They slice. They dice. Is there anything modular instruments can’t do?

My recent column Prediction: Microwave coming to PXI – big time! has caused the most essential engineering question to be asked of me, “Are there any measurement limits to modular instruments, such as those in PXI or AXIe?” Or, put another way, is there some frequency too high or signal too small that a modular instrument can’t make the measurement?

A frequency too high? No. A signal too small? No.

AXIe and PXI

In my column here, I explain how engineers have destroyed the predictions of modular instrument limitations. Other than power constraints due to finite air cooling of modules, there are very few true technical barriers to modular instrumentation. You can thank an engineer for that.

By Larry DJ

All of NIWeek 2015 can be reduced to one diagram

NIWeek is National Instruments’ annual conference held every August in Austin, Texas, attracting some 3200 attendees. Flying from the cool mountains of Colorado, the Texas heat slapped me in the face as I stepped off the plane.

Pro tip: Don’t pack any jackets or sweaters if you come to NIWeek. In fact, don’t even pack long sleeve shirts if you plan to walk to the convention – or anywhere else! When you are in Austin in the summer, survival requires scurrying in the open sunlight as little as possible. The goal is to arrive at the NIWeek keynote each morning without looking like you just stumbled across the Sahara.

This blog examines the test and measurement industry from an architectural and business perspective, with a particular focus on modular instrumentation. NIWeek is always a revealing conference as NI unveils new products and applications. You can read my in-depth coverage of the Nokia/NI 5G prototyping system, demonstrated at NIWeek, here.

However, the 5G system was just one of a wide diversity of new applications and technologies shown at the conference. If I had to reduce NIWeek this year to just a single diagram, it would be this:

LabView RIO architecture

Admittedly, saying all of NIWeek can be reduced to the above LabView RIO (reconfigurable I/O) diagram is a bit of hyperbole. But just a bit. NI’s major announcements orbited around this diagram, as does much of their partner strategy.

To take a deeper look, read my complete column here.

By Larry DJ

NIWeek: Inside the Nokia/NI 5G system

This year I have a special interest in 5G communications. Frequent readers of Test Cafe blog know that I have recently written about 5G, and why modular instruments are well positioned architecturally to address the challenges of 5G. Architecturally yes, but without the mmWave (millimeter wave) instruments needed for the highest frequency 5G microwave bands. My most recent column made an unequivocal prediction: We will see modular microwave, and mmWave in particular, within 18 months. That is, by the end of 2016.

Perhaps I should have said 18 days.

As part of the Day 2 Keynote presentation at NIWeek, Nokia and NI demonstrated a “5G” 10Gb/s wireless link operating at 73GHz, architecturally based on PXI and LabView. For completeness, I should mention that Keysight Technologies had just announced a 5G channel sounding reference system, based on PXI and AXIe, a week earlier. I should have bought a lottery ticket the day I made that prediction! I hope to cover the Keysight system in a subsequent column. Today I will focus on the Nokia/NI system.

You won’t find any press releases or data sheets about the NI products behind the Nokia system. They are yet to be released as generally available products. However, NI was more than happy to showcase the system and describe how it operates.

So, as another Test Cafe exclusive, here’s the inside view of how the system is architected…

Inside the Nokia/NI 5G System

By Larry DJ

Prediction: Microwave coming to PXI – big time!

At the beginning of 2015, I identified five trends I’d be watching in 2015:

The open modular disruption
All things “RF”
Semiconductor test
Data converters drive instrument architecture
Empowering battery life

Well, I’ve been watching these items. From the trends I’ve seen from the first two topics, I’ve come to the conclusion that there will be more, much more, PXI microwave in the near future.

Prediction: By the end of 2016 we are likely to see PXI instrumentation up to the 60 GHz range, and we may see it sooner.

How many modular instruments (PXI and AXIe) are currently servicing the mmWave range?


Why is that? Are designs at these frequencies that much more complex, making it difficult to achieve in a modular architecture? Yes, higher frequencies result in more challenging designs, but that isn’t the root cause of the lack of mmWave instrumentation. The real root cause is that the fastest growing segment of the modular instrument market has been wireless communications, and those applications are anchored at 6 GHz and below. Therefore, this lower frequency range gets the bulk of the industry investments.

Now, all this is going to change…read the entire article here.

By Larry DJ

Merger-mania: Has test and measurement gone MAD?

Keysight acquiring Anite. Teradyne acquiring Universal Robotics. Cobham acquiring Aeroflex. Danaher splitting in two, divesting Tektronix. Has the industry gone MAD?

