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T&M execs on the hot seat

Posted: 07 Feb 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:DesignCon 2012? test & measurement? crosstalk?

Test problems are becoming increasingly thorny and at DesignCon 2012 a panel probed leaders of the major test and measurement companies on a broad range of issues. Although the panelists were criticized that they were not doing enough to address the customers' toughest challenges, everyone agreed that test engineering increasingly involves multidiciplinary skills.

"There is some shortening of the technical waves as customers now look across multiple disciplines of software, silicon and physical-layer channelsand that pace is quickening," said Greg Peters, general manager of the component test division at Agilent Technologies.

"Engineers used to focus on just analog, digital or RFbut now it's all three at once," said Kevin Ilcisin, chief technology officer of Tektronix Inc. "When engineers were going through school they probably only focused on one domain, but now they are dealing with all three in their designs," he said.

"Engineers tend to forget the debug part of the cyclewe want to believe it's not going to be therebut you have to plan for it because it's probably one of the top reasons things fail to get to market on time," he added.

For customers verifying wireless SoCs "the interactions between all those embedded radios and protocols is very complex, involving multidisciplinary layers in the stack," said Eric Starkloff, vice president of systems platforms at National Instruments Corp.

In terms of their technologies, Agilent is the sole large test company to have its own fab where it uses unique III-VI processes for its analog chips. But the company also uses straight CMOS ADCs, said Peters.

Both LeCroy Corp. and Tektronix make their chips in IBM's silicon germanium process technology. The technology provides key "bandwidth, noise isolation and sample-rate capabilities," said Ilcisin. Tektronix has been working with IBM for 15 years.

From the audience, Ransom Stephens, a former test engineer turned speaker and consultant, chided the test vendors for not collaborating closely enough to solve thorny jitter and crosstalk problems.

"Our first cut at a crosstalk analysis tool is in the right direction," said David Graef, chief technology officer of LeCroy.

Measuring jitter is "a tough problem" said Peters. "The sources are driven by the physical structure of the channel, [but] I think you can drive [the process of tracking it down and eliminating it] back into the design process," he said.

Peters said data rates will clearly go "substantially higher" but predicted copper still has a long life ahead. "Every time someone predicts the death of FR4, someone else finds a way around the problems," he said.

- Rick Merritt
??EE Times

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