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Tackling Obsolescence in Test Equipment

Many of us have obsolete gadgets: consoles they don't make games for any more; mobile phones without fancy touchscreens; and maybe even a video player in the garage (in the worst cases, a Betamax). The other side of progress and innovation is obsolescence: as new things come, old things get relegated to a dusty cupboard.

Of course, just because something is old, it doesn't mean it's useless. There are plenty of people who still play old games and a basic phone works well enough for some. But when it comes to business and industrial technology, obsolescence is risky, even if the equipment is still working fine. Your test equipment might have given you many years of loyal service, and might have many more to give, but if it does fail, you run the risk of prolonged downtime if you can't quickly fix it. Aged technology doesn't have the same support community around it, and can be much harder to repair.

What is obsolescence?

When we talk about obsolescence we mean a particular system, or part of a system, that is no longer available to buy, or it is no longer cost effective to run it. As products approach (and go beyond) the end of their supported life, it becomes increasingly expensive to maintain them. Spare parts may no longer be available, or might have a hefty price tag. Fewer companies want to support older technology (the market shrinks eventually), and those companies have to pass on their increased costs of supporting the old tech. Apart from the cost of spares, maintaining old test equipment takes more time, and the necessary skills become harder to find.

As an Alliance Partner for National Instruments (NI) we keep on top of when their products reach end of life: towards the end of 2018, NI discontinued the Compact FieldPoint (cFP) and the SCXI range of Data Acquisition (DAQ) and control hardware. NI provides solid alternatives using more modern technology, but customers need to upgrade to ensure that their test equipment remains supported.

      

Upgrading to PXI

We're now working on several upgrade projects. One of them is a company in the aerospace sector that was using the obsolete NI SCXI Data Acquisition (DAQ) hardware across a number of test rigs. The company works on refurbishing fuel pumps and other parts of jet engines. Testing is essential to ensure the safety-critical parts meet the performance requirements.

    

With our help, this company is now migrating to the open PXI standard, using newer equipment from National Instruments. It isn't a simple swap: the modules have different channel counts and measurement ranges. Physically, the PXI and SCXI systems are different sizes, and they're different electrically too. We've been working closely with the team carrying out the electrical changes to minimise the extent of rewiring and the resulting downtime when test rigs are swapped over. Although it's a like-for-like replacement, there may be accuracy improvements in the newer equipment, and the company now has capacity if it wishes to expand its testing later on.

Future proofing the test rig

Of course, it would be possible to simply fix today's obsolescence, but we think it's equally important to future proof the solution too. That's why we write software to abstract the data acquisition layer from the test execution and control side, the application layer. If the signal sources or formats need to be changed in the future, this can be done without needing to disturb the application layer. That helps to simplify any future transition in the test hardware.

If you'd like to talk about how we can help you to upgrade your obsolete test rigs, contact us.

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