Measurement 2.0: The future world of Test & Measurement
A positioning paper by Zoltan Teleki
The demands on suppliers of measurement technology products are increasing. Companies want to launch their products ever faster and - with increasingly complex technologies - develop fewer prototypes. They call for the use of smart measurement technology that drastically shortens development times and is so easy to use that even less skilled staff can work with it without any problems. To sum up: It's a matter of efficiency and saving cost. In other words: The aim is faster and more cost-efficient time-to-market and, at the same time, consistent product quality.
The actual measurement is only a means to an end, the test equipment only a tool with which I want to have to familiarize myself as little as possible. Hence, the often quoted slogan "I just want to measure" is not true. What is true is: “I want test results." Results I can trust and understand without having to complete a degree in measurement technology.
Experts in test and measurement will of course still be needed in the future for consulting users and carrying out the first setup and commissioning. However, test and measurement know-how is becoming increasingly less important to the actual measurement. Non-professionals, too, can take complex measurements today. What are the requirements that need to be complied with?
Test equipment needs to feature the principle of Plug & Play known from computer applications. Many suppliers of test and measurement products claim that their products just have to be connected to start measuring immediately. However, only few products offer real Plug & Measure. This requires a measuring chain with perfectly matched components ensuring that no problems occur with the interfaces. The optimum prerequisite is: the complete measuring chain from a single source.
There are still more requirements that need to be complied with: Universal amplifiers, continuous use of TEDS technology and patented solutions for automatically compensating ambient conditions are required. In addition, the measurement system needs to check automatically whether all transducers are correctly connected. Exclusive APM™ Technology (Advanced Plug & Measure) as used in the universal amplifiers of the QuantumX family offers the solution - the amplifiers automatically identify the connected transducers, no complex settings have to be made at all. What is of capital importance is the accuracy of the test equipment that is used. Only a system featuring both proven accuracy and simultaneous universality provides efficiency and cost savings and gives optimal, reliable results. A system that measures small quantities with the same reliability as large quantities and supports all common transducer technologies replaces multiple systems at once and eliminates the need for time-consuming conversions, e.g. of a test bench, that could only be implemented by an expert.
Are small manufacturers able to comply with these demands? As long as a system integrator performs the tasks of installation and commissioning and provides its know-how for subsequent adaptations, the products offered by small manufacturers are able to hold their ground in the market. However, if the above mentioned demands need to be met, these companies quickly reach their limits. Not to mention international, global projects. Small manufacturers will therefore become less important. Not only because they cannot provide a complete measuring chain from a single source and thus real Plug & Measure. In the capital goods market, confidence and reliability are factors that must not be underestimated. Will I get the same product support today as in five years' time? What if I need a spare part or my software has to be updated to run under the latest Windows operating system? These are questions becoming increasingly important in times of ever-tighter budgets. Shall I really rely on a small provider who might sooner or later disappear from the market?
Maybe that at first glance small providers and, partly, the big companies of the industry seem to be the better choice because of their product prices. However, the purchase price is irrelevant. A product that is inexpensive to purchase but causes ten times the cost of labor because of complex commissioning is a bargain buy only at first glance. What really counts is the total cost of ownership. I. e. the total cost test equipment causes over the years, from its purchase through commissioning, use and replacement. In general, test equipment with a higher purchase price causes far less costs.
Couldn't I spare myself all these considerations just by using simulation software, virtually by mouse click? Wouldn't that be even more Plug & Play? But how to simulate the potential behavior, especially of new materials such as fiber compounds without having any basic knowledge and experience at hand? Without reliable test data the results provided by simulation software solutions cannot be verified, because there is the risk of acting on false assumptions. Virtual tests are only suitable for known and proven materials - here they offer many advantages and, in particular, ensure drastically reduced development cost and time.
Today, a software solution is indispensable when it comes to measurement data analysis. Because the fast interfaces of today's measurement systems generate huge amounts of data that make effective processing difficult. What information is relevant? What results do really matter? Without powerful analysis software, e.g. nCode GlyphXE for post-processing of measurement data, neither the above mentioned requirement for increased efficiency nor the required cost savings can be attained. It goes without saying that this software has to provide an intuitive user interface to comply with the principle of Plug & Play.