Leveraging bench, modular, and software technology

Mark Pierpoint, Vice President and General Manager Communications Measurement Solutions Division
Keysight Technologies

Mark Pierpoint is vice president and general manager, Communications Measurement Solutions Division, Keysight Technologies. A recent reorganization combined modular and bench signal sources and analyzers in his purview—the better to leverage relevant measurement technologies across multiple platforms for wireless, aerospace and defense, automotive, energy, and other applications. The leverage has led to the development of what the company calls “Reference Solutions,” which can combine modular and bench instruments as well as software to form market-validated, proven test systems for specific applications—ranging from 5G research and baseband I/Q chipset design to RF PA/FEM production test and antenna calibration.

Keysight has long been making modular products, including VXI instruments, Pierpoint said. But at Autotestcon in September 2010, the company—then Agilent Technologies’ Electronic Measurements Group—launched a significant initiative in that area with the introduction of a series of PXI and AXIe products. Pierpoint cited Frost & Sullivan estimates that the aggregate modular instrument business is growing at three times the rate of that for other test equipment. He added that the growth rate is even higher for Keysight because of the company’s relatively recent emphasis on the business, particularly in RF, microwave, and high-speed digital application areas.

Recent modular products from Keysight include the 26.5-GHz M9370A vector network analyzer. Pierpoint recalled the HP 8720, noting that the M9370A offers the functionality of the venerable 50-lb box instrument in a single PXI slot. He also cited the M9195A PXIe digital stimulus/response card. “We have received great reviews and feedback from customers,” he said of that product. “There are plenty of other alternatives in the marketplace, but none of them were really satisfying the needs of the customer.” The instrument can serve semiconductor test applications, he said, noting that it can measure on multiple high-speed-bus channels simultaneously.

Another recently introduced product, although not modular, is the FieldFox handheld analyzer, which was just upgraded to 50-GHz performance. FieldFox is one result of Keysight’s initiative to offer its measurement capabilities in the customer’s choice of form factor, an effort that Pierpoint said would continue. “I don’t believe the whole world is going to go modular, whatever anyone else might tell you,” he said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.” He noted that even if you extrapolate from current growth rates with the modular segment’s growth continuing unabated, modular might attain 30% share by about 2034. “It’s pretty clear the different form factors have different uses,” he said.

Nevertheless, Pierpoint said, modular offers opportunities for engaging with customers early. “If you need six modules to do a job and you’ve already got five of them, you only need to develop one more—which is quicker and less expensive than building a complete instrument. That’s one of the key factors we are looking at addressing.”

Another key factor is software. “We are working very hard on the software side of the business,” Pierpoint said. “We’ve got leading products like the 89600 VSA software—it has been designed from the outset to work across multiple instruments, so you can put it onto an oscilloscope, for example, or a signal analyzer, and you can do wideband measurements for 5G or radar testing. Not all parts of the software portfolio have reached this level of flexibility. So I think you will see over the next year some pretty dramatic changes,” with the software increasingly offering consistency and flexibility.

A key focus area for Pierpoint’s division is RF/microwave communications. But he cited a related area that is receiving increased attention: power electronics. “It seems to be a big growing market, whether it be for converters or for anything that’s battery-powered,” he said. “In fact, we know a lot of RF/microwave engineers who are not working in communications but instead are designing inverters. It’s fascinating, because the frequencies are going up so high to keep size down. These are really tough analog design problems.”

Several Keysight divisions address this topic, he said. The EEsof Electronic Design Automation (EDA) Software Division, for example, provides models for GaN devices. The Manufacturing Solutions Division in Penang offers test equipment for automotive applications, and the Power and Energy Division addresses a wide range of power-electronics application areas.

Regardless of the application area, Keysight is developing frameworks for R&D, validation, and manufacturing in terms of the types of workflows customers want. With regard to test, Pierpoint said, “If you truly believe electronics and RF and microwave are really going to proliferate, we can’t do it how we’ve done it until today—it’s going to have to change. Ultimately our goal is to help our customers become more efficient in engineering—that’s the real drive.”

Pierpoint joined the company in 1987, when the Electronic Measurement Business was still part of Hewlett-Packard, after receiving a Ph.D. in microwave engineering and B.Sc. in electrical and electronic engineering from the University of Leeds, U.K.

Prior to his current responsibilities, Pierpoint held multiple management positons in R&D, manufacturing, and operations across various businesses within Hewlett-Packard and Agilent Technologies in both the United States and Europe. He is credited with paving the way for science to be applied more broadly in sales and marketing as well as driving improved R&D productivity and leading change management.

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