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PXI: the secret is out

Is PXI still the 'best kept secret' when it comes to design validation? As Tim Fryer reports, there is a group of companies determined to make sure it isn't.

A survey conducted by New Electronics in 2013 showed that only 14% of design engineers were using PXI based systems for design characterisation and validation. Of those who were not using PXI, 68% said they just didn't know enough about it and a further 29% were happy to use familiar hardware and software.

From that, we can perhaps conclude that it is not a case of PXI being labelled as a manufacturing test platform, but more the case that not enough is known about PXI to give it a label at all.

PXI, for those not acquainted with it, is a modular platform based on industry standards – its name is extracted from PCI eXtensions for Instrumentation. It has technical advantages through its timing and triggering, and practical advantages through its reconfigurability, that make it ideal for automated test and it has been adopted widely in the manufacturing test sector – sometimes replacing big in line testers and, in some cases, forming the heart of the testers themselves.

However, PXI's acceptance as a design tool has been less spectacular. Nick Hickford, sales manager for PXI switching supplier Pickering Interfaces, believes progress is being made. "There is obviously potential in design, I think it is just about making people realise the benefits. We are seeing the PXI platform used in design validation and simulation, and its modularity is attractive, so it can be reused and it is scalable."

A leading growth area for the platform is RF. Hickford said: "Things like semiconductor and products where you need to verify operation – there is potential there. While it is obviously a growing market, PXI's modularity suits this application. Also, over the past few years, there have been some real advances in the capabilities of these instruments and they now rival benchtop – you can how access performance that you couldn't before in terms of the instrumentation. It is more feasible now to move to a modular platform."

However, the biggest market in the UK is military and aerospace and Hickford is seeing broader use of the platform there. "They need to test to the Nth degree. PXI was mainly used in manufacture, but it is such a versatile platform that it is not limited to manufacture. We hope things like the PXI Show can enlighten people to its possibilities."

The PXI Show mentioned by Hickford will be staged for the third time in 2014. Having been held at Silverstone for the past two years, it is moving this year to the NEC, Birmingham, where it will be colocated with National Electronics Week. Taking place from 8 to 10 April, the PXI Show will continue to be organised by its exhibitors, with Hickford at the fore.

"It is the only opportunity for design and test engineers to meet and see leading players in PXI in one location," said Hickford. "PXI is the most popular modular platform for test measurement and automation and, as such, there is a requirement for engineers and managers who are either using it or would like to use it to see the breadth of what is available and talk to the leading vendors."

At the time of writing, there are 20 companies exhibiting at the PXI Show, the latest to sign up being Signadyne, a Spanish supplier of PXI modules, which joins the multinational band of exhibitors, with companies from the US, Taiwan, Malaysia and Holland. All leading suppliers, including National Instruments, Agilent, ADLINK, Aeroflex, Marvin Test Systems and Pickering, will be at the event.

"We have a split between suppliers and software and system integrators," claimed Hickford. "Uniquely, visitors will get a taste of the hardware and of the integrators who put systems together and generate the software."

This means newcomers to the world of PXI will be able to talk to supplier neutral independent integrators and get an appreciation of what can and can't be achieved using the PXI platform.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a seminar programme and the intention is that the keynote will be presented by a board level representative from the PXI Systems Alliance, guardian of the PXI standard.

Who should go along? "Anyone who is using PXI, so they can keep up with developments and talk to experts in an informal setting," said Hickford. "But also anyone who is keen to learn, who is not actively using PXI and would like to learn more about what benefits a modular platform could give them. The seminar programme as well will support that."

To find out more about the PXI Show visit

New Electronics explored the relevance of PXI to design engineers in a supplement last year. We will revisit the topic with a major supplement in the 10 June issue, which will include an industry survey.

We would appreciate readers taking part in our survey, whether you're a PXI user or not. To do this, click here. One respondent, drawn at random, will win an Olympus Stylus SZ-15 Digital Compact Camera.

Tim Fryer

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