National Instruments last month announced a partnership with fellow test equipment and services companies SET and Tech180. The partnership is developing what the companies call a “system-on-demand” methodology, which aims to disrupt how test systems are designed, developed, and maintained.
Covered by the agreement is the development of new products, hardware and software frameworks, an open systems reference architecture, and the system-on-demand methodology.
In this Q&A, Luke describes what system-on-demand architecture is, how it could help aerospace test engineers and when we could see the first products.
Q: Can you describe how the research partnership between NI, SET and Tech 180 will work?
A: It covers the different ways that we can interact. We’ve had a long relationship with both SET and Tech 180, going back decades in SET’s case. We wanted to formalize the ways that we work together to accelerate the development of some of the capabilities that our customer our mutual customers have been asking for.
Q: What is system-on-demand methodology?
System-on-demand is based on an agile philosophy of delivering test systems fast and reacting to customers’ changing needs as quickly possible. It’s a capability that started out at SET and Tech 180. They have created a catalogue of products and processes, that by using artificial intelligence (AI) can anticipate the needs of customers and accelerate how quickly they can deliver those to customers.
It works by recognizing that things are going to change during a program and you don’t know everything right at the beginning of a concept or a new device that’s being built.
You can’t wait until you get all the information before you start building a test system, but you can anticipate a lot of it and maybe get yourself up to maybe a 60% level of knowledge. The more you know, the more the challenging parts of the test system or the device start to flesh themselves out. An engineer can then focus more of their time on completing the most challenging aspects of a program.
System-on-demand is designed so you don’t have to do anything from scratch, so you can reuse as much as possible and be flexible to iterate the design.
Q: Do you buy one system and it evolves and changes with you using software? Or do you add different hardware modules? Or is it both software and hardware?
A: It’s both and it’s about buying into the development philosophy. What the system-on-demand philosophy does is combine both of those elements and embeds then into the workflow of the customer. So the minute you know something you let us, or Tech 180 or SET know so we can fill out a little bit more of the system definition and react straight away.
We can do that because we’ve done this before, and we’ve anticipated how the system needs to look. So you get systems delivered, not in six months, but it could be in as little as six weeks using this methodology.
Q: How will system-on-demand integrate with the current portfolio of products?
A: It just putting the right products together in an agile way using the right system design methodology. This collaboration doesn’t involve a new platform rollout, it’s about how you to synthesize all those things in a way that a customer can take advantage of it as, as quickly and as, as reactive as they need to be.
There’s a lot of convergence happening with the amount of increased embedded software. Devices are getting much more complex, that testing is becoming as much a process and methodology challenge as a technical problem. That’s why you hear so much talk about digital engineering, or model-based system engineering, or agile methodologies. They are aligned to solve the same problem of increased complexity.
Q: What will the benefits be for engineers working in aerospace testing?
A: There is a constant trade-off between schedule and costs to get products out to market quickly so a business can be profitable. But then also, there’s this safety aspect to consider in aerospace.
Take for example air taxis or the more advanced and autonomous weapon systems we are seeing. Engineers have to consider how much innovation they can you put out, to stay ahead.
More autonomy, more AI, more integration of subsystems and sensors. These types of things aren’t a linear increase in test requirements, it’s exponential. And you can’t sacrifice testing because of the safety mandate that exists.
So what will be the trade-off? A less competitive product so that you can test completely? Or will you delay the schedule? This partnership will give you more tools to be able to meet the specific business needs that will make you more competitive in your market.
Q: Is system-on-demand for small companies or large companies?
A: If you’re a small company, you can’t afford to be spending years developing a test system. The faster you can realize that innovation in the market maybe the difference between your company thriving or failing.
But that value proposition applies to everybody, just for different reasons. It’s rooted in that there’s a huge test problem and it’s a problem we’re not willing to compromise on. How do you manage that?
We think that scheduling is important. It’s one of the most critical pieces of managing testing. But everything is scheduled, of course, without compromising on test coverage.
Q: When can we expect system-on-demand to be available?
A: There will be novel additional capability that you can expect to see in six to 12 months. During that time there will be examples of this partnership bearing fruit with our mutual customers,
Q: if you’ve got anything else you want to add or wrap up on? Or if that’s sort of you said, if not,
A: There’s a space for disruption in this market right now. People shouldn’t see testing as a burden because quite often there’s things that can be leveraged from it.
There’s only so much R&D dollars to go around, so let’s make sure we’re spending them on the places that are going to have the biggest impact. That we’re not reinventing the wheel when it comes to designing test systems, that we’re designing as little custom equipment as we have to, wasting as little time in the scheduled process as possible.
We’re all excited about ideas like Urban Air Mobility, hydrogen fuel, all these different alternative ways of travel and re-envisioning the way aerospace works. It’s all really compelling. I just don’t want to see research and development wasted on something that’s already well-managed by industry. At NI that means we need to make sure we’re doing our job –getting the right tools in our customers hands to enable them to do their work as best they can.
Since joining NI in 2001 as an applications engineer, Schreier has held leadership, product management, and marketing roles across the entire portfolio of modular instrumentation and PXI platform products, with an emphasis on the aerospace and defense application space. He has been heavily involved in the company’s automated test product and go-to-market strategies for more than 15 years.
Schreier holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.