Test and the IoT

11 February 2019

While the IoT is increasing device complexity and, in turn, increasing test complexity, it can also greatly enhance automated test workflows says Mike Santori.

Internet of Things (IoT) devices and Industrial IoT (IIoT) systems are increasing test complexity. However, on the plus side the IoT is also able to enhance automated test. The application of IoT capabilities such as systems management, data management, visualisation and analytics, and application enablement to the automated test workflow will better equip test engineers to overcome the challenges that the IoT poses.

Managing test systems
Connected, managed devices are fundamental to the success of IoT and IIoT. Many test systems, however, are not connected or well managed, even as they become more distributed. Test engineers often have difficulty tracing the software running on any given hardware or just knowing the whereabouts of systems, much less tracking performance, utilisation, and health.

Fortunately, most modern test systems are based on a PC or PXI and so can directly connect to the enterprise, which enables additional capabilities such as managing software and hardware components, tracking usage, and performing predictive maintenance to maximise the value of test investments.

The business value of the IoT comes from the data it generates. Consuming test data is, however, difficult due to the many data formats and sources – from raw analogue and digital waveforms in time and frequency to parametric measurements often gathered at significantly higher rates and volumes than from consumer or industrial devices. Further, test data is often stored in silos with little standardisation. Consequently, this data is ‘invisible’ to a business, making it easy to miss potential insights at other phases of the product life cycle. 

Prior to implementing a comprehensive, IoT-enabled data management solution, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) analysed only 10% of its vehicle test data. Simon Foster, powertrain manager at JLR, said: “We estimate that we now analyse up to 95% of our data and have reduced our test cost and number of annual tests because we do not have to rerun tests.”

Applying IoT capabilities to automated test data begins with ready-to-use software adapters for ingesting standard data formats. These adapters must be built with an open, documented architecture to enable ingestion of new and unique data, including non-test data from design and production. Test systems must be able to share their data with standard IoT and IIoT platforms to unlock value from data at the enterprise level.

“It will soon become standard that our customers require the management and maintenance of test assets from around the world,” said Franck Choplain, digital industry director at Thales.

“We must reshape our test architectures to integrate IoT technologies, especially to evolve configuration management and data analytics and support the digitalisation of our business for Industry 4.0.”

Visualising and analysing data
Using general business analytics software for test data is not the best solution as this data is often complex and multidimensional. Also, typical business charting capabilities do not include common visualisations in test and measurement, such as combined graphs of analogue and digital signals, eye diagrams, Smith charts, and constellation plots.

Test-oriented schemas with appropriate metadata enable tools to provide visualisation and analysis for test data and correlate it with design and production data. Well-organized test data allows engineers to apply analytics from basic statistics to artificial intelligence and machine learning. This enables workflows that integrate and leverage common tools, like Python, R, and The MathWorks, Inc. MATLAB software, and generates greater insights from data.

Test software
The world is moving from exclusively using desktop applications toward augmenting with web and mobile apps. This transformation can be difficult to realise for test. Computing at the device under test (DUT) is needed to process large amounts of data and make real-time pass/fail decisions, and local operators need to interact with the tester and the DUT. At the same time, companies want to remotely access testers to see results and operating status such as utilisation. To address this, some companies have built one-off architectures to manage software centrally, and they download software to testers based on the DUT. But because of this, they must maintain their custom architecture, which requires additional resources that could be applied to activities with higher business value.

Higher level test management is a good candidate to move from the local tester to a cloud deployment. Web-based tools allow for viewing tester status, scheduling tests, and examining test data pushed to a cloud or server. Higher level management capability complements existing test systems built with common tools such as NI LabVIEW, Microsoft .NET languages, NI TestStand, and Python. 

A modular test software architecture (test management, test code, measurement IP, instrument drivers, hardware abstraction layers) enables companies to evaluate the trade-offs of moving different software capabilities from local to server or cloud-based execution. As more of the test software stack moves to cloud deployments, companies will realize the benefits of cloud computing for data storage, scalable computing, and easy access to software and data from anywhere.

Leveraging the IoT for test can be achieved today. An organisation’s ability to do so depends on its current automated test infrastructure and most pressing business needs. Some common areas to consider are improving test system management, increasing test equipment utilisation, gaining better insight from test data, and remotely accessing shared test systems. A software defined approach with a high degree of modularity allows businesses to focus on the areas of greatest value without having to make an all-or-nothing decision.

Mike Santori is an NI Business and Technology Fellow.

This article was taken from the NI Trend Watch 2019 which looks at the megatrends and challenges impacting automated test and automated measurement. To read the original Trend Watch document or to download it go to: www.ni.com/en-gb/innovations.html#trends

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