Increasing device complexity and technology convergence are driving test systems to become more flexible, while cost pressures are demanding longer system lifetimes. A software-defined, modular architecture is the only way to accomplish these objectives. Modular instrumentation uses shared components, high-speed buses, and open, user-defined software to meet the needs of automated test equipment (ATE) today and in the future.
Modular instruments are defined in software residing on the host PC, which makes it possible for you to define measurements and analysis in real time. You can further extend the flexibility by deploying algorithms to an FPGA for increased performance. This approach provides more flexibility and functionality than the fixed, vendor-defined software architecture of traditional box instruments.
All instruments in a modular instrumentation system share a power supply, chassis, and controller, while stand-alone instruments duplicate these components for each instrument, adding cost and size and decreasing reliability. Shared technologies, such as GHz processors and software, helps you achieve measurements at 10 to 100 times the throughput of a test system built solely on traditional instruments.
Because of the shared PC, chassis, power supply, and display across all instruments, a modular instrumentation system has a significantly smaller footprint than box instruments optimized for stand-alone use on the bench. This architecture makes it possible for you to deploy up to 17 instruments in the same footprint as a single box instrument.
Software-defined systems, based on PXI, take full advantage of commercial PC technologies, such as multicore processors and PCI/PCI Express. PCI Express is the highest bandwidth (up to 4 GB/s) data bus that delivers up to 10 times higher bandwidth and 100 times less latency than LAN. This performance results in much lower test times.
NI offers more than 500 PXI modules to configure your test system with the functionality you need. Modules are available from DC to 26.5 GHz, including the industry’s highest-resolution digitizer with 24 bits of resolution and the industry’s fastest, most accurate 7 ½ digit digital multimeter (DMM). If required, you can easily connect a traditional box instrument to meet your measurement needs.
PXI is a rugged platform for test, measurement, and control. The measurement hardware is housed in an industrial chassis and has a host computer either embedded in the chassis or connected to a PC through a cabled interface. Benefits specific to PXI include increased channel count, portability, and integrated timing and synchronization.
Modular instrumentation includes peripherals installed in the host computer peripheral ports or peripheral slots. In these systems, the host PC provides the processor for performing the measurements in software as well as the chassis for the power supply and I/O.
Driver I/O software and hardware configuration tools are critical to modular instrumentation because it connects software to hardware. Instrument drivers are optimized for specific development environments so instrument commands are seamless. Additionally, configuration tools include resources for configuring and testing I/O, as well as storing scaling, calibration, and channel-aliasing information.
Test development software provides the tools to develop the code or procedure for your application. Although graphical programming is not a requirement of a modular instrument system, these systems often use graphical tools for their ease of use and rapid development. NI LabVIEW provides the industry’s most used and most complete graphical development environment.
Some applications require software for test execution or visibility into test data. For highly automated test systems, test management software provides a framework for sequencing, branching/looping, report generation, and database integration. Other applications use software to help you manage, analyze, and report data collected during data acquisition and/or generated during simulations.