Yes, but not crazy mad or angry mad. MAD, as in mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures. The pace of MAD has recently accelerated. You can be forgiven if you feel you need a scorecard to keep track of the brands and products.

This column traditionally covers instrument architectures and industry moves. There are no bigger moves than mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures. I will give the low-down on four of them. So with that in mind, let’s look at the recent MAD activity, starting with Keysight and Anite.

Click here to go to complete article

By Larry DJ

Introduction to AXIe

If you’ve been reading about modular instruments, or speaking with one of several vendors that offer AXIe-compatible products, you may have come across the term “AXIe”. What is it? Where is it used? How is it different, or similar, to other instrument standards? How does it compare to PXI? If so, you’ve come to the right place. These are the questions I aim to answer in this introduction to AXIe.

Click here to read Introduction to AXIe

AXIe is a multivendor modular instrument standard. Here, an AXIe chassis is shown with AXIe modules from Cobham (Aeroflex), Guzik, Keysight, plus PXI modules via an adapter.

AXIe is a multivendor modular instrument standard. Here, an AXIe chassis is shown with AXIe modules from Cobham (Aeroflex), Guzik, Keysight, plus PXI modules via an adapter.

By Larry DJ

5G to disrupt the test equipment market

The coming 5G wave is set to not only disrupt the communications sector, but also the test equipment that serves it. While some traditional instrument product categories may be utilized in the development of 5G, the real heavy lifting will be performed by instrumentation not yet invented. The combinations of frequency, spectrum width, data rates, and multi-antenna architectures are simply not present in today’s instruments. But one thing is clear: modular instruments will play a primary enabling role for 5G.

Modular instruments, those based on PXI and AXIe, are well positioned to play a major role in the definition, design, manufacturing, and deployment of 5G systems. In fact, I make a bold observation: if you are a test vendor, and don’t have a modular strategy, you won’t be playing a serious role in 5G. To see what 5G is all about, and why modular form factors are a good match, read the entire article here.

By Larry DJ

Moore’s Law creates new test product categories. Expect that to continue

This year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Gordon Moore’s famous paper “Cramming more components onto integrated circuits”, the basis of Moore’s Law.  Remarkably enough, it was my college advisor who coined the phrase.

So what has Moore’s Law meant for test equipment and the associated industry? A lot. For one thing, an explosion of product categories, a trend that is likely to continue.

In my latest column I document the rise (and fall) of test and measurement product categories through each decade.  I also document the rise of new companies along with these categories: Teradyne, Advantest, Spirent and Ixia, to name a few.

What does the future hold?  5G wireless and IoT (Internet of Things) are ripe for spawning new test categories. It is challenging to predict exactly how this will play out, but the vendors that can foresee the changes and define these new categories will reap rich rewards.

You can read my entire column here.

By Larry DJ

Designing your first PXI test system? Start inside out.

I’ve written several tutorials in the past on how to integrate PXI and AXIe modular systems, and how to combine them with traditional instruments based on LXI. A key concept in doing so is to think inside out.

The specific steps are:
• Choosing modules and software
• Choosing the controller
• Choosing the chassis
• Final iteration and integration

I describe each step, and how each leads to narrowing your choices for the next steps.  You can read the entire tutorial here.

By Larry DJ

Porter’s 5 forces accelerate modular instruments

Last November I wrote about the recently released Frost and Sullivan report that predicted PXI to disrupt the automated test market going forward. Frost and Sullivan predicts PXI to grow at an aggregate growth rate of more than 17%, achieving $1.75B in annual sales by 2020. This is significantly more than the 3% secular growth rate of the test and measurement market. In fact, my arithmetic at the end of the column concludes that all the growth of automated test over the next several years is coming from PXI.

In that article, I stated that this matches my own estimates. In particular, if you combine Porter’s 5 forces with Nobel Laureate John Forbes Nash’s game theory mathematics, you can see the patterns that are igniting this disruptive change.

I’ve written about game theory in our sister publication EETimes. Give it a read to see how game theory explains industry structures. While game theory explains the actions of major players, Porter’s 5 forces explain the context of the industry, essentially the rules of the game. Today, I’m going to review the five forces, and how they collude to accelerate the modular disruption.

Michael Porter developed his five-force model to explain why different industries had different levels of competitiveness. It is a staple of any MBA curriculum. The five forces are:

• Competitors
• New entrants
• Substitute products
• Suppliers
• Customers

To read about Porter’s 5 forces, and specifically why they are colluding to cause the modular disruption, read the entire article here.

By Larry DJ