Traditional, PC based and virtual instruments


and designed to perform one or more specific tasks defined by the vendor. Figure 1 . Traditional Instruments The first created instruments are the traditional instruments. are all specific to the nature of the instrument. Users connect sensors directly to the box instrument front panel. are of standalone or box format. etc. expensive. pressure. the user generally cannot extend or customize them. mechanical principles to display a value for the quantity. The control system monitors the variation of physical parameter being measured. Initially it was on analog meters and later with digital displays (Figure 1). Stand-alone traditional instruments such as oscilloscopes and waveform generators are very powerful.. In addition. and controls certain elements in the system to maintain the measured quantity at some desired value. 2. However. special technology and costly . They are often limited to performing custom analysis offline on the full data sets. Also.1. A generalised instrumentation system consists of mainly a measurement system and a control system.Traditional instruments Traditional instruments have a fixed hardware and software architecture with most if not all of the functionality defined inside the box by the vendor. light intensity. force. which contains the measurement circuitry and displays the results. The knobs and buttons on the instrument. and the functions available to the user. there is little or no flexibility in changing any of the instrument components with off-the-shelf parts. humidity. Introduction An instrumentation system in industrial applications measures quantities such as temperature. the built-in circuitry. applies control techniques to regulate the deviation of quantity from a desired value. The measurement system performs necessary conversion of small amount of physical quantity of the medium to equivalent electrical quantity and applies electronic. flow.

Figure 2 . 3. through which can the stand-alone instruments communicate with the computer. became extremely popular for connecting instruments and hence those instruments are known to be PC-based instruments. Key components of PC-based instruments are the interface cards. Three types of interface cards are of use in PC-based instruments: 1. a PC-based instrument can be adapted to changing market situations much more easily. PC-Based Instruments In many cases. In contrast to conventional equipment and products. due to low storage cost and flexibility in developing new customer-specific features. Also. making them very expensive and slow to adapt. General-purpose interface bus card (GPIB) 3. Figure 3 shows controlling an instrument using GPIB. This was initially done with serial links. PC-based instruments are up-compatible with the stand-alone instruments and thus they can be controlled either by hand or by control units such as a computer. memory. Data acquisition card (DAQ) 2. displays.PC-Based Instrumentation Systems . and a large part of the firmware are not required. operating elements. PC-based instruments introduce almost no overhead because important hardware components are already available in the host PC. test engineers wanted to have instruments which communicate with each other. Digital signal processing card (DSP) A typical PC-based instrumentation system is shown in figure 2 which makes use of DAQ. The production of PC-based instruments is extremely cost effective because casing. but in the 1970s the Hewlett Packard Interface Bus.components must be developed to build these instruments. which evolved into today's IEEE-488 interface. power supply.

‡ Automatic component and QA acceptance testing. ‡ Availability of an extensive range of PC-compatible expansion cards from an increasingly wide range of suppliers. ‡ Internationally accepted standards. Typical applications for PC-based instrumentation and control systems include: ‡ Data acquisition and data logging. .2 interface (GPIB: General Purpose Interface Bus) In general. including ISA. and USB bus systems. ‡ Ability to interface with standard bus systems (including the immensely popular IEEE-488 General Purpose Instrument Bus). ‡ Signal monitoring. PCI.Box Instrument connected to PC via an IEEE 488. ‡ Low-cost PC-based systems can be put together at a faction of the cost associated with dedicated controllers. ‡ Rugged embedded PC controllers are available for use in more demanding applications. ‡ Production monitoring and control.Figure 3 . PC/104. ‡ The technology of the PC is well known and understood and most companies already have such equipment installed in a variety of locations. PC-based instrumentation and control systems offer the following advantages: ‡ Flexible and adaptable: The system can be easily extended or reconfigured for a different application. Support for a variety of popular network and asynchronous data communications standards (allowing PC-based systems to become fully integrated within larger manufacturing and process control systems). Such systems can be configured for a wide range of instrumentation and control applications with the added advantage that they use the same familiar operating system environment and programming software that runs on a conventional PC.

