This article appeared in Electronic Design and has been published here with permission.
As in other industries, digitalization is transforming electronic test and measurement. Advances in technologies such as 5G, the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Industry 4.0, cloud computing, advanced analytics, and more are driving this accelerating trend. For example, 5G technology plays an important role in virtualization and automation—two long-term trends in test and measurement (T&M). Along with these factors, increased adoption of modular equipment and consumer electronics makes the test and measurement industry more important than ever.
As test and measurement products shift away from bulky and stationary to mobile, handheld, and miniaturized, the increasing precision of electronics requires engineers to measure quickly and accurately current, voltage, and other parameters to ensure quality and reliability. Many applications require innovative solutions that can provide reliability such as latching features along with gold plating on interconnects for more precision and accuracy. Low-profile connectors can give designers more space and flexibility to include far more technology into smaller devices.
The overall test and measurement equipment market presents a huge opportunity for growth due to the increasing demand for electronics, automation, and connectivity in automotive, aerospace and defense, industrial transportation and manufacturing, IT/telecommunications, and other sectors. In this article, we will explore test and measurement trends and demands in these areas.
Market Trends in Growth Industries
Most companies persistently seek to minimize capital and operational expenses while at the same time using new and advanced technology to become more dynamic in manufacturing, network capacity, autonomous functionality, etc. 5G is geared to transmit and receive large amounts of data, improve responsiveness, and increase connectivity between multiple devices and applications.
As more functionality moves to the cloud and networks become virtualized, 5G technology can enable automated processing of a huge volume of data from multiple sources across a complex, distributed architecture. With this automation and virtualization, manufacturers and data centers will be able to scale up services and incorporate higher-bandwidth technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.
This technology is also becoming more critical for testing and measuring wireless devices and products incorporating virtualization and automation. That’s because original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and network operators often need to test and measure performance in the environments and conditions in which the devices and products will be used. As 5G technology evolves to encompass millimeter-wave (mmWave) frequencies, over-the-air (OTA) measurements may become critical for design validation.
Integrating more connectivity into vehicles, data and cellular networks, and infrastructure hikes the demand for electronic testing devices, in terms of both numbers of instruments and types of measurements. In addition, suppliers are pushed to prototype, develop, and deliver products faster so OEMs can speed up their go-to-market timelines.
Automotive engineers may need to measure more signals with higher complexity at the same time. They may need to capture and analyze as much data as possible, as quickly as possible, to maximize the impact of these emerging technologies. The demand for high speed and more bandwidth may keep growing as the need for data analytics may also continue to rise.
Aerospace & Defense
The aerospace and defense (A&D) industry is not only one of the most important markets for test and measurement, it can also be one of the most challenging. Accurate and effective testing is required in every part of the end-to-end A&D supply chain. Test and measurement equipment must ensure system reliability and integrity under extremely harsh conditions where failure isn’t an option.
Testing and measurement may be essential to ensure safety in aircraft and reliability and efficiency in communications systems, navigation systems, instrument landing systems, and more. Testing advanced radar systems often found in aerospace and defense may require greater bandwidths and higher frequencies as well as lower phase noise and lower pre-dynamic range.
Trends toward millimeter-wave frequencies and higher modulation bandwidths in ultra-wideband radars and other equipment for signal intelligence and spectrum monitoring haven’t been fully realized yet, and that’s often due to the need for cost-effective solutions. Testing these bandwidth-rich, millimeter-wave frequencies in mass production remains a challenge, but it also presents an opportunity.
Features like surveillance, identification, targeting, control, intelligence gathering, and self-protection systems are becoming ever more complex and integrated. Because of this growing system complexity, the pace of technology change, and evolving standards and regulations, test and measurement systems in this industry often need to be:
- Flexible to support increasing bandwidth and software-defined instrumentation.
- Scalable to handle platform upgrades and changing technology.
- Durable to withstand extreme shock, vibration, and temperature ranges in which these systems and vehicles are meant to perform.
Upgradability, interoperability, and total cost of ownership are also important considerations for this industry. Aerospace and defense customers are commonly looking for smart, modular test systems that can scale to address future needs.
Aerospace electronics and avionics will continue to advance, with high-speed, high-bandwidth, data-intensive functions driving demand for advanced test solutions. There’s a strong focus on having repeatable measurements and multichannel solutions as well as adding functionality to existing systems, especially with the adoption of 5G leading to increases in bandwidth, signal, and frequency ranges.
Increasing aircraft production and model variations are driving demand for data-acquisition (DAQ) systems—most engineers want to capture and analyze as much data as possible to maximize their product designs. Mapping and surveillance require massive data collection and analytics, underscoring the common need for secure, rugged electronics deployments. Test systems are also increasingly important for cybersecurity, requiring a high level of flexibility to prevent and defend against malicious attacks on secure networks.
