Measure The Value Of Test Software

Nov. 7, 2013
Measurement software can speed and simplify the operation of single and multiple RF/microwave test instruments, especially for high-volume testing.
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Measurement equipment provides invaluable insights into the performance and behavior of different RF/microwave devices, components, and systems. All the same, compiling and organizing test results can be both tedious and challenging. With the aid of modern test-and-measurement software programs, however, the tasks of making the measurements and analyzing the results can be controlled and automated, allowing for dramatic increases in measurement speed and efficiency. Measurement software is available at many different levels, for testing devices through systems, and for many different instruments in both the frequency and time domains.

The complexity of modern measurements is not lost on the companies making the test equipment, and at least one of those firms has invested in organizing educational materials into a free DVD (while supplies last): “Back to Basics: Modern Measurement Fundamentals.” This resource covers numerous topics of interest to engineers working both in the digital and RF/microwave electronics spheres. These include analyzing agile signals in real time, characterizing DC power supplies, understanding signal generators and analyzers, the basics of vector network analyzers (VNAs), improving spectrum analysis, the fundamentals of arbitrary waveform generation, and the fundamentals of RF/microwave power measurements.

With respect to more traditional measurement software, Agilent recently announced its model M9099 Waveform Creator software, intended for use with the company’s model M9381A PXIe vector signal generator (VSG) to create complex test signals (see figure). Creating a signal with the software is simply a matter of dragging and dropping waveform segments into tracks and modifying segments n those tracks by user-definable parameters; signals are produced by plug-in hardware modules controlled by the software.

The typical opening screen for Waveform Creator contains “drag-and-drop” windows for creating waveforms. (Screenshot courtesy of Agilent Technologies.)

LabVIEW™ from National Instruments is a standard measurement software for many engineers, providing templates and examples for a wide range of measurements (from analog and RF/microwave through digital and system-level). The current version of the software, LabVIEW 2013, features improved Internet services (including secure web services communications). It incorporates a number of productivity enhancements, such as more flexible mouse programming, more versatile event-driven programming, and improvements to block diagram objects within the software. LabVIEW 2013 also features new and improved examples to better demonstrate the capabilities and measurement possibilities with the software.

The NI Modulation Toolkit for NI LabVIEW and LabWindows/CVI software provides functions and tools for signal generation, analysis, visualization, and processing of standard and custom analog and digital modulation formats. The software makes it possible to rapidly customize generated and analyzed waveforms when working with such hardware instruments as the firm’s modular test instruments, including the model PXI-5660 VSA and the model PXI-5671 RF VSG. 

AR/RF-Microwave Instrumentation has developed its emcware® software for electromagnetic-compatibility (EMC) testing. Running on a personal computer (PC) and with the appropriate test equipment, the software simplifies measurements of radiated susceptibility, conducted immunity, and radiated and conducted emissions. The latest version of emcware (3.0.0) includes emissions capability per Comite International Special des Perturbations Radioelectriques (CISPR) regulations. The software is available free of charge for a 60-day trial period and can be converted to a fully licensed version at any time following registration. It runs on PCs with Windows XP through Windows 8 operating systems. A free version of the emcware software is available.

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From Hardware To Software

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Many companies with expansive lines of hardware measurement instruments also offer software tools to work with those instruments. For example, the RFXpress® software from Tektronix simplifies the creation of complex test signals when used with the company’s arbitrary waveform generators. In addition, the SignalVu-PC software was created for signal analysis with the company’s DPO/DSA/MSO series of digital storage oscilloscopes to capture and analyze complex signals, including audio through analog and digital modulated RF/microwave frequencies.

The software includes a number of useful demonstrations of signals used for radar and wideband-communications systems, helping operators to understand how the controls of the hardware instruments relate to the analysis of the captured signals. The software—which can work with pulsed, modulated, and frequency-hopped signals—can also coordinate calculations on acquired signals (for example, as many as 21 measurements per pulse for as many as 10,000 pulses).

Anritsu Co. offers a wide range of measurement software tools for both benchtop and its portable measurement instruments. The company’s Wireless Remote Tools™ software allow remote control of portable instruments, such as the SiteMaster portable spectrum analyzers, over an wired Ethernet or wireless connection for remote monitoring of signals and installations. The firm’s Master Software Tools (MST) provide multiple functions for analysis of captured signal traces, as might be needed for spectrum monitoring and RF interference analysis. Such software enables instruments—like the model MW82119A PIM Master for passive-intermodulation (PIM) measurements—to be installed at the top of a wireless communications tower, and for measurements to be made either remotely or on an automated schedule.

Version 3 of the MT910 Automated Mobile Test System Software (AMTS) from Maury Microwave is a standalone measurement program that works with the firm’s model MT98x automated impedance tuner (to set impedances other than 50 Ω) and signal generation and analysis equipment. It automates the testing of mobile telephones in transmit and receive modes, evaluate outputs power, and receives sensitivity as functions of VSWR, magnitude, and phase, respectively. The software enables automated testing over a wide range of channels and frequencies, power levels, and battery voltages, and is written to work with a wireless communications test station from Agilent Technologies or from Rohde & Schwarz.

The software coordinates measurements that can provide insights into what level of antenna mismatch is acceptable for a particular mobile telephone design—assuming that the telephone design meets minimum performance requirements for a defined set of VSWR values and voltage conditions—and whether the components within the telephone are acceptable, or need to be redesigned or replaced.

Focus Microwaves also combines test software with its automated impedance tuners to provide innovative measurement solutions. The firm’s Microsoft Windows-based WinPower software controls its impedance tuners to achieve any calibrated or interpolated impedance and can handle a variety of measurement routines, including for peak output power, output power at 1-dB compression, intermodulation distortion (IMD), error vector magnitude (EVM), and power-added efficiency. The software coordinates continuous impedance tuning and is fueled with hundreds of instrument drivers for compatibility with a large number of hardware instruments. The software can integrate with a wide range of other software tools, including LabVIEW, Matlab™, Visual Basic™, and VEE™ software using Direct Data Exchange™ (DDE).

In terms of analyzing noise, the firm’s WinNoise software facilitates noise measurements process, also with the aid of an impedance tuner. The measurement software can determine a number of noise parameters, including minimum noise figure and equivalent noise resistance.

Measurement software can provide an assist for those faced with large numbers of measurements, such as during on-wafer device characterization. The ACS semiconductor characterization software from Keithley Instruments, for example, supports a wide range of semi-automatic and fully automatic wafer probers, to make automated measurements across an entire wafer or to control measurements on individual devices on a wafer. Written for use with the company’s instrumentation, the software sports a straightforward graphical user interface (GUI) so that even new users can feel comfortable performing complicated on-wafer measurements.

To simplify complex measurements on integrated circuits (ICs), Auriga Microwave has developed their Auriga WIDE™ software for use with various test systems, including the firm’s own CTS-4 component test system for characterizing commercial and military modules, such as transmit/receive (T/R) modules and cellular communications base-station modules. The software promises ease of programming and straightforward creation of test scripts using the company’s Wizard-based integrated development environment.

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About the Author

Jack Browne | Technical Contributor

Jack Browne, Technical Contributor, has worked in technical publishing for over 30 years. He managed the content and production of three technical journals while at the American Institute of Physics, including Medical Physics and the Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology. He has been a Publisher and Editor for Penton Media, started the firm’s Wireless Symposium & Exhibition trade show in 1993, and currently serves as Technical Contributor for that company's Microwaves & RF magazine. Browne, who holds a BS in Mathematics from City College of New York and BA degrees in English and Philosophy from Fordham University, is a member of the IEEE.

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