4 Ways to Test Smarter and Stay Ahead

Article By : Jonah Paul, Senior Product Marketing Manager, NI

Think about your past year as an engineer: How has your role changed? How about in the last five years? As the pace of change in technology continues to accelerate, you must adapt and create more efficiency in every aspect of your workplace.

In a 2015 test and measurement study by Aspencore (formerly UBM), engineers across several industries including semiconductor, automotive, and aerospace and defense listed the following aspects of their test development evolution as their most significant challenges:

“Adapting to the fast pace of change in technology to provide testing capability and value to end users.”
“Designing ever more complex products with shorter time to market.”
“Getting test equipment that can test to the latest up-to-date standards.”
“Keeping pace with high-speed communication and networking bandwidth (i.e., 100GE, 400GE, etc.).”
“Maintaining the ability to test newest generation products without spending large amounts of money on specialty instrumentation that will soon be obsolete.”

Which one of these challenges is stretching you and your engineering team the most? These fast-paced changes in product specs are pressuring you to extend your benches and production lines with the same or less budget. Software is critical to how you navigate this new engineering world—not just to keep up but to thrive.


Figure 1. Reduce your time to setup, automate and customize your test results with the latest release of LabVIEW NXG.

This article shows you how to use the latest release of LabVIEW NXG to address the following four organizational challenges and quickly move on to your next engineering pursuit:

  • Reduce your test system setup and configuration time
  • Minimize the time to your next measurement
  • Increase test software collaboration
  • Put the right test data in front of the right people

    1. Test smarter by reducing your system setup and configuration time.

How much engineering time do you spend searching for the manual, the pinouts, the right hardware driver, the right utility, and so on? A recent NI survey of over 400 engineers across multiple industries showed that one of the most important and most frequent struggles of a test engineer is completing a measurement in a short amount of time within an environment that requires connecting and integrating with a variety of components, often including instruments from multiple vendors.

To help you test smarter, LabVIEW NXG now includes workflows that provide additional context and assistance with surfacing the right information at the right time. Take, for instance, the common task of setting up and verifying a bench of instruments. LabVIEW NXG incorporates a single view so you can immediately discover, visualize, configure, and document your instruments. If the appropriate drivers are not yet installed on the machine, LabVIEW NXG provides you with a guided experience to find and install the drivers without leaving the environment. Once the driver is installed, you can see the documentation, examples, and NI soft front panels you have to verify your setup and get initial measurements quickly.


Figure 2. Visually discover hardware, manage drivers, and configure settings without leaving the LabVIEW NXG environment.

If you don’t have an instrument yet, you can configure an offline system from a catalog of hardware. The visual canvas shows you which modular instruments you can use to build a valid setup that meets your requirements. To scale to larger setups, you can also configure the system in a table view so you can efficiently batch edit configurations across instruments.

Each of these new capabilities aims to reduce the time you spend on common setup tasks so you can dedicate more time where it’s truly needed: acquiring results and customizing the system to meet your individual needs.

    2. Test smarter by minimizing the time to your next measurement.

Setting up the first measurement is important, but it’s not your only concern. New requirements will force you to continue to iterate on your test system. Because of this, you must have the flexibility to minimize the time to not just your first but also your next unknown test or measurement. Traditionally, to achieve this level of customization, engineers have turned to developing and maintaining unique system software using general-purpose tools. This is often expensive in both initial and ongoing test costs.

Over the last 30 years, hundreds of thousands of engineers have used LabVIEW to increase their productivity through the abstraction of instrumentation tasks, and they have benefited from the intuitive functional view of graphical programming. Glenn Larkin, an engineer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said by adopting LabVIEW instead of traditional approaches to develop an automated maintenance system, his team of three people “prototyped, developed, and deployed the final version of the application in about 15 months, which is roughly one-third of the estimated time required to develop the application using Java or C++.”

LabVIEW NXG builds on this graphical experience with engineering workflows that help you transition from hardware setup, initial measurements, and analysis to an efficient development environment. Throughout this transition to customization, you retain your engineering insight, configurations, and analysis routines. With LabVIEW NXG, you start at a higher level, and when you need more advanced analysis, logic, or automation, you can quickly build on top of the work you’ve already done.

