National Instruments Shares Automated Test Outlook for 2012

National Instruments revealed their 2012 Automated Test Outlook, which is based on NI’s latest research on test and measurement technologies and methodologies. National Instruments’ 2012 Automated Test Outlook is based on input from academic and industry research, user forums and surveys, business intelligence and customer advisory board reviews. NI’s report provides information about trends affecting industries like consumer electronics, automotive, semiconductor, aerospace and defense, medical devices and communications.

The Automated Test Outlook is part of the NI Test Leadership Council, which National Instruments created to share the best practices collected from working with thousands of global customers across multiple industries. The NI Test Leadership Council facilitates peer discussions among the leaders in test to provide both business and technical insight. Test Leadership Council activities include leadership summits, facilitated peer networking and technology exchanges.

The Five Trends in Test

Optimizing Test Organizations
Organizations are elevating test engineering to a strategic asset to gain a competitive edge over the competition. In tough economic conditions, companies are more diligently looking for opportunities to gain a competitive advantage while growing revenue, profits, and customer loyalty. Meanwhile, competitive pressures brought on by the new technologies that level the playing field for companies of all sizes and new global quality and regulatory requirements are making it more difficult for companies to stay ahead. To gain competitive advantage, companies have leveraged popular business improvement strategies such as Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI), and Agile Product Development.

Measurements and Simulation in the Design Flow
Combining sophisticated models with real-world measurements improves product quality and reduces development time. Shortening the product development cycle has long been a key objective of today’s R&D organizations. Especially in the automotive and aerospace industries, one method to reduce development time is concurrent design and test, which is often represented with the V-diagram product development model. In these industries, for which the end product is a highly complex system of systems, the left side of the V-diagram is considered design and the right side represents test. The idea behind the V-diagram is that greater efficiency can be achieved by beginning the test and validation of subsystems before the development of an entire system is complete. While the use of concurrent design and test approaches such as the V-diagram is common in industries with highly regulated environments, adoption of these practices is growing in other industries and for other types of devices. For example, in the semiconductor and consumer electronics industries, shorter product life spans and increasing product complexity continually fuel the pressure to reduce product development time.

PCI Express External Interfaces
The high-speed, low-latency bus internal to the PC is empowering new system topologies with external interface enhancements. Since the invention of GPIB in the 1960s, automated test systems have relied on PCs to provide the central control for instrumentation hardware and to automate testing procedures. PCs in various form factors, such as desktops, workstations, and industrial and embedded systems, have been used for this purpose. They offer a variety of interface buses, such as USB, Ethernet, serial, GPIB, PCI, and PCI Express, to interface instrumentation hardware in automated test systems. Because PCs play such a critical role in an automated test system, the test and measurement industry must track the progression of the PC industry and exploit any new technologies for increasing capabilities and performance while lowering the cost of test.

Proliferation of Mobile Devices
The fact of a smartphone in every pocket and a tablet in every bag is changing how test systems are being controlled and monitored. One of the biggest trends in automated test over the last three decades has been the shift toward PC-based modular platforms that use the latest commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computing technologies with increasingly powerful processors, new I/O buses, and more advanced OSs. While this trend is likely to continue, a completely new class of computing devices, namely tablets and smartphones, has emerged recently to offer new opportunities for forward-thinking organizations to take advantage of COTS technologies in automated test systems.

Portable Measurement Algorithms
New tools are making it possible for measurement IP to be developed once and then deployed to a wide array of disparate processing elements. Over the past 20 years, the concept of user-programmable, microprocessor-based measurement algorithms has become mainstream, allowing test systems to rapidly adapt to custom and changing test requirements. This approach is called virtual instrumentation, and, given its success, vendors continue to look for opportunities to take its benefits further: increased user customizability, greater use of off-the-shelf technology, higher performance, and decreased test system cost.

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