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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Planning for System Integration and Testing

9.2.2 System Integration and Test Plan – The purpose of the System Integration and Test Plan (SITP) is to define the step by step process for combining components into assemblies, assemblies into subsystems and subsystems into the system. It is also necessary to define at what level software is integrated and the levels for conducting verification of software and hardware. Because of the intimate relationship of the verification matrix to the system integration and test it is recommended that the SITP be developed before the verification matrix is deemed complete.
The SITP defines the buildup of functionality and the best approach is usually to build from the lowest complexity to higher complexity. Thus, the first steps in integration are the lowest levels of functionality; e.g. backplanes, operating systems and electrical interfaces. Then add increasing functionality such as device drivers, functional interfaces, more complex functions and modes. Finally implement system threads such as major processing paths, error detection paths and end-to-end threads. Integration typically happens in two phases: hardware to hardware and software to hardware. This is because software configured item testing often needs operational hardware to be valid. Two general principles to follow are: test functionality and performance at the lowest level possible and, if it can be avoided, do not integrate any hardware or software whose functionality and performance has not been verified. It isn’t always possible to follow these principles, e.g. sometimes software must be integrated with hardware before either can be meaningfully tested.
One objective of the SITP is to define a plan that avoids as much as possible having to disassemble the system to implement fixes to problems identified in testing. A good approach is to integrate risk mitigation into the SIPT. For example, there is often a vast difference between the impact of an electrical design problem and a mechanical or optical design problem. Some electrical design or fabrication problems discovered in I & T of an engineering model can be corrected with temporary fixes (“green wires”) and I & T can be continued with minimal delay. However, a serious mechanical or optical problem found in the late stages of testing, e.g. in a final system level vibration test, can take months to fix due to the time it takes to redesign and fabricate mechanical or optical parts and conduct the necessary regression testing. Sometimes constructing special test fixtures for early verification of the performance of mechanical, electro-mechanical or optical assemblies is good insurance against discovering design problems in the final stages of I & T.
The integration plan can be described with an integration flow chart or with a table listing the integration steps in order. An integration flow chart graphically illustrates the components that make up each assembly, the assemblies that make up each subsystem etc. Preparing the SITP is an activity that benefits from close cooperation among system engineers, software engineers, test engineers and manufacturing engineers. For example, system engineers typically define the top level integration flow for engineering models using guidelines listed above. Manufacturing engineers typically define the detailed integration flow to be used for manufacturing prototypes and production models. If the system engineers use the same type of documentation for defining the flow for the engineering model that manufacturing engineers use then it is likely that the same documentation can be edited and expanded by manufacturing engineers for their purposes.
It should be expected that problems will be identified during system I & T. Therefore processes for reporting and resolving failures should be part of an organizations standard processes and procedures. System I & T schedules should have contingency for resolving problems. Risk mitigation plans should be part of the SITP and be in place for I & T; such as having adequate supplies of spare parts or even spare subsystems for long lead time and high risk items.
System integration is complete when a defined subset of system level functional tests has been informally run and passed, all failure reports are closed out and all system and design baseline databases have been updated. The final products from system integration include the Test Reports, Failure Reports and the following updated documentation:
  • Rebaselined System Definition
    • Requirements documents and ICDs
    • Test Architecture Definition
    • Test Plans
    • Test Procedures
  • Rebaselined Design Documentation
    • Hardware Design Drawings
    • Fabrication Procedures
    • Formal Release of Software including Build Procedures and a Version Description Document
    • System Description Document
    • TPM Metrics
It is good practice to gate integration closeout with a Test Readiness Review (TRR) to review the hardware/software integration results, ensure the system is ready to enter formal engineering or development model verification testing and that all test procedures are complete and in compliance with test plans. On large systems it is beneficial to hold a TRR for each subsystem or line replaceable unit (LRU) before holding the system level TRR.
9.2.3 Test Architecture Definition and Test Plans and Procedures – The SITP defines the tests that are to be conducted to verify performance at appropriate levels of the system hierarchy. Having defined the tests and test flow it is necessary to define the test equipment and the plans and procedures to be used to conduct the tests. Different organizations may have different names for the documentation defining test equipment and plans. Here the document defining the test fixtures, test equipment and test software is called the Test Architecture Definition. The test architecture definition should include the test requirements traceability database and test system and subsystems specifications.
Test Plans define the approach to be taken in each test; i.e. what tests are to be run, the order of the tests, the hardware and software equipment to be used and the data that is to be collected and analyzed. Test Plans should define the entry criteria to start tests, suspension criteria to be used during tests and accept/reject criteria for test results.
Test Procedures are the detailed step by step documentation to be followed in carrying out the tests and documenting the test results defined in the Test Plans. Other terminologies include a System Test Methodology Plan that describes how the system is to be tested and a System Test Plan that describes what is to be tested. Document terminology is not important; what is important is defining and documenting the verification process rigorously.
Designing, developing and validating the test equipment and test procedures for a complex system is nearly as complex as designing and developing the system and warrants a thorough systems engineering effort. Neglecting to put sufficient emphasis or resources on these tasks can result in delays of readiness of the test equipment or procedures and risks serious problems in testing due to inadequate test equipment or processes. Sound systems engineering practices treat test equipment and test procedure development as deserving the same disciplined effort and modern methods as used for the system under development.
The complexity of system test equipment and system testing drives the need for disciplined system engineering methods and is the reason for developing test related documentation in the layers of SITP, Test Architecture Definition, Test Plans and finally Test Procedures. The lower complexity top level layers are reviewed and validated before developing the more complex lower levels. This approach abstracts detail in the top levels making it feasible to conduct reviews and validate accuracy of work without getting lost in the details of the final documentation.
The principle of avoiding having to redo anything that has been done before also applies to developing the Test Architecture Definition, Test Plans and Test Procedures. This means designing the system to be able to be tested using existing test facilities and equipment where this does not compromise meeting system specifications. When existing equipment is inadequate then strive to find commercial off the shelf (COTS) hardware and software for the test equipment. If it is necessary to design new special purpose test equipment then consider whether future system tests are likely to require similar new special purpose designs. If so it may be wise to use pattern base systems engineering for the test equipment as well as the system.
Where possible use test methodologies and test procedures that have been validated through prior use. If changes are necessary developing Test Plans and Procedures by editing documentation from previous system test programs is likely to be faster, less costly and less prone to errors than writing new plans. Sometimes test standards are available from government agencies.
9.2.4 Test Data Analysis – Data collected during systems tests often requires considerable analysis in order to determine if performance is compliant with requirements. The quantity and types of data analysis needed should be identified in the test plans and the actions needed to accomplish this analysis are to be included in the test procedures. Often special software is needed to analyze test data. This software must be developed in parallel with other system software since it must be integrated with test equipment and validated by the time the system completes integration. Also some special test and data analysis software may be needed in subsystem tests during integration. Careful planning and scheduling is necessary to avoid project delays due to data analysis procedures and software not being complete and validated by the time it is needed for system tests.

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