For the 25th NIWeek, NI had a fun Star Wars theme of “Full Force Ahead” including a light saber fight on stage to introduce some of the exciting new products. Although there were many big announcements, the most important for the RF engineer was a new Vector Signal Transceiver (VST) that goes to 44 GHz with 1 GHz of real-time bandwidth enabling production testing of 5G mmWave products. The mmWave VST integrates two bidirectional “IF” test ports covering a frequency range of 5 GHz to 21 GHz and up to two mmWave radio heads covering a frequency range of 22.5 GHz to 44 GHz. The radio heads are available in multiple configurations that provide 2 to 32 switched, bidirectional ports to address a wide array of high-frequency components and systems for 5G New Radio (NR) at new test points along the signal chain.
Addressing the technical challenges associated with 5G mmWave wafer probe test, NI demonstrated a solution can help semiconductor manufacturers reduce their risk, cost and time to market for 5G mmWave ICs. NI, TEL, FormFactor and Reid-Ashman collaborated to demonstrate a direct dock probe solution that simplifies the signal path, provides the necessary signal integrity for mmWave applications and supports both top and bottom load probe applications. A key element of the solution is the NI Semiconductor Test System (STS), and NI recently demonstrated a multisite mmWave test solution for 5G power amplifiers, beamformers and transceivers. The solution features:
- NI STS for 5G mmWave test with direct dock probe support
- TEL PrecioTM XL automatic wafer prober optimized for parallel die test with highly accurate x-, y-, and z-axis control for reliable contact sensitivity
- A FormFactor Pyramid-MW probe card for superior RF signal integrity and long contactor life in production test environments
- Reid-Ashman OM1700 universal manipulator with motorized motion for efficient, repeatable and product-safe docking
NI left no detail out in the keynotes as they displayed a nano satellite tested with their platform and “mis-placed” a paper coffee cup with “Daenerys” written on it (which was later removed digitally on the video replay J).
Qorvo’s Ben Thomas discussed how the VST and PXI platform helped them develop and test the first 5G RFFE introduced to the market. Qorvo standardized on the PXI platform to give them flexibility and speed to test their products. Qorvo has been using NI 5G testing setups for about a year and half already. ADI’s Mike O’Sullivan showed a production floor full of STS systems verifying their products have tested hundreds of millions of parts using the NI systems. The systems are even being used in the lab providing faster test results and easy transition into production. Ben echoed this trend that the automated systems are now being used farther upstream into the design and development labs and now even being used in the field at customers to help them test products accurately. One of the most impressive accomplishments was an NI 5G OTA testing setup that reduced the time to test a 28 GHz phased array from 6 min to 20 seconds. This involved rotating the DUT and quickly synchronizing the data.
NI also introduced SystemLink that optimizes maximizes asset management to optimize utilization for the best ROI on those pieces of equipment. The system can put together various data sets and watch for trends or evaluate performance to gain better insights. This reminds me of Optimal+ which does this for semiconductor tests across global measurements systems to get real time data about the performance of various devices in process. NI is also providing wireless monitoring hardware for InsightCM which allows companies to monitor equipment parameters and health to do predictive maintenance. The wireless devices use low energy Bluetooth and are battery operated so no power is required to the units reducing the cost of deployment.
There were, of course, improvements announced for LabView 2019 and LabView NXG. The new release of LabVIEW 2019 increases developer productivity through improved visibility in the IDE, has powerful enhancements in debugging, and new datatypes to the G-language. Additionally, LabVIEW 2019 addresses a critical pain point for engineers: managing dependencies and versioning with fragmented, non-standardized methods, which perpetuate as challenges in code deployment. The newest version of LabVIEW NXG simplifies the most time-consuming tasks in automated test and automated measurement applications, from deploying and distributing code faster than before, importing and exporting MATLAB® data (. mat) for improved interoperability with third-party software, and additional capabilities added to Web VIs to give users better interaction and control with their applications.
One of the most interesting keynote applications was from Valeo. The company has developed a “see through” camera system that lets you view around trailers as if they were not there. The NI system enabled 90% hardware and software reuse and greater than 50% faster test system design.
On the exhibition floor, MathWorks demonstrated the integration they now have with MATLAB and NI test hardware. They had a demo showing a Wolfspeed GaN PA being tested and used the DPD algorithms from MATLAB to see the EVM improvement with various models. So now designers can use the simulation and modeling capabilities of MATLAD with NI’s LabVIEW and test systems.
Another interesting find on the exhibition floor was AMCAD Engineering who was featuring their IQStar 50 ohm characterization system that generates interactive datasheets. They had an NI test setup to characterize device parameters and the system will automatically make all of the measurements over various frequencies and conditions; then automatically generate an interactive datasheet. Users can then see the device performance under various conditions to see if it fits their needs using the interactive datasheet program. This really seems to be the future in device characterization and display to the customer.
This year, NI moved many of the applications associated with 5G and IoT into production with the announcement of new, streamlined software and hardware solutions. We are moving from concept into production quickly and NI is greatly helping the industry reduce the time and cost of development and test.