Wireless production test.


The Wireless Test System (WTS), is a solution from National Instruments (NI), that dramatically lowers the cost of high-volume wireless manufacturing test. Although faced with the rising complexity of wireless test, companies can confidently reduce test costs and multiply throughput on the production floor with a system optimised for measurement speed and parallel test.

wts_05_bdr“Megatrends, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), will push more devices to include RF and sensor functionality, which has traditionally been expensive to test. But test cost shouldn’t limit innovation or the economic viability of a product,” said Olga Shapiro, Program Manager for Measurement and Instrumentation at Frost & Sullivan. “To remain profitable in the future, companies will need to rethink their approach for wireless test and embrace new paradigms. Because the WTS is built on the industry-proven PXI platform and backed with the market expertise of NI, we expect it to have significant impact on the profitability of the IoT.”

The WTS combines the latest advances in PXI hardware to offer a single platform for multi-standard, multi- DUT and multi-port testing. When used with flexible test sequencing software, such as the TestStand Wireless Test Module, manufacturers can significantly improve instrument utilization when testing multiple devices in parallel. The WTS integrates easily into a manufacturing line with ready-to-run test sequences for devices that use chipsets from suppliers like Qualcomm and Broadcom as well as integrated DUT and remote automation control. With these features, customers are seeing considerable efficiency gains from their RF test equipment and further reducing their cost of test.

“We tested multiple wireless technologies ranging from Bluetooth to WiFi to GPS and cellular all with the same equipment using the NI Wireless Test System,” said Markus Krauss, HARMAN/Becker Automotive Systems GmbH. “The WTS and NOFFZ’s RF test engineering expertise helped us significantly reduce test time and the time it took to get our test systems up and running.”

The WTS is the latest system from NI built on PXI hardware and LabVIEW and TestStand software (see the Semiconductor Test System launched in 2014). With support for wireless standards from LTE Advanced to 802.11ac to Bluetooth Low Energy, the WTS is designed for manufacturing test of WLAN access points, cellular handsets, infotainment systems and other multi-standard devices that include cellular, wireless connectivity and navigation standards. Software-designedPXIvector signal transceiver technology inside the WTS delivers superior RF performance in the manufacturing test environment and a platform that can scale with the evolving requirements of RF test.

No boxes with magic pixies at Westminster!

“So many great presentations today at #NIDaysUK …. We’re like a bunch of kids in the sweetie shop!” (A tweet on the day!)

Robert Morton, MD of National Instruments UK & Ireland welcomes delegates.

Youth, excitement and enthusiasm! These were the first impressions at the event organised by theNational Instruments Ireland and UK organisation in the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre just across from historic Westminster Abbey and its famous school.

Releases at NIDays
Among the best in the world!
Customisable Monitoring and Control Systems
PXI programmable resistors
Finalists in the 2012 Graphical System Design Achievement Awards
Labview 2012: New version improves scalability of measurement & control systems
First all-hybrid PXI express chassis features 8 Links to Every Slot
NI unveils industry’s fastest PXI embedded controller with 3rd generation Intel® Core™ i7 processor
Software defined radio module used in leading 5G wireless research
Co-operation with Cardiff University on nonlinear RF network analysis technology
Vector nnetwork analyser cuts cost of test
Spectrum monitoring receiver
DAQ system for high-performance embedded measurements and logging
3-D Vision for seamless hardware and software integration
Support for USB3 Vision Standard

Although called NIDays (the US equivalent is NI Week which takes rather longer!) it was in fact held on one day, 20th November 2012 although the number of threads or tracks (eleven in all) meant that one had to be very aware of what exactly one wanted to attend and indeed in our experience there were some unavoidable clashes which we have had to try to catch up on using twitter. (NI Days are held in many venues throught the world and we are giving our impressions on the one for Ireland and Great Britain.)

Keynote one
The event opened with the keynote address from National Instruments co-founder Dr James Truchard, who is President and CEO. Dr T as he is known throughout the organisation gave an interesting run down on the development of the company and the technology leading to the 21st centuray offering presented today. Moore’s Law is a computing term which originated around the 70s; the simplified version of this law states that processor speeds, or overall processing power for computers will double every two years. What occured during the history of National Instruments was quite revolutionary in that the unit in the process control loop of sensor – instruments – final control element, has changed. Thus the central item, the instrument, is no longer hardware but software and it is no longer separated but embedded within the system. This has an important impact on process and testing procedures not always understood within the automation sector.
He encapsulated the impact of the technologies. “To do for test and measurement what the spreadsheet did for financial analysis.” and “To do for embedded what the PC did for the desktop.”  In the end it is all “about virtual instrumentation.”

As part of this introductory session NI’s Regional Academic Marketing Engineer, Graham Green, presented exciting insights ito several developements including such diverse applications as CERN, Astronautical applications, to academic projects which while apparantly had little practical application they did help train the engineers of the future in learning the possibilities of what can be done.

Mathew Surridge, Portsmouth University, explains the Quadcoptor (on right)

One of these was presented by a student from Portsmouth University, Matthew Surridge, who with his collegues produced an unique flying macine model – the Quadcopter – using FPGA( field-programmable gate array) and a Real-Time Processor, Digital & Serial I/O and LabVIEW. The actual unit was on stage and was allowed show some of its paces but, for health and safety reasons, and to the disapointment of at least one attendee, its flying was confined to a small transparent container. However we did see a short video of the unit in controlled flight.

