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VI on National dial

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FROM mid February to early March, National Instruments held its annual series of virtual instrumentation conferences on its latest developments in computer-based and networked measurements.

The NIDays 2005 roadshow, which included technical sessions and technology displays, embraced Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland and Christchurch.

In Sydney, attendees came from as far afield as Queensland, Wollongong and Canberra and included engineers, developers, system integrators, consultants and other strategic partners. Exhibitors included Neo Vista System Integrators (NVSI), Madry Technologies, Balaton Technologies and Elpro Technologies .

In his keynote address Jeremy Carter, general manager of National Instruments Oceania, spoke of the growing need to design, develop and test faster and more efficiently. “He who gets products to market first can capture that market first,” said Carter.

This evolution is being spurred by the world’s need for greater security, wider communications, a cleaner environment, improved health, increased energy, greater and more efficient transportation, and better computation.

Virtual instrumentation, which typically starts among scientists and engineers with specific domain knowledge, is now being leveraged into control and design, according to Carter.

“Add a layer of productive software and modular I/O, and you have a platform that provides a high level of synchronisation and leverages high investment technology,” he said. “The end result is that we can accelerate the rate of test, control and design.”

Guest speakers at NIDays 2005 in Sydney included Paul Carter, senior project manager at Cochlear, as well as Laurent Raynal and Graeme Bowyer, project managers at NVSI. Vijay Sivaramakrishnan, NI regional specialist on modular instruments, also gave a presentation. He is based in Bangalore, India. [See forthcoming issue for full interview]

Cochlear’s survival relies heavily on verification and calibration, forming a “huge part” of the total development effort, according to Paul Carter. However, it’s becoming increasingly challenging to design test systems.

“The number of components is increasing, with more customer options than before,” said Carter. “Components themselves are growing in complexity, development cycle times are shortening and product quality requirements are increasing, as is product volume.”

Cochlear needs to be able to develop its test systems quickly, and to easily modify the test product variants. Other requirements are high repeatability and short test times.

Carter spoke of products being typically subjected to seven types of tests.

While traditionally Cochlear looked to full custom solutions, “clearly this approach is no longer going to work”. However, a modular approach makes derivative test system development very fast.

In this particular instance, Cochlear was able to create a common core, using closed test system hardware that comprised PXI embedded controllers, customer hardware, user interface and sound chamber.

PXI “fitted in nicely”, said Carter.

Laurent Raynal of NVSI outlined how the company developed a 50 tonne load cell system using FieldPoint modules, LabView Real Time for the control systems (to maintain standards compliance), Allen Bradley motors, NI’s FP-Quad-510 module and a Schick laser displacement sensor.

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