Pickering Interfaces: Leadership in modular switching systems
01 May 2022
Imagine a switch matrix containing some 4,000 RF switches. That’s an example of the complexity of the switching systems developed by Pickering Interfaces, a leader in modular signal switching for electronic test.
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Pickering’s story begins in the UK in 1968, when John Moore formed Pickering Electronics to build high-quality reed relays for switching systems. Automatic test equipment (ATE) became a large market for its products, and a source of significant growth. This led Keith Moore, John’s son, to launch Pickering Interfaces in 1988. It was an intentional step up the supply chain to modular switching systems. The first product, System 10, was a 3U system controlled via General Purpose Interface Bus (GPIB). Many more products followed, mirroring modular test systems’ evolving standards and form factors – from GPIB to VXI, then PXI, LXI and USB.
Pickering has an extensive catalogue — more than 1,000 PXI modules and indeed, more than all the combined products from its competitors — reflecting its willingness to serve a customer’s unique needs. Pickering says it fits the product to the customer, rather than forcing the customer to fit the product. Custom designs are added to the catalogue to be available to other customers – or be the starting point for a new custom design. Pickering is largely vertically integrated, designing and manufacturing nearly all the components used in its test systems. This capability enables it to develop custom designs quickly.
Pickering’s PXI switch modules, available in PXI and PXIe formats, ranging from the highest density switching matrices (BRIC), RF and optical switching to fault/signal insertion modules. Its PXI modules will plug into any PXI-compliant chassis or hybrid slot in a PXIe chassis, and may also be used in its Ethernet-controlled LXI modular switching chassis.
In 2003, Pickering’s first RF instrument modules were released. Today, the company’s RF & microwave matrices and multiplexers support the PXI, PCI and LXI standards, with upper-frequency coverage to 67 GHz. RF multiplexers use reed relay, electromagnetic relay (EMR) and solid-state switches, depending on the frequency and application. All of Pickering’s PXI RF products operating above 3 GHz are also available in the higher bandwidth PXIe format.
Beyond the switching hardware, Pickering offers PXI simulation modules used to simulate sensors used for temperature, altitude, strain and position. They also offer application software and simulation tools to support customers designing and implementing switching systems. Simulation tools enable programming and testing system software without the actual hardware. Drivers for their switching systems are offered in all popular programming languages. Applications cover test sequencing, switch path management, diagnostic testing and cable design. Pickering also offers a cable design and manufacturing service for companies wanting a turnkey solution.
Pickering stands behind its products, offering a three-year warranty and supporting its systems for 15 to 20 years. This is important because of the longevity of most ATE systems, particularly those used on military programmes. Pickering is active in the industry organisations that define modular test standards needed to ensure interoperability among all companies’ products. Pickering joined the PXI Systems Alliance in 1998 and the LXI Consortium in 2005. Bob Stasonis of Pickering has served as President of the PXI Systems Alliance twice, most recently from 2018 to 2021.
Pickering’s headquarters is in Clacton-on-Sea in the UK, where it also designs and manufactures hardware. A second manufacturing site is located in Bystrice, in the Czech Republic, which also serves as the hub for software development. The company operates globally with direct sales and support operations in the US, UK, Germany, Sweden, France, Czech Republic and China, with additional representation in countries throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia. A global customer base and demand from multiple markets — automotive and transportation, aerospace and defense, semiconductor manufacturing and RF — are fuelling the company’s continued growth.
Pickering remains privately owned and singularly focused on its mission to provide high-quality modular signal switching systems. Its formula for success is to design, deploy and sustain the customer throughout the ATE life cycle. Whether high voltage, high current or high frequency — the most demanding test challenges — Pickering aims to be the preferred partner for ATE.
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