Stig at NI Days!

In another memorable demonstration this time of in-vehicle logging using racing cars an apparantly anonomous Racing Driver (right) came on stage to opearate the system for us. This was later revealed to be the indefatigable Dr T. (We learned a new term “Stig” here and displayed our ignorence of current British television programmes!)

There was a brief presentation on the delivering of clean power developed to enable mobile comms infrastructure in rural Africa by Dr Mike Rendall with Diverse Energy’s  “Powercube.” And two medical Doctors showed passive acoustic detection using LabVIEW and NI FlexRIO to improve ultrasonic tumour therapy.

This keynote was catagorised well on twitter: “Stimulating start to #NIdaysuk with exciting short presentations, medical, scientific, industrial, academic, environmental, and fun apps!”

That it certainly was!

Unfortunately we missed the panel discussion,“Are New Engineering Graduates Ready for Industry?” This formidable panel comprised Mike Sutton, Technical Fellow at Lubrizol, Jose Lopes, Head of Technical Excellence at Jaguar Land Rover, Prof Martin Levesley, Director of Teaching & Learning at Uni of Leeds, Dr Rhys Morgan, Head of Secretariat to E4E, Raspberry Pi co-founder, Dr Robert Mullins and NI CEO, Dr James Truchard. The panel was moderatored  by John Pullan, Editor of Environmental Engineering.

Tweets emintaing from this were very stimulating: “Who should be doing more to graduate engineers ready for industry? Companies? governments? universities? Who is at fault.” “Dr Rhys Morgan, Education for Engineering (E4E) raised chuckle in #NIDaysUK panel discussion ‘computers not just boxes with magic pixies in..'” I was sorry to have missed this however later on the press people had a discussion with Dr Robert Mullins and the unique Raspberry project which helped fill in some of the matters raised.

All through the day the exhibition areas were open and were well attended throughout and there were also multiple opportunities for hands-on technical sessions.

This is it! Costs less than €30.00

Keynote two
The keynote in the afternoon was delivered by Dr Robert Mullins, who is a co-founder and trustee of the Raspberry Pi Foundation. This  isa charity, of which this writer was unaware to foster the interest of  school-going youth in  computer science in particular and in the almost unlimited possibilities available through this discipline. The Raspberry Pi computer has sold in the hundreds of thousands since its launch earlier this year (2012). The hope is that these flexible low-cost machines will help build a generation that can confidently control, adapt and exploit the digital world. This talk described the Raspberry Pi story so far, the motivation for the project and the journey since launch. He described some of the projects that are exploiting the Raspberry Pi and the significant challenges that must be overcome to ensure the original goals are met. His Foundation created the Raspberry Pi computer with the hope of helping to inspire, enthuse and educate the next generation of scientists, designers and engineers and it appears that the success so far extending far beyond Britain shows the validity of this hope.

We than heard Kyle Voosen, appointed last year as Marketing Director, NI UK & Ireland, then explored the frontiers of LabVIEW. Examining an exciting variety of applications, prototypes and research, from mobile measurements and cloud integration to high-level synthesis and multirate digital signal processing.

All in all it was a worthwhile experience with measurable excitement and the ageless exuberence usually associated with youth.

Other Reports

NI, Raspberry Pi and the next generation of engineers (Electronic Product Design 21/11/2012)

Industry must attract more graduates, says NI’s CEO (Electronics Weekly 26/11/2012)

National Instruments CEO Dr James Truchard (Jon Exell, The Engineer 27/11/2012)

A little bird told me! #NIweek 2011 tweet by tweet


As we mentioned some weeks ago National Instruments in Ireland and Britain held a press event at which they unveiled new products under embargo which were to be released later during NIWeek scheduled for the first week in August in their home town Austin, Texas. We said as much as we dared in our report “Fostering discovery and innovation!”  (21/7/2011). Here we found out about the launch of LabVIEW 2011 and “the latest cutting edge NI software and hardware for test!” (The details of new launches  are in the box on the right other links including excellent quality videos of presentations and reports in other publications/blogs are linked in a box at the bottom of the page!)

We published the releases on our Conferences & Exhibition Releases Section .

The Releases:
New Levels of Productivity With LabVIEW 2011 (1/8/2011)
National Instruments extends leading PXI RF test performance to 14 GHz (2/8/2011)
First Multicore CompactRIO with Intel(R) Core™ i7 Processor and smallest NI single-board RIO devices (2/8/2011)
CompactDAQ Platform expanded (3/8/2011)
Marketing guide for engineers (4/8/2011)
Donation of design tools to MIT  (4/8/2011)

NI’s own release following conclusion of the event: Accelerating Engineers’ Productivity (4/8/2011)

Application of the Year Award Presented to the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics for Using NI FlexRIO and LabVIEW to Control Motion of a Single Atom (8/8/2011)

We published each of these releases as the embargo was lifted over the first three days of NI Week, this by now traditional event in National Instruments calendar. We were unable to attend because of the costly 7450km (ca 4630 miles) of ocean and land between your humble correspondent and the excitement of downtown Austin! However all was not lost as we were able to follow the excited and exuberant tweets (#NIWeek) from an assortment of NI Nerds, Geeks and others  whose excitement and enthusiasm virtually oozed from each of the 140 characters! There were also some official and semi-official blogs and photos to catch. Hopefully we will capture some of the flavour of the event here.

