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Virtual instrumentation shapes up for industry demands

Posted: 02 Aug 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:virtual instrumentation test systems?

Benchtop test equipment are here to stay, while virtual instrumentation test systems will push for more market acceptance as it continues to adapt to the changing needs of today's industry. That, in a nutshell, was a major key observation raised by Y.H. Goh during his seminar on "Optimizing Test Applications with PXI and PCI Modular Instruments" held recently at Muntinlupa City, Philippines.

Goh, a field sales engineer at National Instruments, believes that as the semiconductor and electronics industry continues to cater the flurry of evolving device functionalities in consumer electronic devices, the demand for more accurate and precise test equipment would also take shape.

The Philippine market has been exposed to virtual instrumentation technology as early as 2003. Top OEM and EMS firms in the archipelago have been adapting virtual instrumentation technologies in their test and manufacturing labs at a very significant rate. "Recently, I've been seeing a lot of companies that are coming to NI to look for solutions that are solely computer-based," said Goh. "I would say that the growth and awareness of the Philippines with regard to virtual instrumentation is growing tremendously. It's a good sign, not just for us but for other test equipment providers as well," he added.

Aside from the Philippines, virtual instrumentation technologies are also currently being embraced by most of its neighboring markets particularly mainland China, Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, Singapore and Japan, among others. The setting is perfect in Asia, said Goh, because most countries in the region are into design and manufacturing; thus, they need test systems that could allow them to have accurate and precise timing measurements as well as fast test time throughputs. "If these companies would be able to adapt virtual instrumentation systems, then they would be able to keep an efficient track of test measurements in a fast and easy manner," Goh said.

But as the shift to virtual instrumentation become more prevalent in the region, Goh said this will not totally phase out the existence of traditional benchtop test systems in the market. "There are still some prevailing instruments that are not available in the modular technology form (i.e. 10GHz spectrum analyzers for generators). So definitely you will still see quite a number of companies who will be using benchtops in their test labs."

NI, a worldwide provider of test and measurement equipment, is a major proponent of virtual instrumentation. At the recent NI seminar, Goh introduced the basic functions and advantages of the company's new PXI and PCI modular instrumentation test systems. The PXI and PCI module provides a number of individual test functions-such as a digital multimeter, oscilloscope, function generator, as well as high-speed digital, RF and audio analyzers-that allows test cycles to run in a very short span of time.

The PXI-6552 100MHz digital waveform generator and analyzer has a 20-pin I/O controller and generates a programmable voltage level of -2 to 5.5V at 10mV resolution. The digital waveform editor creates standard and unique waveforms and uses an interface software that is compatible to a variety of simulation and spreadsheet tools. The PXI-5421 16bit, 100MS/s arbitrary waveform generator, on the other hand, creates an exceptional time and frequency domain performance. Its smart software waveform generator provides easy standard and user-defined waveform creation and has more than 24 modulation formats and impairments. Moreover, its deep flexible onboard memory generates powerful sequencing and triggering modes and can store over 2 million instructions or waveform segments.

Running under PXI standards technology, NI's new integrated modular platforms uses an operating system, specifically Windows XP, to become more adaptable to any desktop or mobile PC environment. Moreover, virtual testing for a particular device under test is done using LabView's software environment. Its interconnection peripherals, meanwhile, utilizes PCI bus interfaces-allowing high-speed data transfers at about 132MBps.

However, as high-speed interconnects are slowly evolving into different forms-such as PCI Express, serial RapidIO, Rapid Fabric etc.-compatibility and interoperability issues may become a resounding issue. Companies like Intel, who are accelerating their efforts in PCI Express, are adapting these new architectural changes in desktop and mobile PCs. Canadian-based Tundra Semiconductor, on the other hand, hovers its new interconnect technologies using sRIO.

Goh believes that such changes-whether in bus architectures or the entire PC design-should be considered more positive rather than a 'threat'. He believes these changes would all the more provide a leverage for virtual instrumentation systems to move a step higher in the test and measurement arena.

"I believe that changes will be made," opines Goh. Essentially, virtual instrumentation platforms have become popular in the test and measurement realm because it always copes up with the changes that technology is adapting. "Therefore, if bus architectures improve, NI would be able to attain interface connections that could provide higher data throughputs rather than just being content or complacent on whatever technology we have right now-it's a good thing," Goh said.

- Rey Buan Jr.

Electronic Engineering Times-Asia

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