National Instruments ups PXI game to Gen 3

In my blog, I cover the happenings in the test-and-measurement market from an industry and architectural perspective. You can find plenty of product announcements elsewhere in EDN. At Test Cafe, it is the architecture that counts—and what it may mean for you, the test engineer. Recently I covered the future of bench instrumentation and likely form factors. I’ve covered acquisitions too, and how that affects strategies of the test vendors. Sometimes, specific product announcements trigger my interest.

Such is the case with the latest PXI introduction from National Instruments. NI has just announced the first Gen 3 PXI embedded controller and chassis in the industry. Gen 3 refers to the speed of the PCIe (PCI Express) backplane data fabric that is inherent to PXI.

There’s more than just Gen 3 that contributes to NI’s speed jump. If you have the need for speed, brew yourself an espresso, and read the entire article here.

By Larry DJ

DesignCon and the future of bench instrumentation

Frequent readers of the Test Cafe blog know my focus on the disruption caused by modular instruments. Led by PXI, modular instruments are rapidly gaining share in automated test applications, typically concentrated on the manufacturing floor.

Conversely, if there is one place where traditional “box” instruments shine, it is the electrical designer’s lab bench. But is that still true? I went to DesignCon, the quintessential show for the design engineer, to find out.  I focused on what bench instruments looked like at the show. I’ve asked the question, “Do bench instruments need knobs and displays?” and received a wide range of opinions as feedback. Now it was time to wander into the land of oscilloscopes and pattern generators to see for myself!

I went to the booths of eight vendors, and matched them to five human interface paradigms. The vendors were Keysight, Tektronix, Teledyne LeCroy, Rohde & Schwarz, National Instruments, Introspect, SHF, and Anritsu.  The paradigms ranged from traditional bench instruments to PXI or AXIe modular products with remote controllers and displays. I also interviewed each of the eight vendors, and then summarized all my findings.  This article is actually a pretty good example of primary research.

To read my summary, you need to click through my tour here.

I followed up this primary research with an analysis of why different vendors made different choices, and what the trends would be. You can read that follow-up analysis here.

Be sure to read the two articles in order to get the full context.

By Larry DJ

5 Test Trends I’ll Be Watching in 2015

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Happy 2015!

A colleague once remarked to me, “Test and measurement moves at a glacial rate.” I’ve expropriated this saying many times. Not to dismiss change—just the opposite. The slower pace of change compared to the consumer electronics industry hides the very real trends that are occurring. For professionals in the industry, not recognizing these can be deadly. Like a frog in a heated kettle, one moment is like the next, but you still end up as grenouille served with a glass of rose.

I’ve identified five key trends I’ll be keeping a special eye on this year. They are:

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

To see my observations on each, go to the full article here.

By Larry DJ

Frost and Sullivan forecast: PXI to disrupt automated test

Frequent readers of my blog know that I am bullish on modular instruments, such as PXI or AXIe. This column has pointed out the many benefits modular instrumentation brings- higher speed, smaller size, flexibility, all leading to a lower cost of test. Combine that with industry dynamics that couple Porter’s 5 forces with Nobel Laureate John Forbes Nash’s game theory mathematics, and you have the making of a disruptive change in the marketplace. PXI, in particular, is destined to grow big. But how big?

Along comes Frost & Sullivan with their PXI market forecast. And it is stunning. They predict PXI to achieve $1.75B in annual sales by 2020, up from $563M in 2013. That’s an aggregate growth rate of over 17%. Not bad for an industry that has an overall secular growth rate of 3 percent.

I spoke with the author of the report, Jessy Cavazos. She describes the five major forces causing the disruption. Read my analysis of the study here.

By Larry DJ

The 5 standards that rule our industry

If you are integrating a test system, you will need to communicate between the test system controller and the instruments. The days where GP-IB was the default choice are long gone, and five new standards now reign. For traditional instruments, GP-IB has been largely replaced by LAN, based on the LXI protocols. The strongest growth has come from modular instruments driven by PXI, but also consisting of VXI and AXIe. And you are likely to use software drivers managed by the IVI Foundation.