It appears that NI back-room people were given a run-through pre-NI week and some of their tweets. The company attracts mostly young graduates and their obvious enthusiasm is infectious. One pre-event tweet says “I have to admit that I’m REALLY impressed with the LabVIEW Marketing folks today.”  Another “Walked into work to find a Tesla coil playing the Mario theme song. Love this company!”  Another recommends using the NI Community web facility and forums. Or, “I can’t wait to see/meet everyone in the LabVIEW community.”

One of the speakers (Intel’s Stewart Christie) says “‘Tiny Robots Helping Tiny Robots Is an Adorable Thing,’I need a set of these for my #NIWeek talk!” And one of the applications in test: Optimations’ writing water wall powered by LabVIEW  is going to be at #NIWeek! Can’t wait to see this app in action!” The build-up the previous week is almost as busy as the actual event itself.

Even people (like yours truly) who couldn’t attend contributed “Have fun at niweek, everyone! Recovering from illness for me this year… maybe next time….”  and Todd Sierer (remember him and his nerdy videos!), “Best of luck to all my friends putting on #NIWeek 2011!!! I know it’ll be the best one yet!” Like I said the enthusiasm is infectious!

The social media board!

But what about the event itself. All the tweets were apparently being shown on a screen for all to see and the irrepressible Todd again tweets “Uh oh…just found out all my tweets are showing up on some kind of screen at NIWeek. Hey everyone! I hope they’re using a filter…” Automation Week’s Gary Mintchell comments, “This is my 14th #NIWeek and it is still fascinating.” Indeed many other editors were tweeting throughout the week. (Thanks guys!)

This piece will concentrate on what was available by tweet as the event progressed. The content was recorded elsewhere (including very excellent videos) and we have links to these resources in the box below.

Dr James Touchard

“Tweeting live from the keynote floor at #NIWeek 2011! Dr T talking about his early days taking measurements pre-NI…” “Software IS the instrument. Dr T” Dr T is Dr James Touchard, co-founder of National Instruments. During the opening the tweets continue to reflect the enthusiasm,

“Customers sitting behind us ooh’ing and ah’ing over the new idea exchange features and the time it will save them: awesome!” and “Something really striking this morning at #NIWeek is how often the audience feels compelled to clap as new capabilities are introduced.” The company announces that it is investing $200m in R&D this year.  “NIWeek 2011 is the biggest yet: 3300 attendees; 222 sessions; 103 exhibitors!” And I guess another NI staff member: “love this stuff, we’re like Apple for test and measurement 🙂 rawk!” (rawk is a new one on me!)

Jeff Kodosky

Day two starts with NI co-founder Jeff Kodosky, the Father of LabVIEW, explaining “basics of power of LabView. Data flow and graphical representation key.” “LabView is the most touch ready programming language today,” tweets Gary Mintchell. This tweet expresses an opinion and tells this writer something new about the Lone Star state, “As I sit here at NIWeek with the most advanced technologies I wonder why their home state of Texas is fighting to save the light bulb!”

Obviously the event divides into various streams and events are taking place in different rooms. “Miss seeing the NI PXIe-5665 battle the Agilent PXA during the keynote? See the demo again in the #RF Pavilion in the expo hall,” tweets one. “Xilinx presents ‘Embedded Processing Solutions for Industrial Applications‘  today at #NIWeek, 11 am Technology Theater” says another. And we were a bit afraid of “Get your geek on and learn how to hack the Microsoft Kinect and other cool sensors at 4:45 in Room 17A.”

Day three began, if you believe the tweets, with student projects robots and other ideas were let loose creating great interest. The focus was on the acceleration of student innovation,  “accelerating student innovation with fundamental elements of modern engineering—not just math” said Rick Nelson of Test & Measurement World. This is something that I had picked up at the London press conference. The emphasis on training and education, fostering innovation and inventiveness in students. They work with 6000 universities in 110 countries and Ray Almgren, VP of Product Marketing for Core Platforms, announced a new partnership with the MIT ME department to integrate LabView in 14 courses. He made the point that students, when they sign up for engineering courses , are immediately confronted with is difficult maths and simulation, when they really ought to get their hands dirty with a practical, real, experiential curriculum. “If you want students to pursue engineering, don’t tell them they must become great mathematicians!”

Tim Samaras on the trail of a tornado! (Pic VIShots)

The programme shifted then from student to storm research Innovation. We might say that things started blowing up a storm, with the keynote, Stormchaser Tim Samaras  “chasing Tornadoes for Science… for Science! And fun.” Judging from the tweets on this – they almost exploded the feeds on this computer – this was a breathtaking and riveting performance by all accounts. The tweets too were sometimes graphic if not downright esoteric like “We can can measure tornado speed in cows per minute,” or “I’m getting paid to listen to a guy from Storm Chasers give a talk right now. Best job change ever,” or “Watching the most amazing tornado footage I’ve ever seen.” The speaker is quoted “I love lightning, Phantrom 7 high-speed camera captures naturally produced lightning strike. I want images, not cartoons.” And so it went on. I guess the best and most appropriate comment was “The Thursday keynote of #niweek always blows me away.,” (so good we retweeted that one!).

Let's party!

As we have said in other places these events serve many purposes and networking is one of these. You have a priceless opportunity to meet your peers, possible future and/or past employers, technical geniuses, brilliant inventors, truly great leaders and a whole gamut of humanity which share this common interest with you. And of course there is a fun side.

