RF testing can be quite complex, depending on the type of device being tested and the desired results. Generally, RF testing requires specialized equipment and knowledge to properly set up and execute the tests. Here, we discuss some of the common tools used for RF test and measurement automation.
What is automation in RF test and measurement?
Test and measurement automation in RF is the process of automatically controlling the testing and measurement of RF devices and circuits. This can be done through the use of software, hardware, or a combination of both.
Automation is used to improve the efficiency and accuracy of RF measurements, and to reduce the cost and time associated with manual testing. Test and measurement automation can be used for a variety of RF devices and circuits, including amplifiers, filters, mixers, oscillators, and receivers.
What is the purpose of instrument automation?
There are many purposes for automation in RF test and measurement, but some of the most common reasons include increasing efficiency, reducing costs, and improving accuracy. Automation can also help to speed up the testing process and make it more consistent.
The purpose of instrument automation is to provide a means of controlling one or more instruments using a computer. This can be used to create a more efficient workflow or to allow for more complex and precise measurements to be made.
Standardization in RF testing
VISA (Virtual Instrument Software Architecture) is an industry-standard communications protocol that enables test and measurement equipment to communicate with computers. It provides a common software interface for accessing measurement hardware from a variety of manufacturers.
There are several ways to achieve standardization in RF testing using VISA. One way is to use the VISA Standard Commands (SCPI) which are a set of standardized commands that can be used across different types of instruments.
Another way is to use the VISA International Standard Commands (IVI) which are a set of commands that are specifically designed for use with instruments that support the IVI standard.
SDSI architecture in RF test and measurement
The SDSI architecture is a type of RF test and measurement architecture that uses a modular approach to system design. The modularity of the SDSI architecture allows for easy upgrades and reconfigurations as new technologies and standards emerge.
The SDSI architecture is also well suited for use in high-density, multi-site test environments. It supports the development of programs using common development tools (like Java, Python, C++, and C#).
Interfaces in RF test equipment
There are several interfaces used in RF test equipment, some common and some specific to the equipment. Common interfaces used in RF test equipment include USB, Ethernet, GPIB, and RS-232.
USB is a general interface used for a variety of devices, Ethernet is commonly used for networked devices, GPIB is a common interface for test and measurement equipment, and RS-232 is a common interface for serial devices.
Some RF test equipment uses specific interfaces that are not as common. These specific interfaces may be designed for the equipment or maybe designed for a specific application. For example, some RF test equipment uses the LXI interface, which is designed for test and measurement equipment. Other RF test equipment uses the PXI interface, which is designed for modular instrumentation.
Tools used for automation in RF test and measurement
There are many tools available for automating RF test and measurement tasks. Here are some of the more popular ones:
National Instruments LabVIEW
LabVIEW is a software development environment designed specifically for engineers and scientists. It offers a graphical programming approach that helps you visualize data, create algorithms, and design custom applications. With LabVIEW, you can quickly acquire, analyze, and intuitively present data.
LabVIEW was originally released in 1986. It is used for data acquisition, analysis, and control applications.
Key features of LabVIEW
- LabVIEW is a graphical programming language that uses icons instead of lines of text to create applications. This makes it easy to learn and use.
- LabVIEW is designed specifically for engineers and scientists. It has built-in functions for math, signal processing, and data analysis, which makes it a valuable tool for data acquisition, analysis, and control applications.
- LabVIEW is modular and scalable. This means that you can create small applications or large, complex systems.
- LabVIEW is platform-independent. This means that you can run your applications on Windows, Mac, or Linux.
- LabVIEW is easy to deploy. You can create stand-alone executables or shared libraries that can be used on other computers.
Limitations of LabVIEW
- The biggest limitation of LabVIEW is that it is not a general-purpose programming language like C++ or Java. It is specifically designed for data acquisition, instrument control, and data analysis. This means that it is not well suited for tasks such as web development or desktop application development.
- Another limitation of LabVIEW is that it is not as widely known or used as other programming languages. This can make it difficult to find experienced LabVIEW programmers, which can make it more expensive to develop applications in LabVIEW.
- LabVIEW is not a compiled programming language. Programs are interpreted at run-time, which can lead to slower execution times.
- LabVIEW does not support all programming paradigms. It is primarily a procedural programming language, with some support for object-oriented programming.
Keysight VEE Pro
Keysight VEE Pro is a software application for visualizing, manipulating, and measuring data. It is used in a variety of industries, including aerospace, automotive, communications, consumer electronics, and manufacturing.
The industries using Keysight VEE Pro are semiconductors, electronics, and photonics.
Key features of Keysight VEE Pro
- A comprehensive development environment for creating test and measurement applications
- Offers a wide range of development options, including graphical and text-based programming
- A rich set of measurement and analysis functions
- Support for a wide range of Keysight and third-party hardware
- Integration with Keysight’s TestExec SL software for automated test execution
Limitation of Keysight VEE Pro
- It does not have the capability to develop stand-alone programs.
- It only supports a limited set of programming languages.
- The free version of the software has limited functionality.
- The software is not compatible with all operating systems.
The Python programming language has become increasingly popular in the scientific community in recent years. This is partly due to its ease of use and partly due to the fact that it is free and open source. Many scientific software packages have been developed in Python, and it has even been used to develop entire operating systems.
Python is a very versatile language and can be used for a wide variety of tasks. It is particularly well suited to automating repetitive tasks, such as those often encountered in scientific experiments.
Instrument automation is the process of controlling one or more instruments using a computer program. This can be used to simplify and speed up experiments, as well as to improve the reproducibility of results.
There are many different ways to automate instruments using Python. One popular approach is to use the PyVISA library. PyVISA is a Python package that enables communication with a wide variety of instruments, including those from Agilent, Keysight, and National Instruments. Another popular approach is to use the Instrumental library.
Instrumental is a Python package that provides a high-level interface to a variety of instruments. Still, another approach is to use the Python Serial library. The Python Serial library enables communication with serial devices.
Key features of Python software for instrument automation
- Python is free and open-source software with a rich set of libraries for instrument automation.
- It has a simple syntax that is easy to learn for beginners.
- Python is an interpreted language that makes it easy to develop and test programs for instrument automation.
- It can be interfaced with a variety of software and hardware for instrument automation.
- Python provides a wide range of libraries and tools for instrument automation.
Limitation of Python software for instrument automation
- There are a few potential limitations to consider when automating instruments with Python. First, some instruments may not have a Python library available. In this case, it may be necessary to use a different language for automation.
- Second, Python is an interpreted language, which means that it can be slower than compiled languages like C++. This may be a concern for high-speed applications.
- Third, Python is not always the most user-friendly language. It can be difficult to read and understand Python code, especially for beginners. This can make it difficult to debug code or make changes to existing code.
Vendor-Specific Automation Tools
Tektronix OpenChoice Desktop is a software application that allows users to connect their PC to a Tektronix oscilloscope, function generator, or multimeter and remotely control it. The application also allows users to capture and analyze waveforms, as well as save and share their measurements.
Future of RF test and measurement automation
The future of RF test and measurement automation will continue to be driven by the ever-increasing demand for faster, more accurate, and more reliable measurements. Innovation in software and hardware will enable new levels of speed and accuracy, while advances in digital signal processing will allow for more sophisticated analysis and interpretation of measurements.