Pat Hindle, MWJ Editor
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Pat Hindle is responsible for editorial content, article review and special industry reporting for Microwave Journal magazine and its web site in addition to social media and special digital projects. Prior to joining the Journal, Mr. Hindle held various technical and marketing positions throughout New England, including Marketing Communications Manager at M/A-COM (Tyco Electronics), Product/QA Manager at Alpha Industries (Skyworks), Program Manager at Raytheon and Project Manager/Quality Engineer at MIT. Mr. Hindle graduated from Northeastern University - Graduate School of Business Administration and holds a BS degree from Cornell University in Materials Science Engineering.

Bandwidth to the Max - NIWeek 2016

August 7, 2016

NIWeekNIWeek 2016 lived up to its usual high level of impactful new products and demos. The keynotes are always Apple-like with dramatic product introductions and interesting applications that have been enabled by their modular hardware and software. Of course, Dr. T kicked off the first keynote and discussed the first 40 years of NI as they celebrated their birthday this year. He discussed the evolution of modular instrumentation and NI’s vision of virtual instrumentation as today’s test and measurement equipment has become software driven. The processing power of the FPGA, driven by Moore’s Law, has increased tremendously over the years and the PXI platform has provided an open, modular platform. This has all been amplified by the NI user community and partners to grow the applications and uses of the NI platform worldwide.

New Product Introductions
The most exciting introduction for us RF/microwave engineers was certainly the second generation Vector Signal Transceiver (VST) which Microwave Journal readers got a first look at in an exclusive video released a couple of weeks ago here. The NI PXIe-5840 module is the first 1 GHz bandwidth VST and is designed to solve the most challenging RF design and test applications for the next 3-5 years. It combines a 6.5 GHz RF vector signal generator, 6.5 GHz vector signal analyzer, high-performance user-programmable FPGA and high-speed serial and parallel digital interfaces into a single 2-slot PXI Express module (the instrument actually fits into a single slot but a second it needed for cooling). With 1 GHz of bandwidth, the 2nd Gen VST is well suited for a wide range of applications including 802.11ac/ax device testing, mobile/Internet of Things device testing, 5G design and testing, RFIC testing, radar prototyping and more. Check out 5 application demonstrations here we shot on the exhibition floor.

LTE100What was even more intriguing was that they already have software that can stitch together 4 VSTs to obtain a total bandwidth of 3.5 GHz (there is some overlapping). They used 4 since they can all fit together into one chassis (multiple can be used though). They were already displaying this on the exhibition floor and they can stitch together even more units for wider bandwidths without any degradation in performance. They also demonstrated how it can display 100 LTE carriers with this wide bandwidth. For me, this was the most exciting development released at the event.

Intel is one customer that has been using the 2nd Gen VST for their RF system verification for the XMM7480 modem. Intel said they achieved a 5X reduction in test time and with 20-50 iterations, this was a huge improvement. They also cited Audi/Konrad automotive radar testing benefiting greatly from the 2nd Gen VST.

NI also announced the first MIMO Application Framework. When paired with NI software defined radio hardware, this software reference design provides a documented, reconfigurable, parameterized physical layer written and delivered in LabVIEW source code that enables researchers to build both traditional MIMO and Massive MIMO prototypes.  The LabVIEW Communications MIMO Application Framework enables wireless designers to develop algorithms and evaluate custom IP to solve many of the practical challenges associated with real-world multiuser MIMO deployments. Scalable from 4 to 128 antennas, the MIMO Application Framework, when used with the NI USRP RIO and NI PXI hardware platforms, enables users to create small to large scale antenna systems with minimal system integration or design effort.

LUND/BristolAs participants in NI’s RF/Communications Lead User program, researchers at Bristol University have used NI’s flexible prototyping platform for 5G research and recently announced in conjunction with Lund University a world-record 22-fold increase in spectral efficiency over modern day 4G networks. They set a world record of 145.6 bit/s/Hz.

Of course, NI introduced LabVIEW 2016 system design software. The latest version of LabVIEW introduces new channel wires to simplify complex communication between parallel sections of code. Available on both desktop and real-time versions of LabVIEW, the channel wire method helps improve code readability and reduces development time. This is the first time a new wire has been added to LabVIEW in many years so represents a major introduction. The latest version also features 500+ new supported instruments, 5 new 64-bit add-ons and supports improved Python integration.