“Ready for the #NIWeek conference party at the Moody Theater? Fun starts at 7; buses from conv center run 6:30-11:30” It looks like a fun happening! However @jaegen tweets some drawbacks in the new Labview 2011 on Wednesday night, “NI Week party / proves that LabVIEW cannot teach / engineers to dance…” Well R2D2 was not really noted for his dancing ability! Another ruefully comments, “My goal tonight is to spend more time hanging out at the #NIWeek conference party than I did trying to find a parking spot for it.” So Austin is just like most cities then! And other tweets we will probably ignore includeNorm and I at #niweek Wed night  and other shots of participants in greater or lesser states of enjoyment – I nearly said inebriation but I’ll spare you! Suffice it to say that a good time appears to have been had by all!

A final tweet gives us some hope for the future generation: “I came home from the #NIWeek conference party to my daughter asking questions about a #LabVIEW diagram she had sketched out.”  and “You can tell #NIWeek is over. My Twitter and Facebook feeds have suddenly become very quiet.”

And so say all of us until the 18th NI Week next year or as @nrdingle tweeted “Only 363 days till #niweek 2012.”

Other Links
NI’s  “Field Architects” have launched a blog journal appropriately called The LabVIEW Journal. (25/7/2011)
The tweets: #NIweek
Facebook:NIWeek on Facebook
Videos: Videos of the presentations
Blogs: NI Blogs
Other Publications:
Reported in local KXON News: Futuristic technology in Austin
NI Week all about productivity (Gary Mintchell Feed Forward 4/8/2011)
Students shine at NI Week (Jamie Hartford, Med Electronics Design)
LabView at 25 Made for Parallel Programming (Gary Mintchell Feed Forward 4/8/2011)
Gary Mintchell’s video recap (8/8/2011 – sign-in required to view!)
AutomationWeek also provided links to videos used during the event.

NIWeek 2011 Demonstrates How National Instruments Accelerates Engineers’ Productivity (Digital Manufacturing 4/8/2011)
Report from NI Week (The Agile Admin 4/8/2011)
NIWeek addresses engineering grand challenges (Test & Measurement 7/8/2010)
The sweetest Apps at NI Week 2011 (NI Community 8/8/2011)
National Instruments hails latest feats at NIWeek 2011 (Nicolas Mokhoff EE Times 9/8/2011)
Agilent responds to NI VSA comparison (Test Industry News 10/8/2011 on comparisons made during launch presentation of PXIe-5665 at NI Week!)
LabVIEW Robotics at NIWeek 2011 (LabView Field Jounnal 10/8/2011)
Beer testing stations at NI Week (p4 Blog 11/8/2011)
Think Again: Control engineering technologies can save the world (Control Engineering 2/9/2011)
Moore’s Law and Embedded Control (Aaron Hand, Control Design 11/9/2011)
The future of Realtime Control (Bill Lydon talks with Jeff Kodosky, Automation.com 14/9/2011)

Fostering discovery and innovation!

Most of these releases were embargoed and were published during the course of NI Week.

In the meantime their “Field Architects” have launched a blog journal appropriately called The Labview Journal. (25/7/2011)
See also: Unoficial guide to NIWeek fun (29/7/2011)
The Releases:
New Levels of Productivity With LabVIEW 2011 (1/8/2011)
National Instruments extends leading PXI RF test performance to 14 GHz (2/8/2011)
First Multicore CompactRIO with Intel(R) Core™ i7 Processor and smallest NI single-board RIO devices (2/8/2011)
CompactDAQ Platform expanded (3/8/2011)
Marketing guide for engineers (4/8/2011)
Donation of design tools to MIT (4/8/2011)

Your correspondant has had a certain “grá” for National Instruments when, in 1988, at an exhibition in Dublin, he saw a young man from Austin (TX US) give a demonstration of LabView on a Macintosh computer – probably a MAC II – which basically set the mouth watering because of its simplicity. At that time MS Windows was probably hardly a twinkle deep in eye of a not very well known Bill Gates so the concept of virtual instrumentation was really only possible on the MAC.

We were therefore delighted to recieve an invitation to a press event organised by them in London which rather intreguing told that we would “find out, under embargo, about the launch of LabVIEW 2011 and the latest cutting edge NI software and hardware for test, control and design!”  It also invited us to “See how NI UK & Ireland, through Graphical System Design, is committed to the future of engineering and is helping to solve real-world engineering challenges!”
Well! What could we say?  A pre-launch launch is always a tempting offer to a journalist. So we immediatly booked our passage on the relatively new service of Aer Árann from Galway Airport to Southend! Where? Yes we didn’t know there was an airport in Southend either, or indeed where exactly Southend was but now we do and it is in fact an incredibly hand service for getting into London City with a direct rail link into the heart of the city in about 40 minutes. Beats the packed tube from Heathrow or the uncomfortable bus ride from Luton any day of the week.

But this is not a travel article so to the business in hand!

Speakers at NI press events in London 20th July 2011. From Left: Robert Morton, Graham Green, Jeremy Twaits, Tristan Jones and Kyle Voosen.

There was almost a full house with the great and the good of British and Irish technical publications present with one or two notable absences. Things got off to a start more or less on time.

The recently appointed Kyle Voosen, NI’s Marketing Manager in Britain & Ireland, led off with an introduction and a graphical representation of the elements of systems that need measurement and control, a sort of thought process leading to the final solving a problem as practised in National Instruments. He said that “Tools should not limit discovery and innovation,” was to be the theme of the conference. Tools are their to help rather than hinder invention.

