What T&M manufacturers have on offer?
The new-age challenges can be met through improved functionality, ease of use, greater performance and seamless interoperability. T&M companies play a critical role in advancing progress on all these fronts. Typically, test engineers face the challenges of reducing development time and costs, increasing productivity, and reducing maintenance and upgradation costs. By combining powerful, flexible software such as National Instruments’ LabVIEW with modular hardware, test engineers can easily build flexible, scalable and customisable solutions that allow them to reduce development time, save costs, increase efficiency and productivity, and design higher-quality products. With this graphical programming environment, they can rapidly and cost-effectively interface with measurement and control hardware, analyse data, share results and distribute systems.

New-generation T&M and monitoring tools help engineers accelerate the performance of computing and networking through high-speed serial technologies; apply digital RF technologies to create flexible wireless networks and mobile devices; incorporate embedded systems that are becoming pervasive; and facilitate the rapid proliferation of high-quality video through multiple digital formats and channels.

For instance, Tektronix claims to have come up with a new generation of measurement tools including the world’s fastest, most capable oscilloscopes, logic analysers for real-time digital systems analysis, the world’s first real-time spectrum analysers capable of visualising a live RF spectrum revealing signal anomalies, the fastest arbitrary signal sources to test design margins, mixed-signal oscilloscopes useful for embedded designs, the most complete set of video solutions (from content production to automated content quality control, and monitoring of video transmissions to ensure the best possible viewing experience), and network diagnostic and management solutions that cover fixed, mobile, IP and converged multi-service networks.

As the bandwidths used are increasing, the T&M instruments should be capable of handling high-bandwidth applications. Most of the customers in the telecom sector work on multiple technologies at a time, so the T&M instruments have to provide the facility to upgrade and install new options easily. These also need to be equipped with a selection of interfaces like GPIB LAN and USB to facilitate connection with other instruments; e.g., for remote control.

Wireless/telecom solutions need software-defined-radio (SDR) architecture with typical signal bandwidth of 40 MHz and modular instruments supporting multiple input/multiple output (MIMO) configurations, hence putting different RF sources and analysers tightly synchronised together. Of course, all this needs to be supported with a powerful GUI and user software.

Keithley offers vector signal analysers 2800-series and vector signal generators 2900-series with signal bandwidth of 40 MHz (80 MHz), ranging up to 6 GHz. Both instruments are configurable in MIMO systems up to 8-by-8 (eight analysers and eight generators). A powerful software package for signal generation, analysis and simulation complements the offering.

Agilent U1253A true-RMS OLED multimeter
Agilent U1253A true-RMS OLED multimeter

For semiconductors, the major challenges are integrated pulsing, while eliminating self-heating effects, a wide dynamic measurement range from femto-amperes to 10’s of amperes and similar dynamic measurement ranges for voltages.

Keithley has developed Source Meter 2600A Series, which supports pulsing with range of different ampere and volt ratings. Or, the 4200-SCS semiconductor characterisation system, which supports pulsing, with integrated scope and capacitance-voltage measurement function. All instruments can be integrated under a powerful GUI called ‘advanced characterisation suit.’

Good Will Instrument has announced powerful and affordable GDS-1000A series DSOs featuring 1GSa/s sampling and 2M point memory. The family of three includes the members of 60MHz, 100MHz and 150MHz bandwidth, respectively. Without a tedious menu tree to deal with 2M point memory waveform, GDS-1000A gives a user-friendly operation procedure to expand any part of the waveform and display it in detail on the screen. Just use the horizontal position knob to move the zoom range sideways, and time base knob to change the zoom range. Press ‘window zoom’ and the expanded waveform is there.

Yokogawa claims to be the only company in the world to provide 8-channel, 500MHz DSOs. Its WT200 series digital power meters measure low powers, making them suitable for sub-watt applications like solar, LED panel, automotive, robotics, fuel-cell and space technologies.

Significant trends
As the global economic climate places additional constraints on budgets, test engineers are challenged to identify ways to test devices more efficiently than ever before. National Instruments has identified three trends—software-defined instrumentation, parallel processing technologies and new methods for wireless and semiconductor test—that will significantly improve the efficiency of test and measurement systems in 2009. These trends help engineers develop faster and more flexible automated test systems while reducing their overall cost of test, and companies worldwide and from all industry segments are seeing significant benefits from applying these methods and technologies.

Engineers are using software-defined instrumentation to achieve new levels of measurement performance and lower test costs by applying the latest technological advancements such as multicore processing and FPGAs in their test systems to meet the demands of new application areas such as wireless and protocol-aware test. The quick return on investment from these benefits is contributing significantly to the mainstream adoption of software-defined instrumentation.

[stextbox id=”info” caption=”Major contributors to this report”]1. Klaus Leutbecher, managing director-Europe/India, Keithley Instruments
2. Jayaram Pillai, managing director for India, Russia & Arabia, National Instruments
3. Yatish Mohan, managing director and head, Rohde-Schwarz
4. Naresh Narasimhan, country marketing manager, Tektronix India
5. Gautam Awasthi, general manager-marketing, Electronics Measurement Group, Agilent Technologies
6. Vasudev Tantry, general manager, Anritsu India Branch Office
7. Sandeep Sharma, DGM-operations, The Tinsley Group Ltd (India)
8. R. Thirumalaisami, head of test and measurement for Yokogawa test & measuring products, Yokogawa India
9. Anil G. Chowta, director, FALCON
10. Thomas Lin, application engineer-marketing department, Good Will Instrument Co.
11. Rajan Arora, team leader (testing), Barco Electronics Systems
12. Zakir Hussain, CEO-Instruments Division, Glorious Electronics
13. Wayne Kerr Electronics[/stextbox]
By making test and measurement devices software based one can do a lot more with them than otherwise. Software adds innumerable advantages such as flexibility, customisability, scalability, re-use, ease of use, low maintenance, faster development, reduced time-to-market, and all this contributes to reducing engineering costs in many different ways. More and more features and capabilities are being added by upgrading the device software rather than the hardware. This helps in keeping the costs down.

Consistent hardware and software concept. The reuse of the tester hardware, tester software and test routines in all phases of the development process—from the first software module test to the conformance tests and regression tests, as well as for optimising performance, delivers optimum results.

Better test coverage through automation. Most tests can be fully automated if necessary. This approach allows users to perform a large number of tests for the various versions of the mobile phone software. This increases test throughput.

Multitechnology solution. With mobile phones supporting several technologies on a single device, it is desirable that the testing equipment also support multiple technologies on a single box.

The future
For most of the general-purpose measurements the old instruments work just fine. But for testing new applications, which place a stringent requirement on such parameters as power, bandwidth and speed, the design engineers will need to upgrade to new instruments.

A migration is expected from older T&M technologies to newer and more advanced technologies. One example is LXI or LAN extension for instrumentation slowly replacing GPIB or general-purpose instrumentation bus. There is a natural application space for new instruments, e.g., semiconductor technologies, nano and organic materials, solar cells and MEMS to name a few.

Companies will move towards availing T&M services rather than purchase of T&M. Most of the T&M manufacturers are not geared up to meet this requirement as this would require a major shift in their policy of approach to the market.

If we talk about sales and marketing of T&M instruments, the concept of mall-like experience is being introduced by T&M providers like Glorious Electronics. Unlike the typical ‘instruments-selling shops’ where the client is supposed to have already made a choice, or is purely guided by the ‘lowest cost’ syndrome without understanding the application or need, here he is guided and provided with a demonstration if necessary.

The author is a deputy editor at EFY


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