Dr. James Truchard, President, CEO, and Cofounder, National Instruments, is retiring this month. His report, Automated Test Outlook 2017, looks at trends impacting the test and measurement space, and identifies five that have been shaping the industry and will continue to do so in the coming year.
"As I approach the end of my 40-year career as CEO of National Instruments, I am reminded of the great progress and innovations the test and measurement industry has witnessed since 1976. We have gone from an industry driven by vacuum tube technology in the era of General Radio to a time when the transistor ruled with Hewlett Packard to today, when software truly is the instrument – a transition that NI helped shepherd. Moore's law has taken us for a wild, fast ride to say the least, and just when you think it's run its course, process innovations extend into new dimensions (literally) and push performance even further," comments Dr. James Truchard.
Optimizing test organizations. An emerging trend for electronics manufacturing companies is using product test for competitive differentiation. This has resulted in elevating the test engineering function from a cost center to a strategic asset. This shift was confirmed by a recent global NI survey of test engineering leaders who said their top goal over the next one to two years is to reorganize their test organization structures for increased efficiency. This strategic realignment reduces the cost of quality and impacts a company's financials by getting better products to market faster.
Such a shift takes about three to five years before the full benefit is realized. When test engineering organizations become strategic assets, they create standard test platforms, develop valuable test-based intellectual property, deliver a more productive workforce while lowering operating costs, and align with the business objectives by continually contributing to better product margins, quality, and time to market.
Reconfigurable instrumentation. Reconfigurable instruments will continue to find more mainstream applications as test engineers continue to look for creative ways to reduce test time and system cost. They can be adapted to new test needs and instrument substitutions.
Software-centric ecosystems. Along with being reconfigurable, test systems are expected to continue to become more software-centric and ecosystem-based. Communities of developers and integrators building on standard software platforms are using commercial off-the-shelf technology to extend the functionality of complex hardware into applications previously impossible. The level of productivity and collaboration delivered by software-centric ecosystems will have a profound effect on test system design.
Managed test systems. As Moore's law continues to influence the performance of test systems, new data and communication technologies help test managers optimize their test systems to lower the cost of test. This includes their system infrastructure, peripherals, hardware, and software that can be managed remotely. The media tends to focus on the consumer Internet of Things (IoT), but thinking of a test system as an IoT device presents additional opportunities.
Driven by necessity. Safety regulations and software are pushing hardware-in-the-loop test to the forefront of transportation manufacturing in an increasingly
software-driven world. Test is being driven by necessity due to new rules and regulations and applicability in new industries, such as the increasing demand for automotive hardware-in-the-loop testing and also demands from aerospace and defense for more test efficiency. Though industry regulations provide a guide to ensure safety in embedded electronics, compliance with these regulations requires the thorough testing of embedded software across an exhaustive range of real-world scenarios. Developing and testing embedded software with an emphasis on quality can strain the balance of business needs such as short time to market, low test cost, and the ability to meet the technical requirements driven by customer demand for new features and product differentiation. All embedded systems manufacturers face similar demands, but they cannot sacrifice quality when it comes to safety-critical applications.