Presentations first described the technology and them proceeded to give actual application examples. Since there is an embargo on the new products, which will be released at NI Week (early August 2011) we basically give a brief run down here of applications more than actual product specifications and upgrades. These will be release over a few days starting on the first of August and we will advise each release on twitter , our Facebook Pageand on LinkedIN.

First off the blocks was Graham Green, Technical Marketing Engineer who spoke on meeting the needs of mission-critical applications. (We had actually met him earlier in the year at a symposium in Dublin in February.) He stressed the essential investment in testing both man hours and with their beta testers. These largely independent users lead to useable and therefore successful products. He quoted some comments from these trials which indeed looked very promising for the new LabView 2011. He then did a quick demo of the product which seemed to be having problems but he quickly realised that it is a good idea to have your PC hooked up to the equipment for a good demonstration! And it was a good smooth demonstration. He gave as practical and contrasting examples of applications. One was the measurement of tornadoes – from the inside where the opportunity for taking measurements is in an unrepeatable time frame. The other application was in the operating theatre where critical pressure pressure measurements are used in reducing the risk of lung deterioration after surgery.

Tristin Jones, who is Technical marketing Leader with NI, opined that tools should not limit embedded design. He mantained that they are one of the few companies that supplies “the complete solution with unrivalled hardware integration, complete, low-cost data acquisition, embedded control and monitoring, PXI and modular Instrumentation.” He quoted company founder Dr James Truchard, their aim was “To do for embedded what the PC did for the desktop!” He then described what happened historically defining the PC and how it now provides the basic platform for everything. He defined the embedded system: “An embedded systemis a computer system designed to do one or a few dedicated and/or specific functions. It is embedded as part of a complete device often including hardware and mechanical parts.” The diversity of applications is impressive and is growing as the architecture becomes more and more versitile. Again he gave applications using deployed systems in the measurement of wind for powering remote villages and in innovative devices in medical imaging.

The new era of Aautomated test was enthusiaistically greeted by Jeremy Twaits, Technical Marketing Engineer. Increasing test complexity paradoxically requires testing which has lower cost and faster. In the old order a single test instrument was sufficient for testing.  Since then test engineers are faced with a plethera of test instruments. National Instruments are in the forefront of developments here.  He quoted Mohammad Ahmad of Thales Communications “NI PXI hardware and LabVIEW software are essential technologies for test automation productivity and reuse.” and from Analog Devices makes another point on this change, “The shipping container for the previous ATE system alone would cost as much as our entire new PXI test system.” He pointed to the difference in cost, footprint, weight and facility where substantial reductions are achieved – more than a factor of ten in the cost and one of up to sixty six in weight. As they say in America, “Do the math!” National Instruments is not unique in this assessment of the market. Agilent Technologies states “PXI is currently the dominant standard for modular instrumentation. It’s a mature technology and is widely used.”

The final segment was a study of tools for students. Tools should not limit students from becoming the innovators of the future. “Tools should not limit experimentation” said Robert Morton, MD of National Instruments in Britain & Ireland. We must foster innovation and experimentation and he drew example from Thomas Alva Edison, possibly the greatest inventor of the modern era. What are the obstacles nowadays to duplicating his work and his labaratories? They are cost, accessibility and ratio. In the 80s a solution of sorts was found in the emergence of simulation but again it was realised that this had limitations and since the mid-nineties we have witnessed the the resurgence of hands-on, project-based learning. Present day graduates have the opportunity experience of actual physically handling test equipment and conducting experiments at home with NI Elvis and myDAQ, the so-called “Lab in your bag”. He quoted the Director for Teaching and Learning at his alma mater, University of Manchester, Dr Danielle George said “A major contributor to this success has been the adoption of a standard teaching platform from National Instruments…” as well as the somewhat more robust comments from students like: “I love it when ELVIS is in the building :-)” “Why didn’t we get a myDAQ in the first year??” or “ELVIS II has really enhanced my learning!”

Kyle Voosen concluded the event again stressing their message that National Instruments is about “Equipping engineers and scientists with tools that accelerate innovation and discovery.”

There was ample opportunity to discuss particular aspects with the presenters and other National Instrument people. Also present were Ian Bell, their Business Development Manager and Mark Gradwell (@mjg73 on twitter) their Marketing Communications Manager.

Technical Symposium imparts knowledge


I remember well seeing National Instruments’ LabView for the first time. It was in Dublin’s RDS exhibition centre in 1988 and there a keen young American presented this program on one of the original Apple MACs which had automation engineers present salivating with wonder at this oh so simple way of configurating a control loop. It was very “Apple” and therefore very user friendly.

Lots of water has flowed under the proverbial bridge since then, history decided that the Microsoft windows was to be the preeminent platform for control systems and nowadays National Instruments products mostly use this platform. They have lost none of their enthusiasm however and organise events throughout the world to promulgate the good news and educate engineers and technicians on the many techniques and technologies they continue to develop.

Some attendees at NI Symposium in Dublin

This year the Ireland and Britain subsidiary of NI have hosted a series of seminars or “Technical Symposia,” a one-day professional development series for engineers and scientists. These were held in Glasgow, Cambridge, Manchester and the Irish leg was in Dublin. The symposium offered in-depth technical sessions and hands-on training covering the latest in test, control and design. It offered the opportunity to learn about the latest NI software and hardware innovations, “which offer greater flexibility, faster development and increased system performance.”

