Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Making Academia Entrepreneurial With T&M Equipment

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Solaikutty Dhanabal, academic manager with National Instruments, recalls his time as a student when his batch mates had to frequently visit IIT Madras to use a 1GHz high-speed oscilloscope for their project as their institute lacked the one. Taking note of such requirements, test and measurement (T&M) manufacturers have ventured into the academic field to provide solutions for future designers and researchers. They aim to make test and measurement instruments familiar in all the government institutes, private as well as deemed colleges. Ultimately, it is the practical work and proper testing that add value to any research project.

Making headway with upgrades

T&M instruments are used in different disciplines of engineering and research. These also find wide applications in biotechnology.

Instruments like handheld multimeters, benchtop multimeters, AC power supplies, DC power supplies, analogue and digital oscilloscopes, LCR meters and frequency counters are widely used. However, T&M equipment for research purposes are very domain-focused, say, RF-wireless, microwave, photonics, semiconductors and the like.

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While there are many instruments, industry experts suggest use of upgraded ones relevant to the industry needs. This will not only give students hands-on experience in new test machines but also make them up-to-date with industry requirements. For instance, portable equipment are believed to replace the existing benchtop products.

Many T&M providers have started imparting training at academic institutions to provide students with elementary knowledge about the industry fundamentals. And as the industry advances to Industry 4.0, institutes are also preparing the students as future designers by providing them industry training early in the semester. This would accelerate productivity and discovery as students get practical exposure to the theory included in the course.

USB modular equipment (Image courtesy: www.mcd-elektronik.com)
USB modular equipment (Image courtesy: www.mcd-elektronik.com)

USB modular device replacing the conventional equipment

There are projects that students need to manage irrespective of the location. In such situations, a USB portable device comes handy as it is handheld and easier to use than conventional equipment.

The concept is to connect USB modular devices like oscilloscopes, function generators, waveform generators, power supplies and digital multimeters with one single system to download the algorithm on the system and access it anywhere. Some manufacturers provide all-in-one USB oscilloscope, multimeter and workstation.

USB-powered T&M equipment are taking the market by storm as these cost less than conventional test equipment. Those featuring USB 3.0 incorporate an increased number of logic gates (five million), which allows them to give highly accurate results and serve multiple functions.

Above all, USB modular equipment reduce power consumption to a large extent. These work more like a smart mobile that can be used continuously and left in working condition for more number of days till the testing completes.

Conventional equipment like AC power supplies start emitting a large amount of heat and may get damaged down the lane if run for up to six hours a day.

A design engineer from a reputed LED light manufacturing firm cites the incidence of an AC power supply from a reputed manufacturing source breaking down—despite it having a proper fan ventilation in-built—when it was kept on for an hour a day regularly.

Other upgrades in T&M equipment for academia include improved bitrate of oscilloscopes, whether USB modular or benchtop. The sample rate has rescaled to 10MSa/s and the resolution is now 12 bits.

Test and measurement for the IoT

In this era of the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence, most applications are cloud based, open, modular and programmable. And the industry majors are working on the smart city project as part of Digital India initiative. Wireless equipment are now all-in-one solutions that use connectivity formats such as ZigBee, Bluetooth Low Energy, WiMAX and GPRS/EDGE/GSM.

The bandwidth of wireless test equipment has increased from 1Mbps to 10Gbps. The more the bandwidth, the fewer the chances of data loss and higher the chances of data retention. The functioning is in real time, so it is easy to capture the data and signals. Moreover, as the speed is high, continuous buffering is possible without loss. Results are displayed in PDF and JPEG formats.

Students working on smart-city projects need real-time data and extensive test and measurement techniques to get near-perfect results. Smartphone apps help them directly derive data from the test equipment and prepare reports in real time.

Analyser for optical fibre technology

Neeraj Dhawan, owner of Invas Technologies, shares that as the government is pushing the installation of optical fibre network across the country, research institutes are also training their students with test equipment for measuring the performance and capability of optical fibres.

Chromatic dispersion analyser is one such instrument that tests optical fibre channels in parallel. Institutes like IIT Kharagpur are completely focused on optical fibre test. Such institutes have tie-ups with the government to carry out fibre quality tests in their laboratory.

Chromatic dispersion analyser has been designed to test whether 100Gbps capacity can be carried in a single channel of optical fibre.

Portable spectrum analysers and logic analysers

Traditional spectrum analysers and logic analysers have also been replaced with portable equipment, which are easily accessible to researchers and students.

Dhanabal says that accessing FM radio waves, finding errors in them, changing the algorithms and coding was never better before portable equipment.

Comeback of analogue oscilloscopes

“Although educational institutes are moving towards smarter approach, conventional analogue oscilloscopes are not yet obsolete,” says Manish Joshi, deputy CEO at Scientech Technology.

While a few manufacturers have ceased upgrading it, there are striking changes coming up, like TFT displays now showing voltage/division and time/division. Also, the working frequency of oscilloscopes has more than doubled the existing 20MHz.

Suman Murali Krishnan, a research associate from IIT Delhi, computer science engineering department, informs that they use a digital oscilloscope with voltage/timing analysis and USB interface with PC for data acquisition and analysis and for current measurement. IIT Delhi lab is an interdisciplinary lab with both electronic and mechanical equipment.

To sum up

In the future, experts expect to have a library for equipment as well. It would be similar to a book-library where the students will be able to borrow an equipment and return it after their work completes. It is an out-of-the-box concept. Also, students will have a forum to discuss these equipment. This smart approach will motivate students and researchers and help them develop skillset for the industry.


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