NI had several improvements to make test systems smarter. They introduced TestStand 2016 for increased productivity. In addition, they added the NI PXIe 4081 7 1/2 DMM, the most accurate in the industry according to the company. They demonstrated how the NI unit provides much lower noise levels than competing products. They showed how SanDisk used their platform to develop a new memory approach.

Also introduced was the NI PXIe-6570 digital pattern instrument and NI Digital Pattern Editor. “The PXI Digital Pattern Instrument is a critical addition to Semiconductor Test System (STS) because it gives semiconductor engineers all the digital capability they would otherwise expect to find only in high-end digital test platforms,” said Ron Wolfe, NI vice president of semiconductor test. The NI PXIe-6570 digital pattern instrument delivers the needed test capability for the ICs commonly found in the wireless device supply chain and IoT devices at an economical price per pin. It features 100 MVector per second pattern execution with independent source and capture engines and voltage/current parametric functions at up to 256 synchronized digital pins in a single subsystem.

We asked Dr. T why the STS was not more visible in the market as it appears to have big advantages in the mixed signal ATE market. He said that is takes time to display ATE systems with such a long history and tied into years of customized software at major OEMs. He also said they are targeting the mixed signal markets where their wireless expertise gives them an advantage and not the general digital test market.

Turnkey Hardware in the Loop (HIL) Simulators were also announced that are built on an open, modular architecture to help automotive and aerospace embedded software testers maintain quality while handling the demands of shortened schedules, constantly changing test requirements and reduced manpower.  NI systems easily integrate new technologies like camera processing and RF I/O, along with traditional HIL components, into a single system because they are built on open, off-the-shelf hardware and software platforms. This adaptability lets engineers keep pace with advancing technologies like advanced driver assistance systems, system electrification and advanced sensor integration.

Saab Aeronautics chose an NI HIL test system for the Gripen fighter because it is built on open, standard platforms that allowed them to reduce the overall cost of test and long-term maintenance and ownership of our hardware. This enabled them to customize the system to our exact needs, increasing the speed at which they could find and fix embedded software defects while integration testing LRUs as previously mentioned.

TSNEarly access technology platform for Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) was another big introduction. As part of a continued commitment to support the development of new standard technologies for synchronization and communications, NI (in coordination with Cisco and Intel) is enabling customers to build distributed systems that perform synchronized I/O, code execution and deterministic communication for distributed control and measurement loops, all using standard Ethernet. Lead customers are leveraging this technology: the Laboratory for Machine Tools and Production Engineering of RWTH Aachen University for advancements in next-generation computer numeric control machining, EUV Tech for novel semiconductor processing machines and Oak Ridge National Laboratory for future electrical grid research.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is working to address challenges to the stability and control of the world’s power grids caused by the accelerating deployment of distributed renewable energy sources and demonstrated on stage how Time Sensitive Networking can enable an unprecedented level of microgrid coordination and control, significantly increasing the resiliency of power delivery systems. This is becoming more important as various renewable energy sources become a larger part of the grid.

The first keynote reviewed the complete development process, Discover, Verify and Monitor examples:

WMAWith this these new additions, NI sighted several applications using their platform. The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) is a low-frequency radio telescope operating between 80 and 300 MHz. It is located at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Western Australia, the planned site of the future Square Kilometre Array (SKA) lowband telescope, and is one of three telescopes designated as a Precursor for the SKA. The MWA has been developed by an international collaboration, including partners from Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, and the United States. The MWA consists of 2048 dual-polarization dipole antennas optimized for the 80-300 MHz frequency range, arranged as 128 "tiles", each a 4x4 array of dipoles. All telescope functions including pointing are performed by electronic manipulation of dipole signals, each of which contains information from nearly four steradians of sky centered on the zenith. Each tile performs an analog beamforming operation, narrowing the field of view to a fully steerable 25 degrees at 150 MHz.

As mentioned earlier, Saab chose an NI HIL test system because it is built on open, standard platforms that allowed us to reduce the overall cost of test and long-term maintenance and ownership of our hardware,” said Anders Tunströmer of Saab Aeronautics. “It also allowed us to customize the system to our exact needs, increasing the speed at which we could find and fix embedded software defects while integration testing LRUs for our Gripen fighter.” The system included 40 interconnected control units and 1000 actuators/sensors. The implementation resulted in a 20% cost reduction. NI also introduced Switches, Loads and Signal Conditioning (SLSC) to increase test system customization with HIL.