The full day event was divided into two tracks, a presentation track and a practical or “hands-on” track. The morning and evening sessions were preceeded with keynotes where all delegates were assembled together. In all there were in excess of 60 attendees at the event from all regions of the island.

Presentations for Download!

The first keynote on Harnessing the Cloud: a LabVIEW vision was delivered by John Wooton, National Instruments Area Manager. He gave a very good presentation on what exactly is meant by this fairly new term, the cloud in computing.  Over the lifetime of LabVIEW each new version has provided new features to make users more productive and their test and measurement applications more powerful. With the advent of cloud computing, engineering architectures could soon look very different.

He gave the vision for LabVIEW in this new world and how engineers and scientists could harness the cloud to solve real-world challenges. We have entered the Petabyte age and Labview is in the business of acquiring analysing and finally presentation.

In the first practical session under the direction of Séamus Casserly, District Sales Manager for Ireland confirmed that the LabView concept still intrigues – at least to this correspondant! He outlined briefly the latest trends in development of the product and guided the practical test driving of  PC-based data acquisition systems and helping participants on how to use graphical programming techniques to create modular and flexible applications; measuring temperature with a thermocouple and log the data to a file. These acquisition and signal conditioning products offer highly accurate measurements, combined with LabVIEW they give  the power easily to acquire, analyse and present data in minutes.

Moving into the practical track he later introduced us to the FPGA (Field-programmable Gate Array) concept used by SPINX, CERN and Optmedica for instance. It is an integrated circuit designed to be configured by the customer or designer after manufacturing, in other words it is “field-programmable”. The NI FPGA module opens up this technology to engineers for reconfiguarble input/output (RIO). He discussed LabVIEW FPGA for various pplications and how clients can efficiently develop and evaluate an application with this software. In the hands-on track there wsa the opportunity to explore this practically.

An other area where National Instruments has made advances is in the area of Robotics. In this presentation we gained an insight into the impact that robotics innovation will have in coming years and understand such as the NI CompactRIO. the challenges faced in designing robots to sense, think and act intelligently. This is a priority area for instance in the United States where the government are investing up to $52b in robotics. Areas of greatest use are security, education (maths and science), disability and improving core technologies e.g home use.

The second keynote in the afternoon was a fascination session enthusiastically given by Edin Omerdic of the University of Limerick on Advanced Control Systems for Open Water Autonomous Submarines. This was a fascination insight into practical research applications underwater. This is part of the projects from the Marine Robotics Research centre at UL.

We were unable to attend the further presentations but they are available for download on the National Instruments website here!

These includes RF measurement, using FlexRIO and LabView FPGA for Test Applications and the latest techniques and technologies for data acquisition. The presentation I would have loved to hear was entitled Smart Phones for Smarter DAQ. We probably carry around more computing power in our pockets today than was available on the average desktop 10 years ago. This presentation promised to tell us how to harness the capabilities of iOS, Android and the LabVIEW Web UI Builder to acquire measurement data on a mobile computing platform and share it over the Internet.

The well attended event was a busy no-nonsense symposium with lots of information and knowledge being exchanged.

Developing a 3D Optical surface profilometer


Developing a Low-Cost, Noncontact, 3D Optical Surface Profilometer With Surface Visualisation and Roughness Analysis Capabilities

David Moore, Guillaume Huet, Sylvain Cousinet, Dermot Brabazon and Patrick McNally Dublin City University (DCU)

The Challenge:
Designing and building a 3D optical surface profilometer capable of surface visualisation and roughness analysis to use in laser-processed surface characterisation.

The Solution:
Using NI LabVIEW software with the NI Vision Development Module to image acquisition, motion control, and raw data processing, as well as to provide a full-colour 3D surface display with surface profile and surface roughness analysis.

“The device performs to a high standard with a total build cost of less than €5,000 and a development time of less than three months. This is largely due to the ease of hardware integration provided by LabVIEW and also the advanced and high-speed data processing capabilities that LabVIEW and NI vision provide.”

In the photovoltaic field, laser micromachining is often performed during the various manufacturing stages. However, these laser processes may involve ablation and melting, which can result in rough surfaces on specimens due to debris from the machining. It is often necessary to characterise the specimen surface condition and profile to evaluate the laser process performance. Optical profilometry techniques are preferred where possible as they do not interfere with the specimen surface and can measure large areas at a high resolution. However, optical techniques such as interferometry can result in difficulties in measuring rough and transparent specimens. By varying the focal plane of a specially designed optical and imaging system with a low depth of field, it is possible to extract surface contour information from the specimen. Advantages of this method include high resolution and surface visualisation in real colour.

Figure 1: 3D non-contact optical surface profiler (left) and Main VI Front Panel (right)

Because the system contains components of motion control, image processing, surface display, and signal analysis (Figures 1 and 2), LabVIEW was an obvious choice as the software development environment due to its seamless integration with third-party hardware and other NI products such as NI vision.

Figure 2: Flowchart showing software design

High-Resolution Optical and Imaging Systems
We implemented a high-resolution optical system using a 50X magnification Nikon microscope objective lens. This objective lens has the power to resolve features in the order of 500 nm using white light illumination and provides a very shallow depth of field, meaning only a fraction of the image is focused at any one time. We used this lens in conjunction with a microscope tube and a 3 MP colour USB camera as the imaging device. This configuration gives the optical system an overall magnification of 25X with a field of view of 240 by 200 µm.

