TestBench, Nov. 2010: M&A in the DMM Market
Agilent Technologies Inc. announced it has acquired certain assets of Signametrics, a manufacturer of PXI, VXI, PCI and USB digital multimeters (DMM), and modular switching products. These test and measurement products are commonly used in manufacturing production and automotive test systems.
Signametrics, a privately held company, is a pioneer and a 20-year veteran in the plug-in DMM market. Signametrics products include PCI, PXI, USB and VXI test and measurement systems. Signametrics’ hardware modules are complemented by front-panel software and libraries. Signametrics products are world renowned for their reliability and ease of use.
The DMM was among the first instrument to benefit from computer control. RS-232 initially was used to communicate with DMMs, followed in the mid ‘70s by IEEE 488, otherwise known as a GPIB (or HPIB, for Hewlett Packard Interface Bus). Once minicomputers and later specialized desktop computers were able to control DMMs as well as other instruments, the evolution of test automation was underway. This moderate progression gave way to a greatly accelerated proliferation of test automation with the introduction of the PC in the early ‘80s. The rapidly improving cost/performance of PCs created demand for the better targeted computer-based instruments. 1
The first plug-in DMM was introduced by MetraByte, which later merged with Keithley Instruments. This 4½-digit ISA PCIP DMM was followed by the 5½-digit Signametrics ISA DMMs distributed by Keitheley Instruments. Twenty years later, these units gave way to models compatible with the newer PC interfaces such as PCI, PCIe, PXI, LXI, and USB. Today’s DMMs are differentiated by their feature sets and prices. Basic low-resolution meters that only measure voltage, current, and resistance are available for less than $100. High-accuracy measurement platforms with a wide range of options and accessories may cost more than $2,000.2
Manufacturers have adopted various strategies to position products between these extremes. A stand-alone DMM with excellent performance costs $500 to $1,000 or more but may not support multichannel data acquisition. Alternatively, meters with an application-specific capabilities targeting particular industries are increasingly common. This new breed of high-performance plug-in DMMs has some noteworthy capabilities that are light-years ahead of their predecessors. Although slightly more expensive, these models incorporate quite a few operations, and one of these may allow you to eliminate the need to include a much more expensive, single-minded piece of gear.
Today’s high-power DMMs introduce extensive functionality in test systems. Being small and cost-effective and having computer interfaces make them a good choice for the new generation of test systems. While traditional units were categorized in terms of their digits, these newer units are distinguished in terms of their capacity to source and measure. For these reasons, they are showing up in test applications not commonly associated with DMMs, bridging the gap between conventional DMMs and specialized test equipment.
The acquisition expands Agilent’s current offering in DMMs and data acquisition and switching solutions. Agilent’s handheld, benchtop and test rack DMMs, rated number one in the industry for speed and accuracy, have a proven track record for reliability. Agilent has provided data acquisition and switching solutions for more than 25 years. These include LXI, PXI, VXI and USB solutions for electrical, physical, mechanical, acoustic and signal routing applications up to 50 GHz. This acquisition brings together two long-time players in the DMM market.