“NI’s approach embraces customer knows best rather than a vendor knows best approach“


Rahman is a leading expert in the different industrial markets of interest to NI including test and measurement, design and control, industrial and embedded, automotive, and academia. In addition, he is a prolific author of articles, books and user-conference proceedings and a thought leader in many public forums on innovation policy.

The big bang of smart devices is creating an inflection point in automated test – for both the test managers and engineers challenged with ensuring the quality of these devices at increasingly lower costs, and the vendors that serve them. To test their smart devices, organizations are transitioning from the status quo of rack-and-stack box instruments and closed turnkey ATE systems to smarter test systems that deliver ongoing connectivity and problem solving capability that meets or exceeds the device(s) under test.

In an exclusive conversation with ELE Times Rahman talks about the paradigm shift in T&M industry from rack and stack approach to PXI based user centric approach.

ELE Times: What is National Instruments Approach to the need of Smarter Test & Measurement Solutions for Cyber physical devices?

Rahman Jamal: When the term was coined by the National Science Foundation in the US exactly in 2006 our CEO, Dr. James Truchard, was asked to demonstrate a framework that helps users to build cyber physical systems at their very first workshop.  We have been involved with this topic since a long time and the terms Cyber Physical Systems was the term used in Academia primarily but today, it has many different names like the IOT, IIOT. In Germany, it’s called Industry 4.0, the 4th Industrial Revolution, and another name for smart factory. So, independent of what name we use, these devices are connected and are becoming smarter. Now, this is a great situation for the consumers who can make use of these devices. But it also challenges quite a bit, the test customers, the ones who are coming up with test strategies. This fundamentally means a paradigm shift in the way they have approached the test drives in the past and the way they will have to approach it in the future.

PXI has grown by a CAGR of more than 15% for the past 5 years and Frost and Sullivan estimates that it will continue on this trajectory. Software was the key to this growth. NI’s approach embraces a “customer knows best” rather than a “vendor knows best” approach.

As the devices around us become increasingly smarter, customers have two choices: wait for their vendor to deliver a temporary solution that cannot be modified, or take a smarter option. A platform-based approach of modular hardware and open, flexible solutions

ELE Times: How well do you think the Indian electronics industry has responded to rapid change in this T&M technology?
Rahman Jamal: As India is going more into attracting multinational companies with state-of-the-art smart factory sights here this will be the enabler and the architecture that will differentiate from the traditional architectures that are being used.  So, even a product like VST, which is very high end, is being used by certain companies who have realized the competitive advantage of that compared to the rack and stack approach.  Interestingly, if you compare the price points of the rack and stack approach so if you were to add the cost of the single instruments that you rack and stack it and then you look at it from a modular platform approach the cost is nowhere near to what a rack and stack approach would cost. That’s a similar situation that we have in the Test and Measurement industry where the box instrument with a fixed personality is the traditional paradigm.

ELE Times: You have been connected with the T&M industry for over two decades. Please talk about the evolution of test and measurement technology and industry over the years.

Rahman Jamal: When I started that was exactly 25 years ago, we introduced Labview on the Macintosh and the Macintosh was not a popular platform. We were covering at the time bandwidth that were more in the megahertz frequency range and the resolution was nowhere near to the traditional instruments that were being offered, but as time evolved and with the introduction of the PXI platform we were able to increase our bandwidth as well as resolution going all the way through the numbers that I just presented in the gigahertz range and way beyond the capacities of this traditional devices.  And I think I showed you the numbers of PXI, the growth of PXI in terms of acceptance and adoption in the market.  The last five years has been around 15% growth of the PXI, but we are quite honestly still scratching the surface with this approach.

Because the traditional approach is so dominantly kind of ingrained in the thinking of users that very often they just simply don’t know that you could take a different approach till they come to the limitations around their test or smarter devices.  But it is often very late when they jump into that.  Qualcomm I think is a good example of making that move from traditional rack and stack to a PXI based.  Just that we remove not neutralizing the FPGA capabilities.  They were able to reduce the test time to 10X.  So, I think I personally have seen a massive adoption of that, but if I look at the market the overall market we are nowhere near to it.  to where we could be growing and it’s simply a matter of adoption seeing that the limitations and with the proliferation of the smart devices with the 50 billion devices we are expecting by 2020 I think we will see a huge rise of the smart architectures or smarter systems.

ELE Times: Which technologies do you think will drive the future of this automation?  Are there any greater values that see the way forward in this automation?

Rahman Jamal: I think Moore’s Law has been very generous to us in the past.  So, that is driving big time the technological advancement that you see in our architecture.  I’ll give you an example – for us it’s easy to change the PXI controller in that chassis with a new faster fifth sixth generation of Intel processor.  A box vendor would have to change his entire architecture and rebuild the box.  And that will always be never riding time in the market.

ELE Times: What do you think are the challenges with the smart technology in this segment?

Rahman Jamal: The challenge is simple. If we apply the traditional approach we simply cannot keep up with the smartness of the devices. For example, let’s assume if we had 50 billion devices by 2020 you may have to come up with 50 billion different test architectures just to make the point, because you cannot customize your rack and stack systems.  So, it would rather be standardized on a platform that is changeable, that is flexible open, allows using different IPs, and allows the users to make use of commercial off-the-shelf technologies. I think the scalability of architecture with the rise of the smart devices becomes a very important enabler and competitive advantage over the competitors.

ELE Times: You launched World’s first VST in 2012 and now you are launching its second generation. What’s new about the latest 2nd generation VST?

Rahman Jamal: In 2012, we introduced the world’s first vector signal transceiver, VST, combining the functionality of a vector signal analyzer, a vector signal generator and digital instruments into a single device. It also features user-programmable FPGAs that can be customized through LabVIEW by the user or Alliance Partners. VST is the perfect example of a platform-based approach that is supported by a vibrant ecosystem.

The next generation of wireless devices’ requirements shows the hunger for higher throughput, lower latency and high reliability that basically never stops. In order to meet these requirements, we first have to understand the market and then we have to address it. So we didn’t stop after the announcement of the VST in 2012 and worked tirelessly to address the new requirements of the market and at the same time improve the size of the VST while the others were trying to catch-up.

Second generation Vector Signal Transceiver, which combines the RF signal generator and RF signal analyzer and user programmable FPGA into a two slot PXI module.  NI second-generation VST features 1 gigahertz instantaneous bandwidth which is ideal for today’s and tomorrow’s wireless testing like for carrier aggregation and ultra wide band radar.  While test requirements are becoming increasingly difficult it delivers excellent RF measurement accuracy for better insight into the behavior of your device.  With a Labview programmable Xilinx FPGA you can design your own instrument to solve the most advanced measurement challenges based on the PXI platform where the single VST will be expanded into a configuration from a 8/8 Mimo system to a mixed single IoT tester, all with certain nanosecond of synchronization and powered by the latest multicore processors. Smart devices require smarter test systems, tests smarter with a second generation vector signal transceiver.

ELE Times: Could you please cite a few examples of satisfied clients or users of VST system?

Rahman Jamal: Yes, Qualcomm is a good example – a market leader in wireless testing.  The numbers moving from a one approach to the other.  We have some nice testimonials from companies like Broadcom or Lockheed Martin and Noffz. Then we also have some VST applications in India that. That shows how well the customers basically report the advantages they see compared to traditional approaches and what they are able to do much more than what they would be able to do it using the traditional approach.  We are not talking about one or two X advantages.  We are talking about 10 times and more.  Customer testimonials speak for themselves.