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May 30, 2023
4 Min Read
NI CEO Eric Starkloff at the podium at NI Connect.NI
For years, NI has been developing hardware and software tools and services to help users perform data acquisition and testing. While that mission has not changed, the company’s mission has taken on a greater urgency as shorter time-to-market cycles and increasingly complex system designs dictate greater attention to test requirements.
At this year’s NI Connect event in Austin, TX, NI discussed a number of trends and developments in the ongoing mission to have test play a greater role in the product development cycle, to ensure product quality and reliability. Here are some key takeaways from this year’s conference.
Connected data will become even more important
According to Shelley Gretlein, NI’s Vice President of Portfolio Business Software Strategy, most companies have plenty of data, but that data resides in separate silos.
At NI Connect, the company announced System Link, which enables companies to manage test systems, data collection, and reporting from a central location and to use product-centric analytics for actionable insights.
Created in partnership with GM, SystemLink Enterprise, built on Kubernetes, centralizes the way test systems and data are managed. This standardization enables increased visibility and control of test processes across an entire organization simultaneously, giving companies more time to focus on data insights and to increase their production.
SystemLink Enterprise’s capabilities include:
Systems management: managing system health, comparing systems, and deploying software to multiple systems at once.
Asset management: Track utilization, calibration information, and locate assets.
Test Insights: Applications to ingest test data and monitor performance and status.
Data tables: Standardize data from multiple formats, allowing all data to be analyzed in a common format.
Dashboards: Monitor live systems and display key performance indicators.
Jupyter notebooks & Routines: Automate analysis, HTML, and PDF report generation.
Role-based access control: Simplify user management and data access in a large organization.
Software-defined test enters the battery world
During one keynote NI Connect session, NI discussed the fact the many legacy methods continue being used to evaluate battery cells and that it often takes several weeks to produce a battery. Given the automotive industry’s insatiable appetite for more batteries for the growing number of electric vehicles, new test methods are needed. These solutions increasingly rely not on hardware, but software.
Toward this end, NI has developed a software-defined Battery Lab Solution for electric vehicle validation labs. Through software, the solution allows battery validation and data management and analysis of battery data, while being open and flexible to scale for global validation testing and adapt to the ever-evolving innovations in battery technologies.
The Software-Defined Battery Lab draws parallels from the concept of Software-Defined Vehicles, which is changing how engineering teams bring vehicles to market and continuously improve their performance. As battery technologies evolve and scale, companies can accelerate test system development, maximize reuse of battery testing investments, and connect battery data to improve performance through changes to software.
Testing can shorten design cycles
For most OEMs, the main challenge lies in shorter time-to-market cycles, which in turn means shorter, more constrained design cycles. But this must be accomplished without sacrificing part quality or reliability.
Suman Narayan, Senior Vice President at Allegro Microsystems, said during an NI Connect keynote session that testing and validation is often a significant hurdle during a design cycle. He noted that Allegro created a standardized test framework, using some of NI’s test solutions. Narayan said the automated test solutions helped to reduce the company’s test time by 40%.
Space flight is prime oppportunity for test
During NI Connect, John Harvey, Senior Staff Engineer at Lockheed Martin, noted that the growing complexity of spacecraft systems meant more testing is needed. Lockheed Martin uses NI’s PXI as well as Labview for simulation and validation. “Automation with Labview is a big part of the equation as it creates a lot of test data,” Harvey said.
Lockheed Martin is involved in manned space programs such as Artemis, whose next mission is planned for November 2024. Artemis is eventually expected to pave the way for a manned lunar colony.
AI will play key role in the future of test
Not surprisingly, NI has been researching the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in test systems. NI CEO Eric Starkloff said during the first NI Connect keynote session that generative AI is an extension of what NI has been doing for decades, using high-level intelligences to automate testing for higher throughout and lower cost. He cited NI’s Labview as an early example of a program that would write a program to help automate test procedures.
“We are at the early stages of looking at how AI can help test systems,” Starkloff told the audience. Thomas Benjamin, Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President for NI, added that NI is working on a concept AI assistant that can program in Labview.
Spencer Chin is a Senior Editor for Design News covering the electronics beat. He has many years of experience covering developments in components, semiconductors, subsystems, power, and other facets of electronics from both a business/supply-chain and technology perspective. He can be reached at [email protected].
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