- Changing the Face of Design, Measurement and Automation
By Jayaram Pillai,
Managing Director, National Instruments, India
From testing cars in
automotive companies to controlling production and quality
in manufacturing plants, the must need for engineers and scientists
is to have a flexible cost-effective solutions for test and
measurement. Around 30 years ago, to address these needs,
a different way to solve the test and measurement problem
was evolved, called "virtual instrumentation". Today,
virtual instrumentation has reached mainstream acceptance
and is used in thousands of applications around the world
in the industries such as automotive, electronics, and oil
The concept of virtual
instrumentation is, an engineer can use software running on
a computer combined with instrumentation hardware to define
a custom, built-to-order test and measurement solution. The
vision of virtual instrumentation revolutionized the way engineers
and scientists work, delivering solutions with faster development
time, lower costs, and greater flexibility.
Components of Virtual
The heart of any virtual
instrument is flexible software. Every virtual instrument
is built on this flexible and powerful software. Innovative
engineer or scientist will apply his domain expertise to customize
the measurement and control application as per the requirement.
The result is a user-defined instrument specific to the application
needs. With such software, engineers and scientists can interface
with real-world signals; analyze data for meaningful information,
and share results and applications. NI LabVIEW, the productive
software component of the virtual Instrumentation architecture,
is the graphical development platform for test, design and
1: Virtual instrumentation
combines productive software, modular I/O, and scalable platforms.
The second virtual
instrumentation component is the modular I/O for measurements
that require higher performance, resolution, or speeds. Advanced
Modular Instrument hardware use the latest I/O and data processing
technologies, including Analog to Digital Converters (ADC),
Digital to Analog Converters, Filed Programmable Gate Arrays
(FPGAs), and PC busses to provide high resolution and throughput
for measurements from 7 1/2 digit DC to 2.7 GHz. In combination
with powerful software, engineers can create custom-defined
measurements and sophisticated analysis routines.
the graphical development platform along with NI Modular Hardware
provides among the most reliable virtual instrumentation architectures.
virtual instrumentation element is - popular and commercially
available computing platform (PC or Server) to run the software
and connect to I/O module, often enhanced with accurate synchronization
- ensures that virtual instrumentation takes advantage of
the very latest computer capabilities and data transfer technologies.
This element delivers virtual instrumentation on a long-term
technology base that scales with the high investments made
in processors, buses, and more.
Together, these components
empower engineers and scientists world over to create their
own solutions with virtual instrumentation.
has gradually increased addressable applications through continuoussoftware
innovation and hundreds of measurement hardware devices. Having
influenced millions of test and automation professionals,
today it is winning over experts in the control and design
domains. Virtual Instrumentation is rapidly revolutionizing
the functions of control design, distributed control, data
logging, design verification, prototyping, simulation and
Virtual Instrumentation for Test
Test has been a long-proven
field for virtual instrumentation. More than 25,000 companies
(the majority being test and measurement companies) use virtual
instrumentation. National Instruments, the pioneer in Virtual
Instrumentation has come a long way in the Test and Measurement
domain. Yet, the need for test has never been greater. As
the pace of innovation has increased, so too has the pressure
to get new, differentiated products to market quickly.
drive new validation, verification, and manufacturing test
needs. A test platform that can keep pace with this innovation
is not optional, it is essential. The platform must include
rapid test development tools adaptable enough to be used throughout
the product development flow, high-throughput test capabilities
and precise, synchronized measurement abilities.
is an innovative solution to these challenges. It combines
rapid development software and modular, flexible hardware
to create user-defined test systems.
same design engineers that use a wide variety of software
design tools must use hardware to test prototypes. Commonly,
there is no good interface between the design phase and testing/validation
phase, which means that, often the issues discovered
in the testing phase require a design-phase reiteration.
2: Test plays a critical
role in the design and manufacture of today's electronic devices.
In reality, the
development process has two very distinct and separate stages
– design and test are two individual entities. On the
design side, EDA tool vendors undergo tremendous pressure
to interoperate from the increasing semiconductor design and
manufacturing group complexity requirements. Engineers and
scientists are demanding the capability to reuse designs from
one tool in other tools as products go from schematic design
to simulation to physical layout. Similarly, test system development
is evolving toward a modular approach. The gap between these
two worlds has traditionally been neglected, first noticeable
in the new product prototype stage.
Systems with intrinsic-integration
properties are easily extensible and adapt to increasing product
functionality. When new tests are required, engineers simply
add new modules to the platform to make the measurements.
Virtual instrumentation software flexibility and virtual instrumentation
hardware modularity make virtual instruments a necessity to
accelerate the development cycle.
A Future with Virtual Instrumentation
to meet the ever-increasing demand to innovate and deliver
ideas and products faster, scientists and engineers are turning
to advanced electronics, processors, and software. Consider
a modern cell phone. Most contain the latest features of the
last generation, including audio, a phone book, and text messaging
capabilities. New versions include a camera, MP3 player, and
Bluetooth networking and Internet browsing.
increased functionality of advanced electronics is possible
because devices have become more software centric. However,
this increase in functionality comes with a price. Upgraded
functionality introduces the possibility of unforeseen
interaction or error. So, just as device-level software helps
rapidly develop and extend functionality, design and
test instrumentation also must adapt to verify the improvements.
Visual: Virtual instrumentation has been widely adopted in test and
measurement areas and is rapidly making headway in control
and design areas.
only way to meet these demands is to use test and control
architectures that are also software centric. Because
virtual instrumentation uses highly productive software like
NI LabVIEW, modular I/O, and commercial platforms, it
is uniquely positioned to keep pace with the required new
idea and product development rate.
Virtual instrumentation has thus been widely adopted
in test and measurement areas and is rapidly making headway
in control and design areas. The benefits that have accelerated
test development are beginning to accelerate control and design.
Engineers and scientists who are increasing demands for virtual
instrumentation in hopes of efficiently addressing worldwide
demand are the driving force behind this acceleration.
For more information visit www.ni.com
Pillai, Managing Director, National Instruments, India, has over 10 years of experience
in the measurement and automation domain. He holds a masters
degree in Electronics from the Indian Navy.
a 15 year stint with the Indian Navy, he joined National Instruments
as an Applications Engineer in 1996 and took over as Managing
Director in 2003. He is responsible for the sustained growth
of the branch and leads the company with a result oriented
approach coupled with an entrepreneurial spirit.
For 30 years,
National Instruments (NI) has been a technology pioneer and
leader in virtual instrumentation. Headquartered in Austin,
Texas, NI has more than 3,800 employees and direct operations
in nearly 40 countries. Leading manufacturing companies all
over world uses National Instruments products for test and
was started in 1998 to propagate the pioneering technology
of Virtual Instrumentation in the country. The branch has
witnessed consistent growth and has introduced many new products
in the market. It has also seen successful adoption of the
Virtual Instrumentation technology and tremendous interest
from the academic sector.