Autotestcon 2: PXI on the rise

October 10, 2013 // By Lary Desjardin
In an earlier report from Autotestcon, I focused on instrument vendors who offer products based on large format modular standards such as VXI or the emerging AXIe. Many of these also offer PXI, arguably the largest volume of all the standards. Here, I’m focusing on vendors who offer PXI as their primary, or only, modular standard.

Looking at 2012 financial statements, modular instruments outgrew their traditional counterparts by 15 to 20 points. This indicates that the shift to modular is accelerating. While only 15% of the entire automation marketplace, modular instruments are now knocking on the door of RF (radio frequency) applications, the largest macro segment in the test and measurement industry. Big RF investments from National Instruments, Agilent, Aeroflex, and ZTEC are producing innovations that make the shift to modular even more compelling. As the market shifts to modular, it is in no single vendor’s interest to slow the investment, as that allows the others to take market share in a segment where ownership is up for grabs. Therefore, RF is the tipping point for the entire automated test industry.

This disruption affects not just RF, but other instrument categories, software, semiconductor test, and business models. This last aspect, differing business models, was on display from PXI vendors at Autotestcon. Some had the traditional product business model, some were focused on solutions, and some were focused on niches enabled by the shift to modular.

My first stop was National Instruments ; they marry their key software platform, LabView, to a small list of modular hardware platforms: PXI, CompactDAQ, and CompactRIO. From this they are able to address a broad width of applications. However, they tailor products and features for the various target segments. A good example of this is their recently introduced PXI embedded controller with a removable hard drive, the NI PXIe-8135 . This seems like a minor feature, but it is critical for some mil/aero applications where sensitive information is loaded or recorded on the disk drive. Making non-volatile memory removable allows the otherwise standard controller to address these applications.

While at the NI booth, I was able to see a demonstration from Radx Technologies . They are a recently founded start-up, focusing on delivering DSP (digital signal processing) IP to test system