NIDays 2018: future faster…

Author : Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT

02 January 2019

NIDays 2018
NIDays 2018

NIDays London, National Instruments’ annual user conference & exhibition in the UK, brought together >300 engineers, scientists, researchers & industry leaders to learn about industry best practices in the development, automation and performance of test & measurement systems at a brand-new central London venue, The Mermaid.

This review was originally featured in the January 2019 issue of EPDT magazine. Read the digital issue or sign up to receive your own copy.

At the heart of this year’s event were four industry-focused tracks for Aerospace & Defence, Semiconductor, Automotive and Academic, as well as more general automated test and measurement tracks. EPDT editor, Mark Gradwell reports…

The event kicked off the night before, with NI hosting its annual Engineering Impact Awards dinner to recognise and celebrate engineering ‘superheroes’ from across Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa (EMEIA) and the amazing work they are doing solving complex challenges using NI tools. An audience made up of winners and nominees across eight diverse categories (Innovation Research; Aerospace & Defence; Wireless Communications; Electronics & Semiconductor; Transportation; Connected & Autonomous Vehicles; Education and Student Design), industry figures and technical press, and senior NI engineers and executives gathered to hear details of the awe-inspiring applications engineers are building using the NI platform.

Engineering Impact Awards
The evening was hosted by the engagingly enthusiastic Richard Roberts, one of the architects of, and ambassadors for, NI’s case study programme. Rich started off by asking the audience which two symbols the public most associate with engineering – the answer, not surprisingly, being the wrench or spanner and the hard hat. Data from EngineeringUK showed that engineering in the UK contributes £486 billion to GDP (around 25%) – and according the data from the World Economic Forum, 7 of the top 15 in-demand professions worldwide are engineering-related. Rich told us we needed a new symbol for our profession, one which reflected the fundamental innovation and design aspects of engineering – the light bulb, of course!

Featured applications providing the evidence for that statement included: floating base stations that beam down cellular coverage from the sky, through revolutionary ultrasound endoscopy capsules and pioneering artic ROVs that help us understand climate change, to game-changing simulators that are empowering the development of contemporary and future vehicles. Overall Application of the Year was won by Gunwant Dhadyalla and team from Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG), who developed a full-scale, connected, driver-in-the-loop vehicle simulator environment to test and characterise any new technology (infrastructure, communications or on-vehicle systems) in real-world conditions.

But, as amazing and awe-inspiring the work being done by some of these industry and research projects is, I was even more blown away by the phenomenal work being done by engineering undergrads (with very limited budgets!) in the Student Design category. 

Engineering Impact Awards 2018
Engineering Impact Awards 2018

We saw amazing projects developed by teams of final year engineering undergraduates, including an autonomous vehicle capable of travelling a staggering 374km on a single litre of fuel, a training simulator for cardiac surgeons and a solar-powered, electrically-assisted mountain-climbing 4WD handcycle for multiple amputees. #STEMmatters indeed!

NIDays began the following morning with a keynote presentation from NI Vice President of Global Marketing, Shelley Gretlein, talking about how innovation can help us address tomorrow’s challenges today. Using examples from industries including automotive, aerospace and defence, and semiconductor, she showed how NI’s open platform can help engineers develop software-defined systems that can handle complex and rapidly changing requirements.

Shelley talked about how transportation systems are really systems of systems – comprised of different technology innovations, developed by different sets of engineers, at different times, all working together. She likened this to the natural world ecosystem – and contended that NI’s open, software-defined platform, built around a core of LabVIEW, and supported by its own comprehensive ecosystem, is the best way to meet the challenges of automated test for tomorrow’s demanding and disruptive applications.

Exhibition and technical tracks
Following the keynote, editors were treated to a whistlestop guided tour of the expo show floor, which was colour-coded to indicate the different industry areas and application demos. This year’s event certainly reflected NI’s recent change of focus, from a very broad-based approach to a much more focused and smaller set of industries and applications. For delegates, the rest of the day was streamed across four in-depth, industry-focused tracks, covering academia and industry innovation, aerospace and defence, automotive and semiconductor, as well as two further tracks of sessions for delegates looking for more general automated test and measurement topics. Technical sessions were presented by a combination of NI experts, partners and customers.

Trend Watch 2019
Also announced at NIDays was NI’s 2019 Trend Watch report, which outlines five of the key trends and challenges NI sees around automated test and measurement – aiming to help test managers navigate megatrends such as 5G, IoT and autonomous vehicles.

NIDays 2018 collage
NIDays 2018 collage

1. 5G ushers in a new era of wireless test: 5G will be more significantly more impactful than previous cellular standards generations, impacting all industries and driving tomorrow’s smart, connected infrastructure. 5G wireless devices will be more complex, and the highly optimised techniques used to test previous generations must be re-thought to ensure the viable commercialisation of 5G products and solutions.

2. Imminent trade-offs for achieving safe autonomous driving: Autonomous driving will have a major societal impact, but its imminent cost, technology and strategy trade-offs must be managed with the shift from single- to multi-sensor Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) – sensor fusion. Software will continue to become more and more critical.

3. Keep pace with a standardised development process: Test engineers are capitalising on an old trend to keep pace with a quickly modernising test environment. They’re going beyond hardware and software to standardise the process used to build and maintain test architectures. Tool providers must recognise, facilitate and support this in their technology roadmaps and release cycles.

4. Making the IoT work for test: Though the Internet of Things (IoT) is increasing device complexity and, in turn, test complexity, it can also greatly enhance automated test workflows. To add value for test at the business level, test tool providers must now go beyond simply making individual test engineers more productive to doing the same at the enterprise level.

5. Multi-industry convergence disrupts test strategies: Convergence has the potential to speed innovation and deliver products never imagined, but it severely complicates test. Partnering and learning across industries provide a beneficial perspective on complex test challenges – and an adaptable, multi-industry test platform will be essential.

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