Figure 3. Rapidly build and then iterate on your test and measurement system using the drag-and-drop design approach of LabVIEW NXG.

    3. Test smarter by increasing test software collaboration.

On a team of one, reuse is a manageable problem. The challenge comes with scaling to a larger validation engineering team to keep up with growth, scaling to service multiple remote development and deployment test stations to manage costs, and scaling to higher volume or more batches to increase throughput. Scaling successfully in these dimensions requires a level of standardization and an agreed upon set of tools, workflow, and foundational software.

As part of NI’s continued commitment to test software, LabVIEW NXG and LabVIEW 2017, along with an increasing amount of other test and measurement software from NI, have been built on common, open-standard package technology. A new package manager enables you to distribute software—not just NI or third-party software, but also your own. Often, the root challenge of reuse is not finding the app or code but rather finding the right version of the right hardware driver. A key component of NI package management in LabVIEW NXG is defining what test code or application you depend on to work effectively and efficiently. Since NI software is an open platform, this dependency enforcement can cascade to your test code, third-party add-ons, LabVIEW NXG Runtime, and hardware drivers. This reduces the time your team spends on actively managing software configuration, dependency management, and test system replication. In a recent NI survey, 7 out of 10 software developers who used the latest version of LabVIEW NXG responded they will likely to very likely use it to build scalable libraries and system deployments.

Figure 4. Distribute all the software you need to deploy and replicate a test system using the open, industry-standard package management that LabVIEW NXG provides.

Increasing test collaboration and reuse relies on how you distribute software, whether that is with LabVIEW NXG, LabVIEW, or your own test code. Take the first step in standardization by distributing your software using industry-standard package building and package management technology so you can confidently replicate your systems.

4. Test smarter by putting the right test data in front of the right people.

Are you becoming a bottleneck of engineering data? If you’re a barrier to your team learning the status of tests in a timely manner, and a barrier to your own productivity because you can monitor only the one test in front of you, you are not alone. NI asked a group of test, measurement, and control engineers what they could do if they had remote access to their tests.

Figure 5. Remotely monitoring and accessing data are the most common ways engineers would use web-based user interfaces in their next project, according to an NI survey.

The survey respondents saw the biggest impact of remote access on monitoring a test and/or accessing results. By using the web, engineers can take advantage of an accessible tool so entire teams can tap into the data and gain additional visibility. The web is not a new set of technologies, but engineers have struggled to integrate it in their setups because of their lack of web programming experience, IT background, and time to manage the communication mechanisms required.

The LabVIEW NXG Web Module introduces drag-and-drop creation tools for web-based interfaces (WebVIs) to help you augment your test, measurement, control, and monitoring applications. It is based on standard web technologies so that web interfaces can be viewed from any modern browser on any device—such as tablets and smartphones—without plug-ins. You can use it to quickly create web-based engineering user interfaces, and, with its intuitive communication mechanisms and platform for secure hosting, you can rapidly develop and deploy your web interface without web programming expertise.

If your team has web programming expertise, you can use the LabVIEW NXG Web Module to build interfaces based on standard HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript technologies. When you do this, the interfaces can be customized with code directly in LabVIEW NXG or embedded into an existing web-based solution.

Figure 6. Augment your test, measurement, control, and monitoring applications with web-based interfaces created with the LabVIEW NXG Web Module.

Evaluate How You Can Stay Ahead With Test Software
Looking at the scale and complexity of test and measurement application requirements, along with the variety of tools and utilities vendors offer, the question is not whether you need software for your project but rather how you can best use software to address the exponential pace of change in the engineering world. Test smarter by evaluating the software tools you are considering with these four key questions. How well does the software tool help you:

  • Reduce your test system setup and configuration time?
  • Minimize the time to your inevitable next measurement?
  • Increase test software collaboration?
  • Put the right test data in front of the right people?

What Does the Future Hold?
The latest release of LabVIEW NXG is part of NI’s more than 30 years of continued investment in a software-centric platform for your engineering team. NI’s user-defined approach focuses on unlocking your access to the tools—not on waiting for others to deliver test solutions—so you can fully take advantage of and lead technology trends.
What does your future hold? NI is excited to see the future faster through the exciting engineering challenges you will meet using LabVIEW NXG.

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