In an email interview with Michael Keane, Product Marketing Manager, National Instruments explains importance of Test Customization and how NI Open Software – Defined test platform meets the requirement.
What is Test Customization and why it is required? What are the solutions provided by NI in this space?
The pace of industry evolution has led to a concurrent increase in device and process complexity. Products today are required to integrate a larger set of functions compared to their predecessors within compact timelines and at lower capital and operational costs. This requirement spans across sectors that often have differentiated asks, thus requiring systems to be capable of adapting to a dynamic environment. Testing these new products places an equal burden on test engineers to design processes that are both robust and flexible enough to adapt to changing needs. It is in this scenario that test system customization becomes important.
NI’s open, software-defined test platform provides the best combination of test coverage, performance, and workflow-aligned development tools for test engineers to meet strict schedules without sacrificing yield or quality, all with a single platform from validation to production. A combination of three elements—LabVIEW, TestStand and NI PXI—provides organizations with both the required hardware and software capabilities to build compact, high-performance automated test systems that are equally open and adaptable. As test requirements change, solutions built on the NI platform can scale up in capability and adapt to new standards and protocols, ensuring the lowest total cost of ownership and shortest time to market.
NI’s success in creating customized, modular test systems for its customers across industry sectors can be easily observed through work done in the automotive industry, where the intersection of multiple systems all communicating with one another is increasingly common and thus more challenging to test. Recently,Mazda Motor Corporationleveraged the NI test platform and ecosystem to significantly improve efficiency in their verification of electronic component logic and robustness. No single system existed off-the-shelf to meet their needs, so they combined elements of the NI test platform to build a custom system to perform their complex, integrated tasks from the ground up. Mazda built a HILS system comprised of PXI products, reconfigurable FPGA modules, and LabVIEW, and integrated additional third-party hardware such as a noise simulator, GPS simulator, speech synthesis system, robotic arm, and an image processing system in order to cover their broad spectrum of test cases. By integrating all hardware into a common LabVIEW framework that enabled these disparate pieces to work together, they reduced test man-hours by 90%.
- How this will test customization increase productivity?
One of the primary objectives of testing is to perform both a predictive and real-time analysis of product functions to collect insightful data for future improvements. The variety present in test systems, however, can make this process difficult as the systems must be programmed to collect and analyze data in multiple formats. By adapting existing systems to support new tests while keeping core functionalities intact, engineers can assimilate data from a wide variety of sensors and DUTs without “starting from scratch.” A common software architecture streamlines the process of customizing test systems over time to meet evolving requirements.
NI TestStand is test management software that particularly facilitates test customization by abstracting away foundational aspects of a test sequencer like parallelization, execution, and reporting. TestStand can call code modules written in any language, which encourages reuse of existing tests in a modular test sequence. By managing code modules in TestStand that are written for the wide breadth of modules available on the low-latency, high-bandwidth PXI platform, engineers maximize their ability to focus on the actual tests at hand, rather than difficult-to-maintain logistics like database reporting.
The latest release of LabVIEW NXG will also support this process by adopting a consistent development approach to rapidly create flexible test applications that can control multiple instruments. The software also helps customize test systems using a graphical programming approach that includes analysis functions and an integrated drag-and-drop UI design for easy visualization and deployment. The LabVIEW NXG Web Module extends this further by making applications web ready, allowing users to run customized UIs in any modern web browser, tablet, or phone without additional plug-ins or installers.
Overall, NI’s open platform allows customers to stay ahead of the technology curve by giving their systems a tremendous amount of flexibility in addition to constructing a streamlined network of devices using reduced setup times.Each of these advantages helps accelerate the development of smart systems that can adapt to industry changes by optimizing backend and frontend processes for rapid deployment.
- What are the challenges currently being faced with regards to this?
While different sectors pose their own unique challenges, certain issues are consistent across most test functions. Industry consolidation can constrain resources, for instance, creating cost pressure and forcing customers to lower CapEx and OpEx. Given these limitations, engineers now face the challenge of creating test and measurement systems that can scaleat the pace of technological evolution, while having smaller teams, less time, and less budget with which they can execute. Another challenge being faced by industry players is the need to manage fleets of in-house or older generation systems in addition to contemporary systems. Standardizing on a common hardware and software platform helps mitigate the risks and challenges associated with this through common internal skill share and training plus reuse potential via common starting points.