corporate Reliability Engineering.” I think that’s HP-speak for politely saying, “HP Product Torture Room.” We described some of the CSI-like tests that these labs perform on components and computers, but there are also several other areas in the Houston offices ear-marked for beating gear.

 

 

Take Diego Gutierrez, Manager; Reliability, Metrology, & Sales Support, HP Global Engineering & Lab Services. Long title, but In short, his job: Test products as far out as a year before they ever come to market. However, he doesn’t perform tests that you’d be able to do at home. That is, unless you have an electrostatic gun that shoots electricity, an army of robotic limbs for attacking computer parts or a device that can subject these machines to some ridiculously drastic weather conditions. In short, it’s a nerd’s dream job – and I’ll get to all that soon enough. Especially the gun.  

 

Walking around here is like being on the back lot of Mythbusters. Giant ovens cross-bred with sinister microwaves line various rooms inside the sprawling HP complex. Some of these chambers are relatively small – maybe looking like what you’d find in a restaurant’s kitchen. Most products are meant to run between 10 and 30 degrees Celsius. But why think so small? Some of these ovens are giant walk in chambers  that are literally powered by jet engines. And they push the gear well beyond what anyone would consider normal wear and tear. (Spoiler: Shoving your laptop in one of these machines would likely void your warranty). You can learn a little bit more about the environmental testing in this video.

 

 

Actually, here’s a little story I learned during my visit: The labs were running round-the-clock tests on computer fans in a ginormous Thermotron – the fancy name for the above-mentioned sinister-looking ovens -- set to…what’s the equivalent of “turning it to 11” in audio terms? Meanwhile, someone was giving folks a tour of HP’s labs and she made the mistake of cracking open a walk-in chamber’s door. Don’t worry, nothing horrible happened. But the gust of hot air instantly melted away all her makeup. And this is in Houston, a place where people are used to the heat.

 

Devices like the HALT (Highly Accelerated Life Test) machine, the culprit in the story above, push extremes. In the HALT’s case, this single machine bakes a product at high heat, then drops down to arctic temperatures and then it rumbles gear like an earthquake.  And they run it until the test subject seizes up. No escape. No survivors.

 

Going beyond baking, things that have a moving part are tested. Hinges, screens, keyboards, you name it. In fact, if we got the rights to Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” I’d have made a video of my own with all the robot limbs going to town on HP hardware. The slightly less musical takes on those videos are right here:

 

 


Those robotic limbs do everything from perpetually open and close laptops to bang on keyboards all day long. In fact, there’s a specific set of tests that go down, simulating a lifetime of keyboard abuse in a matter of days.

 

 


One thing I may not have mentioned about the labs team is that they frequently need to tap their inner MacGuyver. That is, they often build their own devices for new tests they develop. Take the dust room for example. You know that dust collects around the house. Lint, cat hair, maybe you're just a little too busy to clean. Hey, I won't judge. Whatever the case, all these contaminants in the air can mess with your electronics. And it’s nice to know that HP tries to think of torture tests like this dust room. Basically, in a back corner of the labs, the team bought supplies and built a sealed room. Inside it, various bits of debris get shoved in and blown around. Not that I’d recommend walking in, but it looks like Pig-Pen's playhouse when whipping up a dirt storm. While you won’t see that in this video, you can learn a little bit more about how it works.  

 

 

The electron gun tests, though, have to be my favorite. I'm sorry, I mean electrostatic discharge tests. You know how when you dragged your socks across the carpet only to touch and zap your little sister? Well imagine doing that to your computer with a device that looks like something you wield in Half Life 2. But I digress. This gun is made to stress test the electrical currents that the computer is capable of handling without malfunctioning. Think of it as a creative way to test surge protection. And with that, time to fire a couple test rounds!

 

 

 

Another series of tests check the ability of the hardware to work in odd circumstances – say, when you’re trying to type while in a Humvee or when a computer is getting shipped to retailers. Imagine giant plates built to shake products like crazy.  A series of giant plates sit in one room that simulates everything from vibrations from the cargo hold of a plane to being front-and-center at a concert.

 

Another destructive test is to literally see if the team can break a palate of PCs. Stack up the boxes, wrap them up for transport, and then shove them down a ramp into a steel wall. Think of those old crash test dummies ads – except instead of dummies, HP uses computers. Yeah, I’m cringing at the thought as well. But it's better than the alternative of getting that brand new computer home only to find that it got destroyed in transit to your house.

 

Diego says that his teams are part of the HP Global Engineering Services. "They are comprised of Engineers and Technicians who excel at designing and improving existing designs of HP products while minimizing cost. The work done by the Reliability, Design, and Sales Support (RDSS) team has contributed to warranty savings and profit optimization totalling $32.5 million so far in 2010." That's a LOT of people without computer-related headaches at the end of the day.  

 

As you may have noticed the theme throughout this series, all of these procedures in all these buildings serve one goal: To do everything HP can to make sure your PC delivers a great experience when you get it home. That’s the mantra I heard from everyone as I walked these nerdly halls. But more important, these guys behind the scenes are always coming up with new tech torture tests…and I plan to be in on some of the next ones. I like breaking things.

 

I hope that this look behind the curtain helped you understand a little more about the process that goes into creating – and shaking out any bugs – in your computer gear. If you found this series helpful or have any questions, hit the comment box below and let us know what you think.

 


 

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