The panel diagram contains the controls while the function diagram contains functions/ icons corresponding to the controls and displays on the panel diagram. the productive . The concept of virtual instrumentation is. and greater flexibility. The vision of virtual instrumentation revolutionized the way engineers and scientists work. The result is a user-defined instrument specific to the application needs. Graphical programming involves the creation of a panel diagram and the corresponding function diagram. ‡ A µvirtual¶ replacement for conventional laboratory test equipment. HP-Vee. Test point. analyze data for meaningful information. ‡ Automated monitoring and performance measurement. and share results and applications. ‡ Security and alarm systems. ‡ Process control systems. Innovative engineer or scientist will apply his domain expertise to customize the measurement and control application as per the requirement. Each function is a VI or sub VI with terminals. ‡ Access control.‡ Environmental control. These functions are µwired¶ through terminals so that the data flows from one function to another. ‡ Simple machine-vision systems. but the advent of graphic languages (³G´ languages) like LabVIEW. Components of Virtual Instrumentation The heart of any virtual instrument is flexible software. ‡ Control of test and calibration clusters. The VI can be implemented in normal programming languages like C. flexible and customizable. 4. Pascal. Virtual Instrumentation Virtual instrument is the programming technique to use a general purpose computer to mimic real instruments with their dedicated controls and displays but with the added versatility that comes with software. engineers and scientists can interface with real-world signals. VB. built-to-order test and measurement solution. VC etc. Vls are cost effective. an engineer can use software running on a computer combined with instrumentation hardware to define a custom. delivering solutions with faster development time. C++. With such software.. ‡ Small-scale production management systems. NI LabVIEW. has made the VI implementation easier. Every virtual instrument is built on this flexible and powerful software.. ‡ Factory automation systems. lower costs. Agilent VIEW etc.

today it is winning over experts in the control and design domains. including Analog to Digital Converters (ADC). Advanced Modular Instrument hardware use the latest I/O and data processing technologies.000 companies (the majority being test and measurement companies) use virtual instrumentation. design and control applications. Virtual Instrumentation for Test Test has been a long-proven field for virtual instrumentation. Digital to Analog Converters. design verification. Virtual instrumentation has gradually increased addressable applications through continuous software innovation and hundreds of measurement hardware devices. In combination with powerful software. and more.Virtual instrumentation combines productive software. buses. Virtual Instrumentation is rapidly revolutionizing the functions of control design. This element delivers virtual instrumentation on a long-term technology base that scales with the high investments made in processors. More than 25. often enhanced with accurate synchronization . National Instruments. modular I/O. resolution. simulation and more. Filed Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs). is the graphical development platform for test.popular and commercially available computing platform (PC or Server) to run the software and connect to I/O module. prototyping. and scalable platforms. the pioneer in Virtual Instrumentation has come a long way in the Test . engineers can create custom-defined measurements and sophisticated analysis routines. data component of the virtual Instrumentation architecture. distributed control. or speeds.7 GHz. The second virtual instrumentation component is the modular I/O for measurements that require higher performance.ensures that virtual instrumentation takes advantage of the very latest computer capabilities and data transfer technologies. Having influenced millions of test and automation professionals. The third virtual instrumentation element is . and PC busses to provide high resolution and throughput for measurements from 7 1/2 digit DC to 2. Figure 4 .

The gap between these two worlds has traditionally been neglected. Figure 5 . first noticeable in the new product prototype stage. Virtual Instrumentation for Design The same design engineers that use a wide variety of software design tools must use hardware to test prototypes. Systems with intrinsic-integration properties are easily extensible and adapt to increasing product functionality. Yet. These conditions drive new validation. engineers simply add new modules to the platform to make the measurements. Engineers and scientists are demanding the capability to reuse designs from one tool in other tools as products go from schematic design to simulation to physical layout. EDA tool vendors undergo tremendous pressure to interoperate from the increasing semiconductor design and manufacturing group complexity requirements. there is no good interface between the design phase and testing/validation phase. It combines rapid development software and modular. verification. A test platform that can keep pace with this innovation is not optional. it is essential. As the pace of innovation has increased.Test plays a critical role in the design and manufacture of today's electronic devices. Virtual instrumentation software . the need for test has never been greater. Commonly. test system development is evolving toward a modular approach. and manufacturing test needs. differentiated products to market quickly. high-throughput test capabilities and precise. When new tests are required. In reality. flexible hardware to create user-defined test systems. often the issues discovered in the testing phase require a design-phase reiteration. which means that. On the design side. Similarly. so too has the pressure to get new. synchronized measurement abilities. The platform must include rapid test development tools adaptable enough to be used throughout the product development flow.and Measurement domain. the development process has two very distinct and separate stages ± design and test are two individual entities. Virtual instrumentation is an innovative solution to these challenges.

