Saturday, February 24, 2024

Test & Measurement: Exciting Times Ahead

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What’s coming
If the last decade is anything to go by, the next one holds tremendous promise for the test and measurement industry.

“We will see ultra-high-speed networks making it possible to access all the content from the Web online. This could make test and measurement platform-independent and available through the provider’s portal as a service harnessing the power of multiple connected systems to perform complex measurements and analysis. Perhaps, a more modular app like system would be the order of the day with minimal footprint on the client device and demand-based selection of features online,” says Yasir Fahim, general manager, ADInstruments.

 [stextbox id=”info” caption=”Key challenges for manufacturers”]

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1. Lack of electronic devices, discrete or embedded, indigenously available
2. Hybrid equipment thwarting the sales of discrete testers
3. Constantly evolving standards and technology, particularly in wireless
4. Growing rental market restraining the sale volumes
5. Heavy influx of imports, especially low-value products
6. Misperception about the use of T&M instruments
7. Lack of qualified, trained hardware and RF engineers
8. Price-sensitive customers and hence price constraints
9. High initial investments
10. Trading more profitable than manufacture under present policies
11. In-house demand volumes are very small
12. Lack of motivation and favourable policies from the government

—Neelam K. Kumar, Executive Director, Aplab Limited, India

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New human interface devices like touch, gesture and speech recognition will take centre stage, making it possible to analyse data like never before. “Touchscreen panels and ultra-portability are expected to translate into significant leaps forward for the test and measurement industry,” says Mohammed Ghouse, country manager (business communication), Scientech Technologies.

Wireless sensing will get further refined and more accurate. Technologies such as wireless charging for telemetrical probes will establish in the mainstream right down to the consumer electronics level.

According to Mrs Kumar, “Demand for synthetic instrumentation (with high performance, less footprint, ruggedness, high levels of integration, faster testing, flexibility and reconfigurability) is probably the next big wave in T&M.”

Ultra-fast I-V sourcing and measurement capabilities are becoming increasingly critical for many technologies, including compound semiconductors, medium-power devices, non-volatile memories, micro-electromechanical devices (MEMS), nano devices, solar cells and CMOS devices as well as high-power discrete or so-called high-brightness LEDs. Using pulsed I-V signals to characterise devices rather than DC signals makes it possible to study or reduce the effects of self-heating (joule heating) or to minimise current drifting in measurements due to trapped charge.

Transient I-V measurements allow scientists and engineers to capture ultra-high-speed current or voltage waveforms in the time domain or study dynamic test circuits. Pulsed sourcing can be used to stress test a device using an AC signal during reliability cycling or in a multi-level waveform mode to program/erase memory devices.

Z23_Caddo-iseries-new
Caddo iSeries by Scientech Technologies

Emerging 3G and 4G communications standards are driving investment in the performance products and mainstream embedded applications are increasing in demand.

Spectrum analysers are also seeing an increase in demand as needs for greater wideband performance in radar and spectrum management increase, particularly in intelligence, regulatory monitoring and defence applications.

Manufacturers face challenges, though
81F_Mahjor-Contributors-newThe challenges before T&M manufacturers can be summarised in three words—smaller, faster and cheaper. In other words, their products must be able to characterise ever-smaller components more quickly and less expensively. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the development of instrumentation for nanotechnology research.

Nanotechnology has the potential to improve our quality of life in diverse ways, such as faster electronics, huge memory/storage capacities for PCs, cheaper energy through more efficient energy conversion, and improved security through the development of nanoscale bio- and chemical-detection systems. However, before these new technologies become commercial realities, researchers must be able to characterise nano material and device properties quickly and accurately.

Electrical characterisation is essential to gain insight into phenomena that occur beneath the surface of nano materials. For example, gate dielectrics in advanced semiconductors can have a physical thickness of less than one nanometre; the performance of these dielectrics can be predicted only by evaluating their equivalent electrical thickness. Similar considerations apply to carbon nanotubes, silicon wires and graphene—the basis for many nano innovations.

One of the main challenges in electrical characterisation of nano materials and structures is dealing with ultra-low signal levels. Another challenge is the wide range of behaviour that these materials and components can exhibit. For example, polymer materials can have resistances greater than one gigaohm. However, when drawn into fibres less than 100 nm in diameter and doped with various nanoparticles, a polymer may be changed from a superb insulator into a highly conductive wire. The result is an extremely wide range of test signals.

Detecting tiny electrical signals at the low end of the range requires high-sensitivity, high-resolution instruments such as electrometers, picoammeters and nanovoltmeters. Also, using these instruments for high-level signals as well demands instruments with a very wide dynamic range.

T&M manufacturers are also faced with the challenge of a shorter turnaround time. With the turnaround time (concept to design to volume production) increasingly becoming shorter due to the market competition, new and efficient methods of verifying the integrity and quality of handsets and similar products are required by all handset makers. With elements of design regularly being developed in different places, it is important to have common industry-standard test tools that enable groups to share information and resolve problems quickly. The quickening rate of technology changes means a faster cycle time for new products entering the verification stage.

High-volume manufacturing requires innovations from T&M vendors so as to lower the test costs. Handset manufacturers demand solutions that can help them reach the market faster with a lower cost of testing and consequently a lower cost of production.

India: Still a costly affair
“There are already a few Indian T&M companies having their manufacturing base in India, while it is not the case for MNCs. In India, the import duty on raw materials is still high and therefore importing the finished goods is cheaper than locally producing them. As the Indian T&M market is still taking the shape and India is yet to be known as one of the best places for EMS, setting up manufacturing facility in India may be a costly affair for any global T&M maker,” says Sumit Sharma, marketing manager-India, Good Will Instrument.

Need of the hour
There are a few steps that can be taken to help India become the R&D hub for T&M equipment.

Naresh Narasimhan, country marketing manager, Tektronix India, says, “Companies are looking at world-class manufacturing and lean manufacturing techniques to reduce the production costs so that the benefits can be passed on to the end-user. Having said this, the infrastructure should be improved tremendously. Besides, the government should change its policies and automation should be considered. Components and sub-systems required for manufacturing, like chassis/power supply modules, should be made available at zero duty. Excise duty and sales tax for electronic test equipment (presently 8.24 and 12.5 per cent, respectively) should be brought down. Finally, more manufacturing units from support industries like plastic moulding units for quality cabinet design and manufacturing are needed.”


The author is executive editor at EFY

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