Figure 3: High resolution optical system and vertical actuator (left). XY positioning stage with stepper motors (right).

Motion Control and Image Acquisition Synchronisation
There are two parts to the motion control system (Figure 3). The high-accuracy vertical positioning system positions the sample along the vertical axis of the optical system, thus changing the position of the focused optical plane. The high-accuracy Thorlabs servo actuator used for the vertical positioning of the specimen is controlled using a Precision Micro Control servo motor driver/amplifier, which is supplied with LabVIEW VIs.

Third-party hardware integration is seamless and simple because LabVIEW supports many third-party hardware components. This high-accuracy positioning system has a theoretical resolution of 40 nm. We controlled the XY positioning system with two Nanotec stepper motors using third-party USB stepper drivers. This provides5 µm resolution when full stepping, so the specimen can be accurately positioned and the mosaic acquisition can be implemented with image stitching for large area measurement. The USB stepper drivers also provide digital I/O ports which are used as camera triggers in conjunction with sequences in the software developed with LabVIEW to synchronise the vertical specimen position with the image acquisition.

Raw Image Data Processing
We then processed the raw data acquired in the form of a stack of images to extract the focus regions from each image in the stack. As the vertical position of each image is known from the synchronisation of the motion control system during the image acquisition, it is possible to build a 3D surface mesh from the extracted focused regions. We used a Sobel edge detection VI in NI Vision to perform the feature extraction. Using a Sobel edge detector, we can assign an intensity for the gradient of every pixel in the image being analysed. We then parse the stack of images to find the highest gradient intensity for each pixel along the vertical measurement plane. Then we reference the highest intensity to a height according to the vertical position that image was recorded at, which is stored in a ‘height map’ (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Raw data processing procedure. Both a topographical height map and a high resolution fully focused image are created.

3D Surface Visualisation
We can then visualise the 3D surface in full colour using software created in LabVIEW. We used a built-in LabVIEW VI to process the height map of the surface, which is then ready for display in a 3D picture control. Using a 3D picture control configuration VI, we can wrap the fully focused image (previously generated from the stack of images by extracting the focused regions) on the surface mesh to display the measured specimen in full colour at submicron resolution (Figure 5).

Figure 5: 3D surface display of laser processed grooves in transparent glass. Measurement area is 250µm by 200µm.

Surface Roughness Analysis
We must often measure the surface roughness of components in surface engineering. Different surface roughness parameters reveal different important characteristics of the material and the production processes. However, there are strict guidelines that we must meet to make roughness analysis repeatable and accurate. First, the data must be corrected for form error by linear regression. This step involves using a Gaussian filter with a low cut-off frequency defined by ISO 4288, which removes the waviness component of the surface. The waviness may appear as a repeating pattern in the data when the wavelength is too large to be considered as roughness. We use the remaining for the roughness analysis (Figure 6). We can perform two types of analysis using this software; line analysis and area analysis, where the area analysis provides similar information to that of the line analysis but in two directions instead of one.

Figure 6: Roughness profile is obtained using the ISO 4288 standard for profile correction.

While the actual resolution of the measurement depends somewhat on the specimen being measured, it is certain that measurements are accurate in the submicron range in the X, Y, and Z planes. Measurement speed also reflects the high performance provided by the LabVIEW environment. It is possible to perform a single measurement of an area of 240 by 200 µm with submicron resolution in less than 60 seconds including data processing and surface visualisation, using only a standard dual-core PC. The device can also perform large surface area measurements up to a maximum of 20 by 20 mm and can measure rough sample surfaces, a difficult task using other optical profilometry techniques.

Technology as a sport, Dean Kamen enthuses #ISAwk


This correspondant had not heard of Dean Kamen or of his organisation FIRST before the ISA had announced that he was to be their keynote speaker at the ISA Automation Week being held in Houston (TX US) 5th to 7th October 2010.

Dean Kamen addresses ISA Automation Week

We attended this event and met a casually dressed driven man, an inventor, a man with an imagination and a man with a social conscience. His talking style is quiet but persuasive, not so much because of his oratorical expertese but because of the obvious conviction and belief he has in what he says.

He is an inventor of some note, famous in particular for the two wheeled Segway Human Transporter. In a way this is a trivial invention when compared to the list of his more important inventions which are perhaps more useful as they are in the medical field like a device for automatic insulin dosing and devices to help the immobile be more mobile and robotic devices of various types. They have significantly expanded medical technologies, saving or extending millions of lives. In his address he spoke about a prosthetic arm which he and his engineering team at DEKA Research & Development Corp. developed, helping those who have lost their limbs in war or through accident are helped once again to become capable of independent life.  (This invention struck me particularly as it allowed people who had lost limbs a freedom and independence they may have thought had been lost forever – an extremely moving realisation!) More recently they are hard at work developing “green” machines that could provide mini-electrical grids and water purification for billions of people worldwide in developing and impoverished lands lacking electricity or pure drinking water.

All of this was a preamble to the thing that most preoccupies him, the lack of awareness and enthusiasm for technology and science in schools. The icons placed before young people today look on are the “celebraties”, actors, sports heroes, people who are famous for being famous. This means that the young people have as exemplars people the absence from the scene of which would make very little impact on human life.

The people who make little impact on their consciousness are the people who make the lights light, the water flow, the planes fly, the crops grow, the people healthy. Yet these people are dying off in the developed world who educate their young to be lawyers and bankers. That society cannot survive like this often misunderstood. It is not, as many think, a problem of supply. No, rather is it a problem of a lack of demand.

