13 Feb 2012

Keys for Successful New Test Equipment (Page 2 of 2)

Moving forward we turned our attention to PXI.

Vogel's previous answer prompted the next question I had planned to ask. I had understood that one of the major areas for development within Aeroflex was for PXI, and that PXI technology underpinned their Common Platform. I asked what the main development areas were for PXI within Aeroflex, and what new instruments these would enable.

Vogel explained: “The purpose behind the common platform was to enable us to develop product where we are leveraging the investment we make across the total test business - we wanted to implement a re-use strategy across the business. We wanted to focus on developing the applications for test as opposed to the platform or PC.”

“We also wanted to achieve a common look and feel across our products. This can only be achieved by implementing a common platform strategy.”

Adding more to his comments, Vogel said: “The main vehicle is PXI, but this does not mean it will be PXI for ever – but if there is another standard implementation for the design environment, we will move in that direction if it meets the needs for our products.”

Aeroflex PXI Equipment

Aeroflex PXI Equipment

“There are other technologies that are out there such as AXIe, PXIExpress and we will leverage them where appropriate. It does not affect our strategy as this is focussed on the products we need.”

Achieving the common platform

Looking at their common platform strategy I wanted to ask more about it and find out how it was started. Vogel explained: “The common platform strategy was an initiative we started about five years ago, but gained momentum about three years ago. It plays across all our business units and products, right up to the latest S-Series signal generators. They all use the common platform.”

“So every new product we have released in recent years is an iteration of the common platform. If you put a picture up of all our products, there is a common look across our products, and it goes beyond just the colour scheme. If you open one up you would see the same common modules inside.”

Knowing that these initiatives are difficult to make a success in the way Aeroflex has done, I asked how they had achieved it.

Vogel replied: “It is cultural and philosophical. The only way it could come to be is by bringing a core team of engineers together as a steering committee - it steered the entire common platform project.”

“By having teams working together to achieve this they became familiar with each other and familiarity, in this context, breeds respect, and understanding. They start listening to what others do, saying that’s an interesting way to do it. They understand each other, rather than – as so often happens – viewing them as the enemy. Having the teams work in this way has actually brought teams together.”

“It also helps the teams consider what others are doing – they really need to factor in the requirements of the other teams when they are developing their own modules. It might take a little longer in some ways, but we are doing it so that it leverages benefits across the entire organisation, and it helps bring products to market faster.”

Development speed

Knowing that speed counts for so much, I wanted to investigate a bit more about the development process, so I asked about the way in which the Common Platform enabled Aeroflex to bring new product designs to market quickly and economically.

Vogel replied: “What we are doing is to leverage a re-use model, so we are not designing things multiple times. That re-use model is allowing us to reduce the time it takes us to develop product.”

So looking a little deeper I asked what a typical development cycle would be.

Vogel answered: “We have two goals: one is to launch one new product each fiscal year within every business unit and then we want to achieve 9-month or better delivery cycles on our new products. And the reason why 9 months is important is that we want to deliver on a product before the market moves on us. If we don’t, then the market will have moved on before we can establish our product.”

He added: “We are also prepared to buy in product components. If someone out there is making a combiner or whatever, we will buy it in rather than developing it, so that we can focus on what we consider to be the core piece which will be the RF part of the product; also all the software and the test applications - that’s where we make our money.”

Aeroflex and AXIe

Seeing that AXIe is a platform that has recently entered the market, but has not yet had the impact of PXI and others, I asked how Vogel and Aeroflex saw AXIe developing.

Vogel explained: “You use things for compelling reasons - when there is a requirement. We’ve investigated AXIe we’re not opposed to using it, nothing prevents us from using it, but we just don’t see the merit of implementing AXIe product versus PXI at the moment. The value proposition is not significant enough to cause us to change our design process.”

I observed that Aeroflex is part of the AXIe Forum and wondered if this had any impact on their views.

Vogel answered: “Yep, it is really specific to our semiconductor test business. In that specialised area we are all over it, but that is in one area of our business. When there is a need we will use it, but there needs to be a compelling reason. Customers don’t care what the platform is; they want the functionality, so we will use what gives them what they want. When we sell something we don’t say it is PXI for example, we say that is a modular design that gives them functionality they need.”

“One benefit of our industry is that our customers are engineers, and engineers are smart - they operate in a very competitive market, they know what they need and they are smart enough to know whether the product meets their requirements. They don’t care how it does it; they just want it to work.”

Summarising this point Vogel said: “We’re open to all technology options – we’ll use whatever makes our products better and more competitive. There has to be a purpose behind it.”

New Aeroflex test equipment

I commented that Aeroflex had recently launched some new signal generators - the S- Series for example. How do you see this market developing, and where would you like to see Aeroflex positioned in that market?

SGD Digital Signal Generator

SGD Digital Signal Generator

Vogel thought about his reply and said: “We have decided to re-enter this product area because it plays into many markets - into military, wireless, cellular and non-cellular; many markets. It is a stimulus product, so its uses are very varied and its uses are across the industry.”

“The signal generator also builds on the great heritage of Marconi Instruments which has been incorporated into Aeroflex. This means we can leverage the market that was there before.”

I commented that Aeroflex had also entered the spectrum analyser market with the purchase of the Spectrum Analyser assets of LIGNex1.

Vogel commented: “The spectrum analyser market is very competitive and there are some very large and significant suppliers in the market. We are cautiously investigating our spectrum analyser strategy at this time.”

He continued: “The acquisition has been very successful, and LIGNex1 has been a very good partner - it has been an asset purchase and we still have a good partnership. There is a mutual respect and we are continuing to work with each other.”

The future

As our time together was running out, I wanted to gain a view of how Bob Vogel saw technology moving forwards into the future.

He said: “What we look at is what the user is after and so speed of application, volume of application, security and open communication will always be key drivers and only new technology will drive that. These create opportunity for our products.”

“The ability for people with new consumer devices to communicate with people with legacy consumer devices is also very important – backwards compatibility is a key driver.”

“We will need to support applications that are mobile with those that are resident in your house. So technology will continue to evolve as long as there is purpose behind it. Technology for the sake of technology only appeals to a few people. It does not cause people to break out their wallets and spend a lot of money, but technology that serves the need of a market that provides lifestyle or convenience will always be in demand.”

With these final comments, I thanked Bob Vogel for his time, and for his comments and insight into the technology and the way it is developing.

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About the author

Ian Poole is the editor of Radio-Electronics.com. Having studied at University College London to gain his degree he went on to undertake a career in electronic development working for companies including Racal. He became the hardware development manager at Racal Instruments where he was in charge of the hardware development activities within the company. Later moving in to freelance work as a consultant he also developed Radio-Electronics.com to become one of the leading publications for professional electronics engineers. He is also a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and is an author of over 20 books.

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