The number of connected devices in factories and across industries—such as industrial and commercial transportation, medical devices, consumer devices, appliances, and the home—will continue to escalate. This trend is driving a simultaneously growing need for inspecting, testing, and verifying smart products and other equipment to ensure that they work correctly once deployed. Continuous-monitoring and IIoT technologies collect and analyze real-time data that drives process improvement, efficiency, profitability, and safety.
5G is taking over as the foundation for implementing new innovations in autonomous automobiles, industrial and commercial vehicles, and factory equipment, where a significant amount of data must be received, analyzed, and acted upon quickly. The use of highly complex electronics and higher computing power, where precise synchronization and shorter development cycles are required, is driving the demand for complex simulation and test and measurement tasks and devices.
As you can tell, the IoT market often requires high measurement accuracy and massive data-collection capabilities. Test and measurement in this space has become increasingly important to ensure reliability, performance, quality of experience, and long-time availability.
Across some industries, there’s often a need for testing performance (such as power consumption and battery lifespan), radio frequency, coexistence, and interference, as well as security and data transfers. Wireless devices may need testing to assure adherence to regulatory standards and operator-specific requirements. Most factories need optimized test setups to detect and predict manufacturing defects during mass production. There’s greater demand for parallel testing and low-cost instrumentation based on USB.
Test and measurement can take place at the device, wireless communications, and network levels to ensure performance, interoperability, reliability, and security. Most engineers must test and measure signal and power integrity, battery drain, electromagnetic interference (EMI), wireless conformance (to standards) and connectivity, network readiness, performance, and more.
In a factory, the placement and proliferation of connected devices often require testing for:
- Precision: For example, on assembly lines where very fine tolerances are required.
- Interoperability: To ensure consistent performance and connectivity where devices of different ages and multiple manufacturers may be integrated.
- Security: To protect potential points of vulnerability and access across multiple connected devices on a network.
- Scalability: To enable modular growth in system networks that may contain thousands of sensors, components, and devices.
In the data center, demand is on the rise for electronic test and measurement equipment to address trends related to network function and health, product development, real-time analytics, and troubleshooting. As bandwidth demands rise, new standards and higher data-transmission speeds may result in the need for high-speed digital testing equipment.
Likewise, as most data centers adopt 5G technology to handle higher data rates and lower latencies, they’re often using faster transceivers and Ethernet interfaces, which generally require superior test, measurement, and monitoring capabilities.
The continuous increase in data traffic often causes a shift from large data centers to modular, software-defined, and virtualized data centers, which commonly brings with it a need for testing and monitoring the data center at a component level. This has also given rise to edge computing, in which most functions critical to end users are computed closer to the device rather than being sent to the cloud. The resulting reduction in latency enables real-time network analysis, insights, and troubleshooting in the end-user device.
In Frost & Sullivan’s report, “Growth Opportunities in the Data Center Test and Measurement Market, Forecast to 2024,” they identified several growth opportunities arising from these trends for test and measurement equipment manufacturers, including:
- Using software-based solutions that can be easily deployed across the mobile edge and a virtualized network infrastructure.
- Offering a complete lifecycle-management tool that spans from the device all the way to the network infrastructure.
- Developing solutions to cost-effectively bring business-critical IoT applications to the cloud environment.
- Engineering a common platform that’s interoperable with application programming interfaces (APIs) and third-party software.
- Partnering with small artificial-intelligence (AI) and machine-learning firms.
- Delivering relevant, software-defined solutions that can be used to validate the hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI).
- Creating solutions to optimize data-center infrastructure and check compliance of augmented-reality (AR) and virtual-reality (VR) devices and applications on the data-center networks.
- Collaborating with leading cloud-computing service providers to offer testing solutions in the cloud environment.
What Most Design Engineers Need
Long-term trends such as virtualization and automation, which are enabled by 5G, can present challenges for some designers, such as the use of higher frequency bands (24 GHz and above), massive ports (MIMO), higher signal-absorption rates, high-density networks, and need for over-the-air (OTA) testing.
Most engineers need to be able to more cost-effectively test networks and services that support new use cases, such as enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB); ultra-reliable, low-latency communications (URLLC); and massive machine-type communications (mMTC). These demands will be best served with test and measurement solutions that offer high signal integrity, high data rates, strong EMI performance, modular design, and wireless connectivity.
Zach Galbraith is a Global Product Manager and Eric Powell leads the global Product Management team for the Data & Devices RF Solutions group at TE Connectivity.