A sea change is required in attitudes and that is the passion in Dean Kamen’s life. He wants to create the demand for the next generation of scientists and technologists. He want to create a real enthusiasm among our young for science and technology. He wants to create the same enthusiasm in our young for science and technology that there is for football or the other sports. He calls on us to use the sports model to promote science and technology.

He formed his organisation in the eighties For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, with the very deliberate acronym FIRST, because as he says, “Nobody enters any competition to come second!”

His vision and that of FIRST is simple. “To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”

Furthermore the mission he described as follows: “Our mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.”

So there are two things here, the children, obviously, and the mentors, which are the science and technology companies. Companies like say National Instruments in the automation world.


Two technology giants meet.


We were talking to somebody on the National Instruments stand who was involved in their local team, specialising in robotics, which won their regional “heats” and went to the grand final in Atlanta (GA US). There they were soundly defeated, but, and this is the important thing, they were going to bounce back again next year with renewed enthusiasm. That’s the sports thing!

One point that Dean Kamen made was the fact that this “sport” was unique and different from all others. Everyone can win. Not everyone can be a footballer or a film star but everyone involved in First can become and engineer or a scientist, and an enthusiastic one.

Indeed to survive, the Western World’s science and technology community, and this includes the automation community, must support really and practically programmes like that of FIRST if we as a society want to keep the lights lighting and the water running.

That, I think, was the message so enthusiastically and passionately delivered by Dean Kamen was saying.

“So let’s do it!”

mtec 2010


UK trade show disappoints!

mtec 2010

The annual mtec exhibition, a constituent of the much larger Advanced Manufacturing UK seems to be moving further and further into the year. Originally a stalwart as first major event on this side of the Atlantic in February, last year it was in March and this year it was a week later than the mammoth Hannover Messe.

As usual the whole show was a eclectic mix of engineering capabilities from the precise medical area through mechanical, to building services, manufacturing and measurement capabilities.

The show itself was a bit disappointing and seemed smaller than last year though visitor numbers seemed busy enough. This was particularly noticeable in the Medtec, medical appliance site of the show. Most exhibitors were happy enough with their own performance commenting however on the apparent shrinkage. The fact that the emphasis appeared to be on the Medtec part of the show was also commented upon and indeed all the signs to the hall in which the exhibits were housed emphasised this show with the other six constituent shows getting less emphasis.

The only really new item that we saw at the show was a new micro-flowmeter from Titan Enterprises. “The Atrato” is set to create a breakthrough change in small bore flow metering, it uses patented technology which enables the direct through meter to handle flows from laminar to turbulent according to company founder Trevor Foster. His enthusiasm for his new product was infectious and I think unique in the show this year.

There were also a number of seminars organised to coincide with the exhibition. Those dealing with industrial communications were entirely to do with wireless and were organised by the England Section of the International Society of Instrumentation.

The wireless semnars, which were held on the first morning, progressively attracted more attendees. Starting off was Russel Hobbs of ISA England and Yokogawa who outlined the ISA100.11a, which, as reported last October, was approved and published last year. Industrial wireless communication opens up new resources for highly flexible and efficient automation solutions.

Ian Ramage of Techni Measure and the British Society of Strain Measurement, gave lots of practical examples of wireless transmission particularly in the areas of stress, strain and vibration. He discussed the harvesting of energy in these applications where vibration can be converted into power to power the transmitters. Applications included bridges, moving of delecate or sensitive pieces of equipment. He quoted for instance the used of these transmitters (from MicroStrain Inc.) in the moving of one of America’s most treasured monuments, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. He also mentioned possible interference to watch out for in wireless applications caused by micro-wave ovens in the canteen and sometimes with Bluetooth enabled systems in the vacinity.

Ian Bell of National Instruments at mtec

National Instruments’ Ian Bell gave a run down on their applications using their Labview product. “Instruction and research involving RF and wireless communications systems require a flexible platform for software design, hardware prototyping, and implementation. National Instruments RF tools deliver a high-performance platform for hands-on learning and pioneering research.”

Mark McCormick of Siemens, referred to  WirelessHart, accepted in March 2010 as an IEC standard (IEC 62591Ed. 1.0). Whether GSM/GPRS, IWLAN or WirelessHART, industrial wireless communication products have to be reliable, rugged and secured to meet hard conditions indoor and outdoor. Nowadays numerous industrial WLAN applications such as cranes and AGV are proving outstanding reliability even in safety applications.

Completing this series of talks Gary Wedge of Honeywell, who, while like the other speakers did not hide the advantages of his own company’s products, or choice of protocol emphasised also the necessity of the openess whatever platform is used. “This is not a conflict between Honeywell and Emerson as the media sometimes make out,” he said.

There are a number of points that the independent ARC Advisory group published on wireless which indicated ten or eleven requirements for industrial wireless applications. The most requested points were that the units must be “multifunctional” and also the ought to be “multiprotocol.” In other words users do not want to tied down to one supplier or one type of protocol. Most o the applications to date are for monitoring and measurement but there is a demand for control applications and indeed one of the points made out in the ARC report is a request that industrial wireless be “control ready!”

All in all it was an interesting show though whether it was worth a long journey to attend is debatable.

Advanced Manufacturing UK 2011 is scheduled to be held next year at the same venue on the sixth and seventh April 2011.