PXI offers a more flexible approach to test management

3 min read

More than 18 years ago, the PXI Systems Alliance was established in order to ensure the PXI standard for modular instrumentation remained at the forefront of the technology and that new developments met the requirements of customers in terms of performance, interoperability and cost effectiveness.

According to Loofie Gutterman, who is not only the president of the Alliance, but also president of PXI specialist Marvin Test Solutions: "PXI is the obvious choice for companies working to create powerful, modular test systems. We are in a market in which the complexity of devices is growing, which means that test requirements are, themselves, having to become more complex.

"The rate at which companies have to bring new products to market is increasing rapidly, which means that the ability to adapt test systems to meet the requirements of these new products is crucial."

As the Internet of Things takes hold, everyday devices are gaining wireless connectivity, which in turn, increases test requirements significantly.

"Companies need to keep pace with this evolution," explains Gutterman, "and the issue of flexibility is essential when it comes to considering test strategies. For me, PXI is the obvious choice for those companies looking to create powerful, but modular test systems."

The Alliance brings together most of the important players in the modular test business, but has also been successful in drawing new members from around the world.

"We currently have 65 members," Gutterman says, "but while the Alliance was primarily a US centric body when it was first established, that has changed. Many of our newest members now come from outside the US and, increasingly, we are attracting small to medium sized companies who are looking to establish themselves as viable PXI providers."

Over the last 12 months, the organisation has gained new members from the UK, China, Germany and Italy.

With so many new members, it is crucial that the Alliance works to ensure that all modules work together effectively.

"That is crucial to the success of the PXI Standard," Gutterman says. "Ensuring interoperability is a key challenge – we need to ensure that different vendors are operating in harmony."

To that end, a 'Plug Fest' was held last year. In the early days of PXI, an annual Plug Fest was held at AutoTestCon in the US, but as confidence levels improved, that was discontinued.

"The latest Plug Fest came in response to requests from our members," explains Gutterman. "The standard is no less stable, but with so much PXI related software being developed, it was seen as an exciting opportunity to ensure compatibility and interoperability were still robust."

According to Gutterman, while the PXI architecture is open, there is a real burden on vendors to ensure they are architecting their software environments correctly and to make sure the different environments don't conflict and cause problems.

"The last Plug Fest was all about ensuring customers have a positive experience using PXI. We not only want to demonstrate that it is a flexible standard, but that PXI is also very simple to install.

"I'm pleased to report that we didn't find any problems – everything worked. But, then again, this is an established standard with clear specifications. While we didn't expect problems, we wanted to be on the safe side and ensure that any advertised products met the PXI standard."

Gutterman touched on the issue of software and while members of the Alliance tend not to be software companies, every product will have a level of software offered with it.

"Traditionally, chassis didn't tend to come with software – today, most will have at least an initialisation file and, with the growing need for smarter capabilities, vendors are supplying devices with more sophisticated software. Take Marvin Test for example; its chassis can report airflow, power supply voltages and temperature."

When PXI was first introduced, it took a while for it to gain traction.

PXI demonstrated phenomenal growth in its formative years and Gutterman believes this is continuing.

"People are continuing to convert from other platforms to PXI and we see that on a daily basis," he says.

While the New Electronics survey suggested the adoption of PXI among design engineers remains limited, nearly 44% of those questioned said they would be looking to use it going forward.
"There's a lot of potential with PXI," according to Gutterman.

There has been significant interest in using PXI and the opportunities for vendors in terms of demand from the telecoms and wireless sectors is certainly growing, Gutterman suggests.

While most of that demand is coming from manufacturing test, Gutterman believes there is a significant 'pull-through' effect in terms of encouraging greater use of PXI at the engineering stage.
One sector which has seen significant take up of PXI in recent years is the semiconductor industry.

By using a common platform from characterisation to production test, PXI helps companies to bring their latest technologies to market far quicker. Semiconductor device performance is essential, especially at a time when new products are gaining more complexity and becoming more multifunctional.
"PXI is geared for automation and highly suited to the characterisation of these devices," he says. "Offering a high performance, customisable platform, PXI hardware can be used from characterisation to production test.

"Using the same hardware platform for design and test allows code reuse, which helps to speed up the time taken to become production ready," Gutterman addsd.

With several thousand modules now available to users, the PXI platform continues to evolve and more capable products are coming to the market all the time.

"Design engineers are finding that using an automated test platform is becoming increasingly essential, ensuring they save time whilst maintaining comprehensive test coverage. I certainly believe that the PXI platform continues to deliver a very attractive prosposition," Gutterman concludes.