Testing and deploying the next generation of technology

Author : EPDT Editor, Mark Gradwell, and DPA and Connectivity4IR Editor, Paige West

02 January 2018

NIDays, National Instruments’ annual graphical system design conference and exhibition, brought together several hundred like-minded engineers and scientists from many industries at a brand-new venue, Sandown Park Racecourse, Esher. This piece reports on the event.

For the digital issue of this piece, please visit this link – or click here to register for EPDT's magazine.

Delivering a broad range of technical, networking and interactive hands-on sessions throughout the day, plus two keynote addresses, NI technical experts and customers were on-hand to help visitors learn about the latest technology accelerating productivity for software-defined systems in test, measurement and control.

The event kicked off the night before NIDays, when NI hosts its annual Engineering Impact Awards dinner, which recognises and celebrates engineering ‘superheroes’ and the amazing work they are doing using NI tools. An audience made up of winners and nominees across a range of categories (including Wireless Communications, Biomedical, Machine Control, Advanced Manufacturing and Student Design), industry figures and members of the press, and senior NI engineers and executives gathered for a black tie dinner and to hear details of the awe-inspiring applications engineers are building using the NI platform.

Applications included: developing a mobile assembly and repair robot for hazardous and extreme environments, like the Fukushima nuclear disaster; modelling and studying how prehistoric marine giants propelled themselves through the oceans; and developing a control system for a compact spherical tokamak for plasma and fusion power research.

In the Student Design category, we saw amazing projects developed by teams of ?nal year engineering undergraduates, including a beer pouring robot that could pour the perfect pint, a facial and object recognition app aimed at dementia sufferers, and the ?rst ever UK winners of the Formula Student competition, Cardiff University. Overall Application of the Year was won by Dr. Paul Haigh from University College London and Dr. Bo Tan from Coventry University who developed a system which combined passive Wi-Fi sensing and machine learning to monitor health, activity and well-being within nursing homes.

Morning keynote

The event began the following morning with a keynote presentation anchored by NI Field Marketing Engineer, Gavin Hill, and featuring a range of NI engineers talking through how new technology additions to the NI platform are helping engineers designing, testing and deploying the next generation of technology in areas as diverse as transportation safety, wireless communication, space travel and the Internet of Things.

For wireless communications and automated test, Sacha Emery, Joris Donders and Nic O’Leary introduced Python API support for NI DAQ devices, and, in this 20th anniversary year for PXI, a new 1095 18-slot, high power PXI chassis, and NI ATE Core Con?gurations, a range of power and rack mount systems for PXI. Chris Jones and Erik Van Hilten then talked time sensitive networks and how sensor fusion is enabling autonomous vehicles. Harith Rothi talked about how LabVIEW was being used in hyperloop technology.

And ?nally, we were introduced to LabVIEW NXG by an imperial Stormtrooper with a NERF gun! The NI Expo Area gave visitors the chance to see application-speci?c demonstrations leveraging some of the latest products and technology in automated test, embedded control and monitoring – including some fun demos, like the beer-pouring robot and a machine learning air hockey table. Customers talked about their applications during a range of technical sessions throughout the day.

And hands-on sessions gave delegates the opportunity to try the technology for themselves. NI engineers were always available to answer questions and discuss challenges.

Preparing for the IIoT

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) was a hot topic of conversation throughout the day. 

The proliferation of smart and connected 'things' in the IIoT provides tremendous opportunities for increased performance and lower costs, but managing these distributed systems is often an overlooked challenge.

DPA spoke to Gavin Hill, NI Field Marketing Engineer, whose focus is on new technology in the transition to Industry 4.0/IIoT and asked him to give a brief overview of how NI is 

addressing IIoT and what that means for its customers.

Gavin spoke of three key areas where he sees NI having the biggest impact:

1. Predictive maintenance and condition monitoring

With new technologies for online monitoring, companies have the capability to prevent equipment failures, detecting them before they impact safety and business productivity, in turn improving uptime and operation.

The NI approach gives customers full access to all data required with the ability to connect any asset and measure any type of sensor or signal with NI modular hardware.

2. Translation

For IIoT to be a success, machines need to be able to communicate effectively and in the same language. The problem is, there are so many machines using different protocols and talking different languages. The openness and ?exibility of LabVIEW allows it to speak most languages, giving users the ability to set up communication networks between multiple devices.

3. Intelligence

We’ve all heard the mantra ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t ?x it’ – a lot of systems out there at the moment are already effectively doing what they are designed to do. But if you want, for example, control loops that are signi?cantly faster, more complex edge processing or to communicate with another system, then you need intelligent solutions. The NI platform has the capability to take your systems beyond the realms of what they are currently capable of.

There are an increasing number of companies who already have IIoT solutions in place, but aren’t utilising the technology to its full potential. NI is helping customers progress to the next stage: increasing uptime with predictive maintenance; boosting performance with connected control at the edge; and improving product design and manufacturing with connected, real-time data analysis.

Afternoon keynote

The next innovation in engineering software was the topic of conversation in the afternoon keynote, hosted by Richard Robert, Academic Marketing Engineer at NI. Software has been at the heart of the NI platform for over 30 years and this year marked a signi?cant evolution of NI’s LabVIEW legacy with the introduction of LabVIEW NXG. LabVIEW NXG is the next generation of LabVIEW, capable of simplifying complex pin-to-analysis work?ows to create an architecture that will facilitate massive codebases and distributed systems.

The 1.0 release of LabVIEW NXG helps engineers performing benchtop measurements drastically increase their productivity with new non-programming work?ows to acquire and iteratively analyse measurement data. These work?ows simplify automation by building the necessary code behind the scenes. For instance, engineers can drag and drop a section of code equivalent to 50 lines of text-based code.

LabVIEW NXG also introduces a re-engineered editor with functionality that experienced LabVIEW users often request, but it still offers a user experience similar to complementary software in the market.

The refreshed editor further extends the openness of LabVIEW to integrate with a broader set of languages. The modernised editor improves programming productivity by streamlining the editor micro-interactions, with user interface objects based on vector graphics and zooming capabilities.

Whether you are buying LabVIEW for the ?rst time or have been on an active service contract for years, you have access to both LabVIEW NXG 1.0 and LabVIEW 2017 – two versions for just one price.

Guest speaker

The afternoon keynote also played host to Stuart Dawson, chief technology of?cer (CTO), at the University of Shef?eld’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), which aims to enable manufacturers of any size to become better, faster, cheaper and greener through the introduction of advanced manufacturing techniques.

Stuart discussed how mega-trends like Industry 4.0, energy and electri?cation of transportation are changing the way we live and work.

Wrap-up

At the end of the day, a new feature was a drinks reception, hosted in the expo area, where delegates were able to network with their peers, exhibitors and NI engineers over a beer (from the beer-pouring robot, if they wanted!), glass of wine or soft drink, and a canapé or two. Even though this year saw the previously free-to-attend conference transition to a paid-for forum, there was still a good number of engineers gathered at the event, representing a solid community of engineers and scientists building test, measurement and control applications.


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