Electronic Design

PC-Connectivity Solution Simplifies T&M Equipment Use

Research and development engineers involved with product development often encounter instrument connectivity problems. Test-system developers in manufacturing run into such difficulties as well. Beyond pressure to shrink product cycles and speed time-to-market windows, these engineers face issues of hardware and software incompatibility, complex programming, and time-consuming I/O connections. A PC-connectivity solution based on test and measurement (T&M) industry standards would help resolve many of these difficulties.

That was the thinking behind Agilent Technologies' IntuiLink solution. IntuiLink was developed based on the findings of New Source Research, who evaluated the needs and preferences of research and development engineers and test-system designers.

Through a click of the PC-application toolbar, users can transfer data directly into spreadsheet programs, including Microsoft Excel, eliminating the need to write separate programs (see the figure). Users may insert a snapshot of a device directly into an Excel spreadsheet or Word document. Also, instrument settings may be easily captured and stored in a file. This simplifies the reproduction of difficult or complicated setups like glitch capture and complex triggering.

This is important because research has shown that engineers desire an environment they're most familiar with and are averse to learning another proprietary system. And, Microsoft Office, specifically Word and Excel, are the applications they're most accustomed to using.

Data may also be directly inserted into the company's VEE program or any other graphical programming language. Moreover, engineers can easily send waveform data to a source. None of the functions require a learning curve since they work in a familiar PC environment.

The PC-application toolbar is fully tuned to the company's tools, making complicated configuration procedures unnecessary. It provides basic, RF/microwave, and optical instrument family and model coverage. Through the toolbar, devices are identified and connected using Agilent's and National Instruments' GPIB (IEEE 488), or an RS-232 I/O. Instrument settings are easily embedded in an Excel or Word document and can be saved separately as well. Toolbars automatically adjust to current instrument measurement states. ActiveX/COM programming objects (drivers) for simple automated testing are included as well.

If adopted, universal open standards for connectivity will enable engineers to use multiple devices from a broad spectrum of vendors, with a driver-class specification and test-asset interchangeability. This will also ensure the exchange of implements in a test system with minimal software change.

A standards consortium, the Interchangeable Virtual Instrument (IVI) Foundation, is currently developing driver specifications for true instrument interchangeability. One of the main driver solutions under investigation is based on Microsoft's component-object model (COM). This platform employs several Microsoft technologies to deliver packaged modular software. A COM interface could be remotely accessed via distributed COM (DCOM). With this COM/DCOM combination, a built-in driver on the device could be remotely accessed from the PC.

Legacy Standard Refined
Optionally, the foundation is refining a legacy ANSI-C standard for use as a driver class specification. In the near future, IntuiLink will support emerging IVI drivers based on the COM standard, as defined by the IVI Foundation.

Aside from protocols such as GPIB I/O cards, the IntuiLink solution supports the RS-232 (COM) port. The package will support the adoption of IEEE 1394, USB, LAN, and other computer-based I/O standards. Additionally, it will support the eventual migration from specialized T&M standards, including GPIB.

IntuiLink is incorporated in a number of Agilent's test equipment models. It's standard in the 5462X-series and 548X-series Infinium oscilloscopes. Plus, it functions in the 34401A and 34420A digital multimeters and the 53131/32/81 counters. In the spectrum analyzer arena, the package is integrated into the ESA E/L/EMC and PSA E4440A models. Also, it's contained in the VNA 875X, 872X, and 871X vector network analyzers and the PNA E835X network analyzers. The IntuiLink package is included in the ESG A/AP/D/DP signal generators as well.

Customers who currently own these products can upgrade at no additional cost. IntuiLink can be downloaded from Agilent's Web site.

For additional information on IntuiLink, check out Agilent's Web site at www.agilent.com.

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