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NI Week Larger Than Ever

Industrial automation took center stage at National Instruments' tenth annual NI Week, where a spate of new products made their debut.

A $4,000 guitar tuner? It might sound like a lot of money to tune your “G” string, but it made an effective demonstration for National Instruments engineers showing off the company’s latest signal analysis tools. The tenth annual NI Week bash, held in NI’s home town of Austin, Texas, drew a record crowd of just over 2,000 users and system integrators. This attendance was an increase of about 500 over 2003. Two phrases were often heard during the sessions—industrial automation and, “we have a clearer vision on automation than ever before.” Attendees could also peruse the booths of 137 exhibitor/partners during breaks from the many technical sessions offered.

NI Senior Vice President of Research and Development Tim Dehne opened the three-day event with a keynote address sprinkled liberally with presentations by the developers of many of the new products introduced here. Says Dehne, “NI Week has always been a great exchange of ideas between passionate scientists and engineers with other passionate scientists and engineers.”

Reconfigurable I/O

Certainly the most significant announcement was CompactRIO, an embedded control and acquisition platform featuring reconfigurable inputs and outputs (RIO). It is designed for applications in which small size and reliability are crucial. Users of the company’s LabView development platform now have the ability to define their own custom circuitry using reconfigurable field programmable gate array (FPGA) chips.

Dehne also showed the next generation of NI’s multifunction data acquisition products. The M Series offer faster sampling rates, more input/output (I/O) channels, tools that reduce setup time and lower the cost per I/O channel by over 30 percent compared to the previous series of products.

Using the newest personal computer backplane technology, PCI Express, engineers demonstrated a very high speed vision acquisition system offering 1,000 frames/sec, or, stated in a different way, 650 megabytes per second data transfer.

PAC, yes

Both Dehne and NI President and Chief Executive Officer James Truchard acknowledged the term for controllers defined by the ARC Advisory Group, a Dedham, Mass. manufacturing industry analyst firm, as programmable automation controller (PAC). These controllers combine the ruggedness of programmable logic controllers (PLCs) with the openness, flexibility and connectability of personal computers. They feature unified design and programming platforms, high speed, built-in networking ability and ability to integrate multiple control functions, such as logic and motion control, in one package. NI has adopted this concept, exemplified by CompactRIO hardware and the latest LabView software.

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