Jan. 13, 2022 - Hemant Dhanrajani, Crestron's engineering VP, oversees a staff of more than 120 people in the U.S. and India.
Dhanrajani's boss, Crestron COO Daniel Brady, explains: "His job — with every product — is to find the weaknesses at the very beginning of the process at the software and firmware level. It's an iterative process: Every day, his people are running automated tests that are designed to exploit any bug or failure, and figure out how to fix it."
But how do you know what tests to run? How do you know what potential weaknesses might exist, and how does one target them? That's the art of Dhanrajani's mission. "It starts with the customer," he notes. "And in order for me to deliver quality to the customer, I need to understand who my customer is." Dhanrajani consults with his team, and they develop a user profile based on everything from age to geography, accounting for factors from culture to climate. "One we understand that, it becomes very easy for me to then build my test cases, build my test scenarios — positive and negative scenarios —above and beyond what a customer will do."
Those scenarios try to break more than software and include the physical effects of repeated use: It's a process called "accelerated lifetime testing." "We run simulations that puts a product through 10,000 power cycles or a hundred thousand reboots," says Dhanrajani.
Another phase of the process is ensuring that the hardware and software interact as they should. "Every time that I plug the cable into my laptop to make a presentation, does the software recognize what's happening?" says Dhanrajani. "Why is that important? Because when we are selling these products to a Microsoft or a Johnson and Johnson, they don't have one product in their facility. They have hundreds of products, sometimes thousands of the products across multiple facilities, and every single room in that enterprise has to work every single time they plug something in."
"We've got robotics that simulate human movement very accurately."
- Christopher Angello, Crestron
Simulating Ten Years of Use in Two Weeks
Dhanrajani works in concert with the Senior Director of Quality Assurance, Christopher Angello. Angello's responsible for ensuring that everything from raw materials to completed devices are top notch. "Depending on the device Angello and his team will simulate a three-to-ten-year period of user actions in just two weeks," says Dhanrajani.
"Let me give you an example," says Angello. "We manufacture retractors that pull a cable back when you press a button. How many times should you be able to use it without the cable failing?" Through their research — feedback from actual end users — that particular device needs to pass the 5,000-use mark without breaking down. "To do that — or any other action — we've got robotics that simulate the human movement very accurately," Angello explains.
Buttons are pushed repeatedly, too — and a test like that opens up other considerations, all of which go back to Dhanrajani's customer profile. "People of different ages type at different speeds," he explains. "Can the product account for a variety of users?" This is where design — creating the proper user experience — intersects with product testing. "Is a button the right color? If it's a product for the home, is it placed and lit properly on the device so it can be found intuitively in the middle of night?" Dhanrajani adds.
There are cultural concerns at work, here, too as Dhanrajani explains: "We also test the translations. All of our user interfaces get translated into many different languages across the world. So we have to make sure that what we say in English doesn't offend anybody when it gets converted to the Arabic language or Japanese or Chinese."
"We go to a third party, independent hacking penetration company — and we tell them to hack our world."
- Hemant Dhanrajani, Crestron
Cookers and Chillers: Can the Screens Survive?
Products also get dropped, beaten, frozen, and baked. Why are these devices subjected to torments that go well beyond worst-case scenarios in an average conference room? Simply put: the devices are shipped globally, and conditions on trucks and boats, from temperature swings to vibrations to humidity, can be extreme. "We'll heat a packaged product to 40 C degrees at 85% relative humidity for 72 hours," says Angello. "Then we lower the humidity and take the heat to 60 C for another 72 hours. After that, the temp drops to 40 below — after all, 30 below isn't uncommon for a truck traveling through Edmonton, for example." Tests are run in and out of packaging to imitate a variety of issues, too. Angello adds, "If the screen's not popping out of a product after all that expansion and contraction, we know we've got the right processes in place."
There are levels of stringency that account for other environmental factors, too — will the product be exposed to the elements, such as those one might encounter on an open deck on a yacht? From salt to sunlight to storms full of hail, machines are subjected to tests that certify they'll surpass the standards dictated by various applications.
Dhanrajani's team is also ensuring the devices are as secure as possible when it comes to digital threats. With more connectivity — from ethernet ports to Wi-Fi® to Bluetooth® — comes more windows of opportunity for bad actors. After attempts are made to hack a device in-house, Dhanrajani says, "We go to a third party, independent hacking penetration company — and we tell them to hack our world. And I'm very proud report that we continue to pass these very stringent tests by those third-party firms."
"Governments around the world want to prevent spurious radio emissions that could interfere with other appliances."
- Daniel Brady, Crestron
Corralling the Radio Waves
There are electromagnetic and anechoic chambers in the testing mix, too. "Governments around the world want to prevent spurious radio emissions that could interfere with other appliances," explains Daniel Brady. "Every product needs to be able to contain its own radio transmissions, so there's a lot that goes into creating the right gasketing for any metal enclosure. Imagine if you walk into a conference room and the Air Media behind the screen starts interfering with your cell phone? We've got to avoid that at all costs."
What may be most unusual about Crestron's testing procedure is that the bulk of it occurs at the firm's facilities in northern New Jersey. "Just about every company in the world sends their products out to third parties for these processes," says Brady. Beyond the aforementioned hacking firms, the vast majority of tests are performed in dedicated spaces at HQ. "It's about ROI, sure, but it's also so we have complete quality control from end-to-end."
As if all of these wasn't tough enough, Crestron has partners — partners who need to certify that certain products meet their standards, too. "That's dictated by people like Microsoft or Zoom," says Brady. "Microsoft Teams dictates what the requirements are for the audio from a microphone perspective, what the volume specifications are, sound pressure specifications, cameras, lenses, name it. All of that needs to be supported by Hemant and his team. It all has to go to a lab at Microsoft and they have to test it themselves before our product is certified."