I review what is new LXI, PXI, VXI, AXIe, and IVI here.

By Larry DJ

Live from Autotest: Keysight sets sights on modular instruments

Autotest, the show formerly known as Autotestcon, kicks off this Tuesday in St. Louis. And your humble correspondent is on the scene. The news alerts are already piling up, so I’ve covered the event in a different way from before. I’ll publish this column, highlighting what is the biggest news so far, and then add comments below as I discover more. So, return to this column and read the comments to get the latest news.

The biggest news from the show that changed its name comes from a company that also changed its name. Keysight Technologies, formerly known as Agilent test and measurement, has announced a new and very impressive salvo of PXI and AXIe products. Have no doubt about it, as I wrote in Battle of the Titans, Keysight is making big investments to take the leadership in modular RF.  Big announcements include a 65Gs/s AWG, a single slot 2-port PXI VNA, and a new PXI VSA. Plus one more thing that wasn’t officially announced…

To see what Keysight is up to, as well as others at Autotest, go here.

By Larry DJ

AXIe-0: The inside story of a new modular instrument standard

There’s a new modular instrument standard announced! It’s called “AXIe Zero”, titled “Low Cost Instrument and Switch Architecture”, and written as AXIe-0. Like Coke Zero, AXIe-0 is the diet version of its namesake, AXIe. But instead of cutting calories, AXIe-0 cuts cost and complexity.

I’m going to tell you about it. But before I do, I need to give you full disclosure. I led the technical committee that designed it.

From day one our goal was to meet two objectives. The first objective was to create a standard that would significantly lower the cost of modular instrumentation and switching solutions. Our second objective was complete upward compatibility to AXIe-1, the mainstream standard. This is why we called it AXIe-0; it was a subset of the existing AXIe-1 specification.

I am happy to report that AXIe-0 meets both goals.  To read me summary of what this new spec is all about, go here.

By Larry DJ

NI enters semi test market. Beginning of the end for big-iron ATE?

NI Week in early August marks the annual migration of National Instrument (NI) users to Austin, Texas to learn about the latest products and applications. Joining them are a myriad of NI partners, and me – your humble correspondent. Last year I wrote about NI’s strategy being the quintessential platform play. By rigorous alignment to a few key platforms, NI is able to address an impressively wide set of applications. For automated testing, those platforms are essentially PXI and LabView. Those insights on NI’s strategy are just as relevant today, so if you need a primer, you can find it here.

While the weather for this NI Week was cooler than years before, the product introductions remained hot. Top of the list was NI’s entry into semiconductor ATE.

Whoa! You read that right. NI is joining the ranks of Advantest and Teradyne in offering solutions for semiconductor testing, both for design validation and manufacturing. As a side note, your humble correspondent is feeling a little less humble today, as I suggested modular-based testers would do exactly this in 2012, and most recently in 2013.

To read my entire column, along with a surprise interview with NI CEO James Truchard, just click here.

3 NI STS Systems

By Larry DJ

Top 5 automation interfaces every test engineer should know

So you are designing a new test system.  Which controller interfaces should you use? What are the trade-offs between them? In this article, I discuss the “Top 5” automation interfaces every test engineer should know. They are:

  1. GP-IB
  2. LAN
  3. USB
  4. PCI Express
  5. Embedded controllers

That’s the list, but to see the attributes of each, you’ll have to read the column here


By Larry DJ

Engineers Should Study Finance: 5 Reasons Why

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I’m a big proponent of engineers learning financial basics. Why? Because engineers are making decisions all the time, in multiple ways. Having a good financial understanding guides these decisions better.

Even if an engineer remains as an individual contributor as opposed to going into management, experienced engineers often become thought leaders in their organizations, involved in project priorities and strategic direction.

But when engineers do move up the management chain, financial understanding becomes critical. Portfolio mix, gross margin, and pricing are all elements that have to come together to have a sustainable and growing business.

Here are five examples where engineers, or engineering managers, can benefit by good financial understanding.  Can you answer case study #5?  Go to column.

By Larry DJ