Example Figure 6 shows the application of LabVIEW for virtual instrumentation. this increase in functionality comes with a price. design and test instrumentation also must adapt to verify the improvements. and text messaging capabilities. processors. including audio. So. to meet the ever-increasing demand to innovate and deliver ideas and products faster. and software. Consider a modern cell phone. and commercial platforms. Upgraded functionality introduces the possibility of unforeseen interaction or error. scientists and engineers are turning to advanced electronics. modular I/O. The increased functionality of advanced electronics is possible because devices have become more software centric. New versions include a camera. it is uniquely positioned to keep pace with the required new idea and product development rate.flexibility and virtual instrumentation hardware modularity make virtual instruments a necessity to accelerate the development cycle. The only way to meet these demands is to use test and control architectures that are also software centric. MP3 player. Because virtual instrumentation uses highly productive software like NI LabVIEW. just as device-level software helps rapidly develop and extend functionality. Most contain the latest features of the last generation. Figure 6 ± Vibration analysis using LabVIEW A Future with Virtual Instrumentation Today. and Bluetooth networking and Internet browsing. However. a phone book. .

‡ Engineers and scientists whose needs. making them very expensive and slow to adapt. You can adapt a virtual instrument to your particular needs without having to replace the entire device because of the application software installed on the PC and the wide range of available plug-in hardware. and requirements change very quickly. 5. are all specific to the nature of the instrument. Engineers and scientists who are increasing demands for virtual instrumentation in hopes of efficiently addressing worldwide demand are the driving force behind this acceleration. the built-in circuitry. In addition to incorporating powerful features. Virtual Instruments versus Traditional Instruments ‡ Stand-alone traditional instruments such as oscilloscopes and waveform generators are very powerful. these platforms also offer easy access to powerful tools such as the Internet. The knobs and buttons on the instrument. The benefits that have accelerated test development are beginning to accelerate control and design. However. expensive. include powerful processors such as the Pentium 4 and operating systems and technologies such as Microsoft Windows XP. inherently take advantage of the benefits from the latest technology incorporated into off-the-shelf PCs. These advances in technology and performance. need flexibility to create their own solutions. Virtual instrumentation has thus been widely adopted in test and measurement areas and is rapidly making headway in control and design areas. and Apple Mac OS X.Visual: Virtual instrumentation has been widely adopted in test and measurement areas and is rapidly making headway in control and design areas. . Traditional instruments also frequently lack portability. by virtue of being PC-based. and the functions available to the user. which are quickly closing the gap between stand-alone instruments and PCs. . In addition. whereas virtual instruments running on notebooks automatically incorporate their portable nature. special technology and costly components must be developed to build these instruments. and designed to perform one or more specific tasks defined by the vendor.NET. ‡ Virtual instruments. applications. the user generally cannot extend or customize them.

system development costs. With these advances in technology there is increase in data acquisition rates. and waveform generation capabilities. Surekha . in a virtual instrument. communication ports (for example. National Instruments. Lower Cost ‡ By employing virtual instrumentation solutions. filters. P. timers. Plug-In and Networked Hardware ‡ There is a wide variety of available hardware that you can either plug into the computer or access through a network. and system maintenance costs. ‡ Depending on the particular application.Virtual Instrumentation Changing the Face of Design. ‡ What makes one different from the other is their flexibility and the fact that you can modify and adapt the instrument to your particular needs. ‡ As integrated circuit technology advances. the general architecture of stand-alone instruments is very similar to that of a PC-based virtual instrument. Managing Director. digital input or output. Electronics engineering herald . serial and GPIB). as well as data acquisition modules. these functions would be performed by software running on the PC processor. ‡ A traditional instrument might contain an integrated circuit to perform a particular set of data processing functions. and display capabilities. You can extend the set of functions easily. you can lower capital costs. precision and better signal isolation.Design Article .Flexibility ‡ Except for the specialized components and circuitry found in traditional instruments. the hardware you choose might include analog input or output. India 2. References 1. ‡ The wide gamut of boards and hardware could include any one of these features or a combination of them. These devices offer a wide range of data acquisition capabilities at a significantly lower cost than that of dedicated devices. Sumathi. while improving time to market and the quality of your own products. limited only by the power of the software used. LabVIEW based advanced instrumentation systems By S. counters. Both require one or more microprocessors. and off-the-shelf components become cheaper and more powerful. simultaneous sampling. Measurement and Automation By Jayaram Pillai. measurement accuracy. so do the boards that use them.

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