With HIL Simulators, users can customize systems to include technologies like camera data, RF measurement and generation for radar targets, passive entry/passive start, tire pressure monitoring systems and FPGAs for running advanced models, all of which ensures maximum software test coverage; quickly begin testing to find more defects faster with a turnkey HIL Simulator delivered with VeriStand test software for real-time simulation, stimulus generation and data acquisition; and reuse existing models and hardware by easily integrating third party software models and third-party systems using the ASAM XIL industry standard.

FlowServeAddressing the IIoT market, Flowserve is using the NI platform to sensor up their pumping systems for predictive maintenance. They have even implemented augmented reality (AR) to troubleshoot problems. The AR app overlays real time sensor readings onto a pumping system in the CAD environment for diagnosing problems quickly. They are using NI InsightCMTM SDK and the new Compact RIO with WiFi, a new addition from NI, to sensor up the pumping systems.

Working with HP Enterprise, NI helped to develop high performance PXI edge servers to bring processing power to the edge of the network. Flowserve is using this technology for their pumps and other industrial equipment to monitor them in real time and predict when they need service so they never fail. HP will be providing up to 64 Xeon cores in a single edge server!

On the exhibition floor, we visited the RF/microwave companies including Focus, Cobham, Teledyne, Optimal+ and H+S. Here are a few highlights:

NI/AWR is putting the final touches on Microwave Office 2017 for next year. There are going to be many features added to the platform with some of these being feed out soon around European Microwave Week. But we noticed one feature that was leaked out – the introduction of a 5G library that will be a big feature in simulating products in this area. In addition, MaXentric was nominated for its case study, Design Optimization of Envelope Tracking Power Amplifiers for 5G LTE Using NI Test and Measurement With NI AWR Software, written by lead engineer, Dr. Jonmei "Johana" Yan.

Focus Microwaves was featuring their RAPID digital tuner that is the heart of a precision, high-speed, load-pull device characterization system. The RAPID has been developed by Focus’ UK subsidiary MESURO and is suitable for every phase of the design and production test cycle. This series of new digital tuner products provide performance, reliability and cutting edge features for a reasonable cost. The RAPID series is compatible with the hardware and software of existing labs, thereby allowing users to easily upgrade their existing systems. The RAPID can be used as a stand-alone impedance synthesis and measurement system, or combined into a hybrid solution when paired with Focus’ MPT series harmonic tuners.

Huber + Suhner won the business to supply NI with MMPX connectors for the 2nd Gen VST because of their small size, high reliability and performance. The MMPX connectors are also well suited for coaxial-to-PCB system connections and operate up to 65 GHz (data rates up to 80 Gbps). MMPX connectors feature excellent electrical performance at the smallest mechanical dimensions. The broadband characteristics, the small size and the high performance permit new solutions for applications in numerous markets as shown in the design win for the VST.

OptimalOptimal+™ announced the availability of Release 6.5 during NIWeek. This latest release includes an extension of the company’s Global Ops solution to serve the needs of electronics manufacturing operations. Global Ops for Electronics is the foundation of a comprehensive platform for electronics companies developing end-market products (smartphones, networking servers, data servers or automotive systems such as ADAS or Car-to-X systems) to collect, analyze and act on manufacturing and in-use data across a distributed supply chain. Global Ops for Electronics enables electronics OEMs to operationally manage the delivery of high-quality, more reliable and affordable electronics products to market. This platform is the first solution to provide end-to-end data collection, data governance and advanced analytics capabilities that enables companies to improve their operational performance and perform risk management for their entire value chain.

FocusTeledyne was featuring their new mini switch matrix modules with USB and Ethernet control operating from DC to 40 GHz. The come in terminated and non-terminated, failsafe or latching, and available in various connectors. They are only 5.1” x 2.2” X 7.8” in size and are good for 5 million cycles. Teledyne also had their YIG oscillator based synthesizers on display. They take advantage of the excellent phase noise performance of YIP oscillators without incurring a significant cost penalty. They operate from 2 to 6.5 GHz with 1 MHz step size and power output from 10 to 16 dBm. Spurious is -60 dBc max and harmonics -8 dBc max. Phase noise is -95 dBc/Hz at 10 kHz offset from the carrier (-142 dBc/Hz at 1 MHz offset).

Salt LickIt was an exciting week we always look forward to attending. We hit Cedar Street for the Spazmatics on Wed and some great barbeque at the famous Salt Lick restaurant. NIWeek 2017 makes a big move to May, taking place the 22-25 in 2017. This is however, pretty close to IMS 2017 but then again, that is in Hawaii.

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