Frost Perspectives

Embracing the Changing Ecosystem in Electronic Test & Measurement Industry a Necessity to Sustain & Grow

Aug 16, 2016

embracing the changing ecosystem.pngIndustry ecosystems are constantly undergoing change with disruptive technologies and business models. Ride sharing to taxi service, instant messengers to communication, cognitive computing to analytics are a few of the many disruptions triggering ecosystem changes across different industries. Electronic test & measurement industry has seen its share of disruption and transformations in industry ecosystem. There have been changes at different points in the electronic test and measurement value chain. Many companies have come up with game changing technologies and business models that have significantly impacted the electronic test & measurement industry.

Component Suppliers:
From miniaturization to supercomputing engines to connected sensors, the component technology for test and measurement has come up with many innovations that have significantly impacted and will impact the way test equipment are built and used in future. Companies such as New Scale Technologies have come up with significant innovations in miniaturizing motion sensors, actuators, and optics that have enabled smaller and easier to use field testing devices in medical imaging, analytical instruments, and aerospace and defense.

Computing Platform: Computing platforms have been constantly evolving. There has been innovation in both end of the spectrum. Companies such as RasberryPi have come up with single board computers that are easy to design task specific applications, while companies such as Xylinx in partnership with National Instruments have enabled powerful and reconfigurable platforms such FPGA to be easily programmable through graphical programming. This has made it easy for test engineers to implement custom protocols quicker and easier. Increasingly GPUs are being used as a computing platform for test applications such as image processing for machine vision. On the extreme end supercomputers are used for cognitive computing, which can make way into predictive analytics and model based testing and process optimization. IBM Watson has impacted a variety of industries with its cognitive computing services. D-Wave is a company that has innovated with super quantum computers. In terms of component manufacturing 3D printing is making way into electronics manufacturing. Voxel8 manufactures 3D electronics printers that can print conductive circuits along with 3D printed structures. Other 3D printing companies such as Stratasys help in 3D printing electronic test fixtures. These technologies could very well change the way testing is done, especially the power of software in test applications.

Test Equipment OEM: It is a well observed trend that hardware is getting increasingly commoditized and test and measurement equipment vendors resort to software for differentiation. In this aspect software defined instruments are capturing market share quickly over traditional instruments. National Instruments, especially with its powerful LabVIEW software platform has been constantly innovating and revolutionizing the way test systems are built. Moreover, open source graphical programming test development software, MYOPENLAB is in the market. This potentially could be the Linux of the test and measurement world. Anite, acquired by Keysight in August 2015, offers advanced software solutions for base station testing, protocol testing, and virtual drive-testing for wireless communication test. Viavi leverages advanced analytics to offer solution for Quality of Experience, Quality of Service and Drive-Test applications used for communication test. With GenY proportion increasing in the industry, new Human-Machine-Interface such as mobile connectivity are making way in mainstream test and measurement application. Oscium is a company that transforms mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets into oscilloscope or spectrum analyzer or power meter or logic analyzer. Redfish Instruments manufactures DMMs that connect with mobile devices. Fluke's series of products have enabled many field testing devices with mobile and cloud connectivity.

System Integrators: System integration plays a critical role in automated test equipment. System integration is becoming more complex with complex products and technologies that are being tested. Especially, with customers moving toward flexible software defined modular instruments platforms such as PXI and AXI, system integration tends to get more complex and often support system integrators who can customize the system for specific industry and application becomes valuable. A good ecosystem of system integrators has become essential for modular instruments vendors. For example, Octoscope specializes in wireless testbeds that enable customers to quickly get started with their testing. Averna specialized in various radio testing applications for automotive and communication industries. By focusing on particular industry or application needs, the system integrators well complement the test equipment vendors who develop the core product technology. In addition, with growing need for software features such as data management, analytics, and cloud integration, system integrators expected value addition in the test and measurement value chain would grow significantly. Adding to this leading modular instruments platform, vendors such national Instruments and Keysight provide building block solution architectures, especially for complex wireless communication test applications, so that the clients can easily get started.

Business and Service Models: Fast evolving technologies are driving customers to reduce cost of ownership for test systems. While customers move toward future-proofing their test solution by choosing flexible and scalable modular platforms, there is also an increase in rental and used equipment marketplaces. Companies such as Microlese and Test Equity offer test equipment rental services. Many online and offline companies as well as test equipment OEMs such as Keysight, Rohde & Schwarz, and Tektronix also sell used equipment as an option to their customers. With growth in e-commerce, while most leading vendors also sell through online channels, there are many third-party online aggregators/marketplaces such as Testmart, Tequipment, and Test Equipment Depot selling equipment from multiple vendors. On the software front too, customer are looking for pay as per use subscription and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) options as opposed to expensive perpetual licenses. Leading test and measurement companies such as Anite and Fluke offer their software as a subscription option. Especially, with cloud and analytics increasingly becoming a part of test solutions, SaaS is becoming a more feasible business model in test and measurement.

Adapting to these transformations in the test & measurement industry ecosystem is essential to grasp the developing growth opportunities. One example is growth in communication test, especially 5G mobile communication testing, where the technology and in turn the testing needs are complex. These demand the test equipment vendors to keep themselves updated both in terms of technology as well as business model. Other opportunity areas that test & measurement industry is fully gearing up to leverage are Internet of things and big data analytics. Especially big data analytics would introduce new participants in the value chain, as it is not traditionally a core area of strength for test equipment vendors. To leverage this opportunity, test and measurement vendors would have to undergo changes to their business and service models and consider having big data management and analytics in their capabilities portfolio by acquiring potential participants in the data analytics industry. Test & measurement industry is exposed to a plethora of opportunities and to convert these into business as well as sustain and grow, test and measurement vendors need to embrace the transformations in the industry ecosystem proactively and retain their competitive advantage.

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