October 2008 - Test and Measurement Developments and Trends

Mil/Aero Insider: October 2008

Test & Measurement Developments & Trends

Arun ShethMeet Arun Sheth

A key part of any product or system development plan is the testing, measurement, and analysis of critical components and overall product performance.  Those important functions require reliable, high performance test equipment and software at cost-effective prices. GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms’ test and measurement products are the perfect fit.

Key products include innovative high-speed digital data recorders, along with high performance signal conditioning front ends, and data analysis software. By integrating these necessary testing elements, the resulting systems can be tailor-made to offer turn-key solutions for virtually any type of testing requirement. 

Arun Sheth is responsible for the GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms test and measurement business, and here, he talks about the trends and technologies in the various testing markets, and what customers are looking for today.

What are some of the test and measurement applications that GE Fanuc supplies systems for?

The test and measurement market is quite broad and somewhat fragmented. Although test and measurement products are applicable to a broad range of market segments such as transportation, seismic & security, oil & gas, and power utilities, our greatest focus has been in the Mil/Aero arena. For example, we have installations for acoustic and vibration testing at NASA, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, weapon testing at BAE, Agency for Defense Development -Korea, and jet & rocket engine testing at Aerojet, among others.

We work with all government branches including NASA, Navy, Army and Air Force. All major military and aerospace development programs require proper testing before they can go into production. As an example, a new space vehicle for NASA, called Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEW), requires significant testing during the development phase, the quality and acceptance phase, and during the launch phase, so it was important that we started working with NASA and the aerospace development company right from the beginning.

Because GE Fanuc offers turnkey testing capabilities, from signal conditioning to data acquisition and analysis, we can provide a total solution for a customer application with one point of contact.

What are most customers looking for when they assess their testing needs?

It depends on the market segment. For many Industrial and Automotive applications, customers want performance at the lowest possible cost. Since most companies we deal with have resource issues, and they want a turn-key solution without using their own manpower, ease of use, real-time graphics, seamless data conversion for 3rd party software packages is most important. Most industrial users also look for network archival and long term data storage so if a problem with a production unit occurs in the future, they can go back and retrieve the test data.

The Mil/ Aero segment, on the other hand, looks more for system performance and is generally less price sensitive. For that market, accuracy of data and reliability with redundancy is extremely important. In many cases each test can cost millions of dollars and for that market capture and retention of test data is paramount.

What are some of the new technologies and tools that are entering the test and measurement field? Will GE Fanuc take advantage of them?

The advancements in processor technology have completely changed testing methodologies. Ten years ago, test engineers were using analog technologies and acquired test data on 28-or 56-track analog tape recorders. Data was processed manually or by complex methods using mini- or mainframe computers. This testing process used to take days before engineers could get test results. Even today, there are still many analog test devices in place.

In today’s world, analog testing is starting to give way to digital technology, providing engineers with real-time displays and instantaneous results once a test is over. Digital technology lets engineers use a large number of sensor channels with very high sampling rates, allowing them to look at frequency regions and perform tests which are not available to them with analog equipment.

LXI (LAN eXtended for Instrumentation) is a recent technology advancement worth noting. This technology standard allows the user to plug & play test devices from different manufacturers and route the data on a local area Ethernet network without worrying about the individual system unit’s bus structure, operating system, or firmware. LXI-compliant equipment also allows a user to place test instrumentation close to the unit under test, thereby saving time and expense by not needing to lay out long wires to connect distant measurement instruments. LXI is an evolving standard that we will take to our high-performance testing systems such as the Daqnet and DotNet product lines.

GE Fanuc is taking advantage of new multiprocessors, DSP and FPGA processors, multi-displays, real time processing, terabytes of data storage, and networking to provide customers with high performance testing products at competitive prices.

Is the test and measurement market growing?

The test and measurement market is a mature market and the replacement cycle for products is rather long. While the market as a whole is growing at a steady rate of 6-8% with many factors that come into play, there are market areas that offer high growth. Every test sensor sold requires a signal conditioner, and as discussed above, there is still a large number of old analog instrumentation in use which needs to be replaced. For example, our own GE Aviation is still using old analog instrumentation in their jet engine test cells and is due for replacement.

New vehicle engines (space or ground) that are in development and in production require much more complex testing which requires the performance advantages of digital signal conditioners, digital data recorders and test analysis software—all capabilities that GE Fanuc supplies today.

What global opportunities do you see for test and measurement systems?

In the global arena, the US has always been the leader in test and measurement equipment, especially in the technology markets. The global markets represent significant growth opportunity for GE Fanuc. As India, China and other countries develop new aircraft, ground vehicles, and alternative energy sources, they will require more test and measurement products.

What are the main challenges facing test and measurement systems from a marketing and technology perspective?

We face many internal challenges as we build our infrastructure for the test and measurement business. Externally, we must continue to demonstrate that we are in the forefront of technology with our instrumentation products. The GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms name is not as well known in our marketplace as some of our competitors’ names, and our product and company brand awareness is critical to our growth. To maintain our competitive edge, we must keep up with the new digital technologies that are advancing at a much faster rate than ever before.

Right now, there is a lack of a clear leader company in the medium-to-high performance test and measurement marketplace and this lack represents a huge opportunity to GE Fanuc to take a leadership position.