High Throughput Testing of Phasor Solution’s Revolutionary Electronically Steerable Antennae Using LabVIEW, NI TestStand, and PXI

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"The ease of use of LabVIEW and NI TestStand along with the efficiency of the PXI hardware helped us reduce test times from 6 minutes to few seconds per device. The high-throughput test and development times, along with resultant cost-savings and consistent support helped us to reach our targets at an incredible rate."

- Derek Wilson, Phasor Solutions

The Challenge:
Between smart-phones, tablets and other such devices, access to a fast, reliable data connection has become an expectation. However, due to limitations in existing satellite communications antennae, vehicles ranging from military aircraft to commuter trains rarely provide adequate communications facilities. Phasor Solutions developed an electronically steerable antenna to solve this need and are now challenged with producing and testing a large volume of these antennae.

The Solution:
Using NI LabVIEW software, NI TestStand software, and PXI, we developed a testing strategy to meet both the short-term characterisation and full-production volume needs for testing our semiconductors. Our system designs and tests a high volume of Phased Array Satellite Antennae, bringing quality digital communications to a variety of moving vehicles, regardless of location and speed.

Author(s):
Derek Wilson - Phasor Solutions

Mobile Satellite Communication

In the information age, access to high-bandwidth communication may become a necessity rather than a luxury, depending on situation.

Some soldiers posted to remote locations are cut off from basic comforts such as running water and electricity. Gaining access to intelligence and communication with peers and superiors in such situations is a requirement that needs to be facilitated as they face danger and discomfort for the sake of their country. Closer to home, a person may be a frequent flyer or one with regular commutes whose productivity can be inhibited by the lack of mobile or Internet availability on planes or trains.

Travellers on ships, military vehicles, planes, trains and more currently have little to no access to onboard communication facilities. At Phasor Solutions, we are working to overcome these challenges with the development of Phased Array Satellite Antennae. These antennae are capable of bringing high-bandwidth communication to users, whether they are moving at 450 mph at cruising altitude or deployed to far-flung corners of the globe.

Phasor Solutions

Phasor Solutions Ltd, a privately held UK company, has introduced the world’s first high-gain, low-profile, and affordable phased array antenna system designed for commercial and defense applications, and recently announced the implementation of a high-throughput testing strategy with National Instruments in preparation for its first product launch in 2014.

Phasor Antenna

The Phasor antenna replaces mechanical steerable antennas with antennae less than 1 inch in height, which conforms to any surface. The satellite communication antennae are intended for aircraft, trains, land vehicles, ships, yachts and unmanned vehicles to make high-bandwidth communications on the move faster, cheaper and more reliable everywhere – no matter where you are or how fast you are moving. The physical differences of these antennae alone, compared to traditional parabolic satellites, demonstrates an obvious advantage of the system.

The Phasor antennae, which are intended for operations at Xband, Ku or Ka band, are based on patented microwave integrated semiconductors, which electronically beam-form, steer, auto-align and track the signal, thus removing the need to orient this antenna toward a satellite.

The antenna design is based on proprietary semiconductors, which encompass analogue, digital and RF technology and allow beam formation, alignment and tracking of the satellite signal.

The Approach

Given the large industry interest for Phasor’s antennae, we expect to produce hundreds of millions of its semiconductors. Initial development and testing used a traditional approach of box instrumentation, automated through textual languages. However, our high-volume antennae test requirements meant these traditional methods proved to be too slow for the challenge. Therefore, in collaboration with NI, we defined and executed a test strategy that meets both the short-term characterisation needs and the full-production volume needs for semiconductors test. The solution defined with NI was based on an integrated hardware and software package.

The testing strategy started with the design of a flexible production test system which allows rapid test configuration for the various semiconductors on the Phasor roadmap at Xband, Ku and Ka band.

NI RF specialists quickly and efficiently demonstrated a potential system configuration and proof of concept for a testing station. The dedication was clear from the start. We were put in direct contact with a team at their US branch who cemented the UK contribution, presenting us with a roadmap for success with NI.

Developing and Testing With National Instruments

To implement our test strategy, we ended up acquiring a complete hardware and software solution. It consisted of NI LabVIEW software and NI TestStand software with the hardware made up of a PXI system with an R-Series Digital I/O card, packed with an FPGA (NI PXI-7811R), an RF signal generator (NI PXI-5651), a high-speed digitizer (NI PXI-5105), and an embedded controller (NI PXI-8102), along with power supplies and meters.

The FPGA provided digital control of our system-on-a-chip and the RF signal generator provided a reference signal for our RF signals. The high-speed digitizer measured the signal response during test while the power supply (NI PXI-4110) powered the chips during test.

This method addresses the digital, analogue and RF aspects needed for our system-on-a-chip while NI TestStand and LabVIEW helped with chip software development and test program generation. The ease of use of LabVIEW and NI TestStand along with the efficiency of the PXI hardware helped us reduce test times from 6 minutes to a few seconds per device. The high-throughput test and development times, along with resultant cost savings and consistent support helped us to reach our targets at an incredible rate.

With the world feeling ever smaller, Phasor Solutions facilitates communication regardless of where we are or where we are going. None of this could have been done without the help of our support system, which includes researchers, investors, engineers, and NI. We are delighted with our system and would recommend the professionalism of NI to other companies.

Author Information:
Derek Wilson
Phasor Solutions
Phasor Solutions, Royal Institution of Great Britain, 21 Albemarie Street
London W15 4BS
United Kingdom
Fax: derek@phasorsolutions.com

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