In this roundtable NE takes a look at the changing nature of test and measurement, and the impact that National Instrument’s LabVIEW NXG has had on the engineering community.

The world of test and measurement is continuing to evolve and the pace of change is accelerating.

“When it comes to testing applications the key challenge facing engineers is that the things they are testing are getting more complex,” explained Jeffrey Phillips, Head of Automotive Marketing. “Not only are engineers dealing with greater complexity, but test departments are getting squeezed.”

As a result, Phillips said engineers are no longer interested in simply buying off-the-shelf. “They want to take a core set of technologies and work with the test vendor to build a solution that better meets their specific needs.”

According to Chris Cilino, a LabVIEW Framework Architect/Engineer at Cirrus Logic, “We need tools that efficiently and accurately support validation. We need the flexibility to be able to adapt rapidly to changing IP. Our customers are taking our technology and using it in ways we hadn’t foreseen, so tools need to be easily understood to enable us to edit and execute our test plans efficiently.”

Last year saw one of the biggest rollouts in years by National Instruments (NI) with the launch of LabVIEW NXG 1.0.

“When we launched LabVIEW NXG we wanted to make the experience for engineers testing and building complex systems much easier, so our focus was on improving work flows and interaction,” said Phillips.

NI took advantage of web technology to give users the ability to create LabVIEW flat panels that could run inside a browser.

“For engineers, the NXG Web Module helped to expand the NI platform,” said Ray Hsu, R&D Director, IoT Software. “Users can now create web applications for the purpose of remote monitoring and control, that can be used with any device that supports a web browser.”

As Hsu explained, however, when it comes to web applications it’s necessary to take into account how they are hosted and how data is securely accessed.

“Our Web Module provides a set of infrastructure services which are part of another product from NI, SystemLink, which is used in the deployment of infrastructure for managing distributed systems. It provides a centralised web-based management interface for connected devices, software and data.”

“NI has a long history of using Open Source (OS) and we wanted to incorporate as much OS technology as we could, so we could fine tune workflows to better support engineers,” suggested Phillips.

“We made the decision to move to OS when we decided to move to Real Time Linux and we upstream a lot of the work that we do,” explained Omid Sojoodi, VP of R&D, Application and Embedded Software.

“The quality and quantity of OS products that are available has increased dramatically. OS makes us more efficient internally. ”
Omid Sojoodi

“The quality and quantity of OS products that are available has increased dramatically. I believe we should take advantage, where possible, of these capabilities, especially in those areas where we don’t need to build up a specific field of expertise.

“OS makes us more efficient internally and is a good way of retaining younger engineers.”

“When I was first programming the value you brought to the company was your specific knowledge,” said Cilino. He continued, “It’s totally different today. It’s not what you know but rather how you go about solving problems. That’s a significant change and a move away from what I call ‘tribal knowledge’.”

LabVIEW NXG evolves

In the year since the launch of LabVIEW NXG 1.0 NI has unveiled LabVIEW NXG 2.0 and at NI Week in Austin showed off V 2.1.

“The NXG launch saw an interesting response from traditional LabVIEW users,” said Phillips.

“While there were a lot of ‘cool things’ included in the new platform, for many traditional users they weren’t quite ready to use them. There were issues with language completion and the amount of hardware that was supported in the product.

“We were going after a different profile of user, so we decided to tell existing users to hold off switching from LabVIEW. That decision was based on extensive research into other platform transitions, by the likes of Oracle and Microsoft. The lesson was to proceed cautiously – we didn’t want users to feel forced and not understand the value of the transition.”

As a result NI committed itself to a parallel roadmap for both LabVIEW 2017 and LabVIEW NXG. (LabVIEW 2018 was unveiled last month at NI Week).

“With the launch of LabVIEW NXG 2.0 we were able to provide more language and more hardware platforms had been completed. Users can raid these new capabilities and we’ve standardised the way in which code is distributed.

“We’ve also improved on the hardware configuration inside the product. With LabVIEW NXG 1.0 we introduced capabilities that provide an interactive flow to get the engineer further down the design path before they write code. That meant bringing up the hardware; getting the settings and connections configured; validating that you’re getting a correct signal; doing all the things you need to do before starting work.

“With LabVIEW 2.0 we introduced a capability called System Designer. This is a graphical visual palate inside the product that can show live hardware connected to a system, so you can programme off that.

“Not only are test engineers dealing with greater complexity, but test departments are getting squeezed.”
Jeff Phillips

"There’s also a design view where you can work off a menu of NI hardware to build up a system that’s not yet connected. It means you can write code on it and carry out simulations before plugging into the real system. That’s a benefit for engineers working with systems that are already deployed in the field.”

Prior to LabVIEW NXG users of LabVIEW would need to have a working knowledge of programming.

“With LabVIEW NXG we wanted to provide developers and non-developers with the language components they need to build automated systems,” explained Phillips.

NI has found that what has excited users most about LabVIEW NXG has been the ease by which its features can be used to complement systems that are still in LabVIEW 2015, 2016 and 2017.

“Getting test engineers to migrate their test applications from one source language to another, is a big ask,” said Phillips, “so the features and capabilities that have proved most popular have given users functionality not found in LabVIEW 2017 but which have not required them to move their code over.”

“The two biggest areas where we ran into that were with Package Manager and LabVIEW Web Module,” said Hsu.

“At Cirrus Logic we’ve invested in our own distribution technology. That system not only involves distributing the software written in LabVIEW but having a parallel set of documentation that describes how to get LabView, install drivers etc. It was a very manual process,” Cilino explained.

“NI’s Package Manager, handles the installation of the complete stack and the software we are distributing.”

As a customer and user, the transition to LabVIEW NXG is an involved process, said Cilino, but he encourages engineers to make the jump.

According to Phillips, ”NI have been very open in terms of what NXG can, or cannot do, and about future capabilities. We need to manage expectations.”

“As a user we are very positive about the more advanced features that will appear in time,” said Cilino, “and we’re certainly excited at what the future holds.”