Grass Valley Improves Test Time by 75 percent with Modular Instruments

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"It is the power of these integrated solutions that has allowed us to reach test time savings of over 75 percent. We also have been able to reduce time-intensive development by 90 percent with NI TestStand."

- Jonathan Geist, Grass Valley

The Challenge:
Building a flexible, scalable, and economical automated test system to improve efficiency, lower test times, and be implemented for all new products moving forward.

The Solution:
Using National Instruments PXI, LabVIEW, and NI TestStand to create an automated solution for testing the audio, video, and networking interfaces in the new Turbo iDDR disk recorder, and provide a test platform that can be used for future products.

Author(s):
Jonathan Geist - Grass Valley

At Grass Valley, we design, and manufacture equipment for broadcast, TV and film production, Pro AV (professional audio and visual) and networking applications, and we have traditionally employed manual measurements and highly skilled technicians for testing our products. This approach was time intensive, expensive, and limited our resource selection. As we grow it is important that we improve efficiencies, reduce test times, and ultimately reduce our costs whenever possible in the effort to provide more accessible and affordable solutions for our end customers. Our business environment has continued to change, so we had to move away from a completely internal manufacturing model to one that uses contract manufactures, and their more economical cost structures. This change required automated test solutions that can keep test times to a minimum while also ensuring consistency and reliability in our testing.

Our early automated test systems were built with legacy equipment and proprietary software. These systems worked well, but burdened us with development and sustaining efforts at the test executive and device driver levels, as well as the actual test programs. As our environment and products continued to evolve we required a better solution that would yield shorter development phases and limit our ongoing sustaining efforts while increasing test efficiency.

To achieve these objectives, we needed a new system to replace legacy equipment that was slow, obsolete, or no longer available. Our requirements for this new system were that it be built on an industrial-grade platform, run under the control of a flexible and proven test executive, and provide a robust development environment. Finally, the new system had to reduce development time and sustaining costs, and be ready for production testing of the new Grass Valley Turbo iDDR (intelligent digital disk recorder).

To develop this new system we used National Instruments LabVIEW and NI TestStand, built on the NI PXI platform. This NI platform, coupled with only a few additional pieces of exclusive measurement gear, now comprises our total solution. The PXI system from NI is the heart of our system and includes several NI PXI modules. These modules provide support for execution, communication, device control, signal routing, and measurements. The main focal point is the NI PXI-5122 14-bit 100 MS/s digitizer. As part of our solution, the NI PXI-5122 is bundled with VideoMASTER software from Select National Instruments Alliance Partner, MicroLEX. This combination has proven to be a very fast, powerful, and flexible video analyzer for our interfaces in the analog video domain. This integrated solution provides the functionality we need at a much lower cost than other analog video analyzers we have used in the past.

LabVIEW and NI TestStand allowed us to create a completely automated solution for testing the audio, video, and networking interfaces in the Turbo iDDR and provided a versatile test platform that can be used for all of our server products moving forward.

With the NI PXI-5122 digitizer and VideoMASTER software, we are able to make much faster measurements and significantly reduce our overall test times. Measurements that took several minutes in the past now only take a few seconds. It is the power of these integrated solutions that has allowed us to reach test time savings of over 75 percent. With the new system, we also have been able to reduce time-intensive development by 90 percent with NI TestStand -- and completely eliminate the sustaining work associated with the original test executive.

We are currently working on higher-performance products for the broadcasting market with even more input and output channels than the Turbo iDDR, and we expect similar success leveraging this new test system. NI software and hardware lets us to not only take advantage of a common hardware platform and software base, it also allows us to easily use test development from one project to another with almost cut-and-paste ease.

Author Information:
Jonathan Geist
Grass Valley
15655 SW Greystone Court
Beaverton, OR
Tel: 503-526-7950
jonathan.geist@thomson.net

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