Much of the goings-on in test and measurement this year, and for years to come, will center on standardization. More than ever, the electronics industry depends on standards for communications systems and computer buses. Overall, this is a good thing.
However, it leaves designers looking for ways to ensure their projects' compliance with complex, high-performance specifications. Designers also strive to move greater amounts of information faster. That means future test equipment will have to deal with ever more complex signals and signal-integrity problems.
During a recent webcast by Electronic Design and LeCroy Corp., designers were polled on what they wanted to see in new instrumentation. What topped the list? More measurement and analysis capability.
"New standards are one reason for this need, but there are still unmet measurement needs out there," says Michael Lauterbach, director of product management at LeCroy. He also cites the growing requirement to evaluate electrostatic discharge protection.
"Engineers are being driven more and more to get specific numbers," he continues. "It's not good enough anymore just to get pass or fail information for the device you're testing."
Chris Martinez, worldwide oscilloscope marketing manager at Tektronix, says that instrumentation needs more intelligence. "Instruments are getting better and better at gathering data, but that is just a raw product," he says. "So they are also growing in sophistication to become more intelligent. They need a lot more capability to take that raw data and turn it into something more usable."
Jitter is always a good example, says Martinez. "A designer could end up with megabytes of data that have to be analyzed. You need an instrument that can do that for you," he notes.
The tradeoff for this sophistication is complexity. In the past, some users complained about how many levels of complex menus they had to go through to get to the desired function. Thus, new instruments will help simplify these setup problems. Already available is the ability to customize the user interface and create shortcuts to common features, says Martinez.
That customization will extend to the analysis functions in future test systems. Between the constant addition of standards and revisions to existing standards, designers will need test systems flexible enough to handle change without the need to buy new hardware.
"That's driving a trend toward software-defined instruments," says Eric Starkloff, director of product marketing at National Instruments. "They're also called synthetic instruments,-which is the term coming out of the military. The military-needs longevity in its test equipment."
The desire to squeeze more information through limited bandwidths only adds to the need for software-defined instrumentation, rather than rigid systems built to perform only certain tests.
"With ever-increasing demands for higher performance, designers want to pack more and more information into a channel," says Starkloff. "This demand may require a vendor to make slight variations or to tweak its designs in order to optimize them. This only increases the need for flexibility in the test system."
This all leads into the strong growth of instruments based on fast, popular computer buses. The fastest growing segment of the T&M industry over the next several years will be PXI-based systems, according to research by Madhan Dhandayutham, a senior research analyst at Frost & Sullivan (see the table).
For more, go to www.elecdesign.com. "Challenges Drive The Need For More Effective Test Solutions," by Mike Gasparian, Agilent, Drill Deeper 11785