This paper addresses managers in different industries and describes the benefits of implementing their applications in LabVIEW. It describes how LabVIEW increases productivity, and touches upon subjects such as ease of use, complete functionality, available tools and resources, and performance. This paper also describes the main criteria managers should consider when choosing the most appropriate software tool for their teams.
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The pressure of achieving short time to market and the reality of cost cutting mean that todays engineer is frequently focused on improving the productivity of the product-development process. You need to carefully choose tools that provide the best results and discard or replace those that dont meet your needs. You must evaluate criteria such as performance, cost, functionality, and quality, while ensuring that these tools can work within your current environment, increase productivity, and maintain scalability. At National Instruments we build products with these criteria in mind better productivity, lower cost, integration, performance, and reduced development time.
National Instruments LabVIEW encompasses these criteria through its powerful graphical development environment. Since 1986, engineers and scientists have relied on LabVIEW for their testing, measurement, data acquisition, and control needs. Whether in research, design, validation, production test, or manufacturing, LabVIEW has proven to be an invaluable tool in reducing development time. Because LabVIEW offers unique advantages over traditional development environments, it is the standard for measurement and automation. LabVIEW has evolved along with PC technology, providing the ability to seamlessly upgrade your applications while taking full advantage of continuous improvements in processing speed and performance of commercial technology.
LabVIEW's graphical nature provides an intuitive programming environment for engineers and scientists.
You realize several benefits by standardizing on proven development tools such as LabVIEW. You lower your risk, because many companies have successfully adopted LabVIEW for a wide variety of applications, ranging from simple to sophisticated, in virtually every industry. You have a large number of resources available at National Instruments, such as technical support and technical insight from our Web page, as well as other resources in the industry that are committed to your success. In addition, your company can readily find engineers and scientists with previous training and expertise in LabVIEW, so your projects can get done faster.
Significant Productivity Gain
Your choice of software is important because software is generally the central component that ties your entire system together. Choosing the right software can maximize productivity, while a software package that doesnt fit your needs could drain time and productivity. LabVIEW can help you get more projects done in less time by streamlining the process from inception through completion. There are several characteristics of LabVIEW that contribute to a significant gain in productivity when compared to other development software:
1. Easy to Learn
The one factor that greatly contributes to starting your application faster is the initial learning curve generally associated with any software tool. A tool can be used to its full potential only when you become proficient and understand the intricacies associated with it. LabVIEW significantly reduces the learning curve by providing an intuitive interface and a set of tools that encapsulate functionality, while abstracting the underlying enabling technology. By browsing through the examples included, online help, and the LabVIEW Getting Started Guide , you take measurements from plug-in measurement devices and stand-alone instruments in the very first hour of usage. Just as quickly, you are able to graph, analyze, and save data. These exercises, designed to quickly teach you the principles of graphical programming, help you become familiar with powerful LabVIEW development and debugging tools.
Once you feel comfortable with the introductory material, you are ready to start your project. While you develop your application, you have numerous resources available such as online help, printed manuals, Web-based help, and tutorials. LabVIEW even incorporates tools for automatic code generation for common application tasks. This gets you up and running quickly, while allowing you to modify this generated code as you become more familiar with the environment. One feature that enhances your initial experience with LabVIEW is the fact that the development environment relies almost exclusively on a drag-and-drop interface, which is second nature to users of computer technology.
2. Easy to Use
Beginning with the release of LabVIEW in 1986, National Instruments has focused on providing an easy-to-use tool that enhances productivity for engineers and scientists just as the spreadsheet empowered the financial community. In every release, LabVIEW continuously improves based on usability research, customer feedback, and better technology. LabVIEW simplifies even the most challenging tasks, such as multithreaded parallel execution, through the dataflow technology. Additionally, express technology, introduced with LabVIEW 7 Express, provides a simplified, configuration-based approach to LabVIEW development that makes programming easier than ever.
3. Complete Functionality
Ease of use is not the only factor that provides the best productivity. You want to be sure that the products and tools satisfy all your requirements and those of the project. You often have to make decisions on products that result in trade-offs, where ease of use and functionality are the most commonly opposed characteristics. LabVIEW satisfies both. With LabVIEW, you will easily scale to meet current and future requirements, whether you need to create a small, easy-to-use instrument control application or a solution that monitors and controls your entire factory. You can select from different development packages with varying degrees of functionality. Even if you initially select a basic LabVIEW package, you can easily upgrade to the more complete versions to increase power and flexibility. You can build a complete solution with LabVIEW, because it offers all the necessary tools and features for any measurement and automation application:
Powerful Built-In Functionality LabVIEW development systems include a complete set of tools geared specifically for data acquisition, instrument control, and other measurement tasks. Other tools include measurement analysis (more than 450 analysis functions), simulation, Web and network connectivity, visualization, storage, and report generation.
Add-On Software for Special Needs Powerful LabVIEW toolkits have been developed by National Instruments and other companies. These add-ons expand and enhance the core functionality of LabVIEW for specialized tasks. Many companies continuously develop and sell tools that work with or use LabVIEW for industry-specific needs such as biomedical applications, telecommunications, automotive, and others.
Configuration-Based Tools National Instruments offers tools that help you satisfy specific needs in a nonprogrammatic configuration-based environment. For example, with DAQ Assistant, you simply configure your data acquisition system using an interactive window and LabVIEW generates all of the necessary code for you. Similarly, using Instrument I/O Assistant, you can configure your instrument control application while LabVIEW generates the underlying code, saving up to 80 percent of your development time.
4. Modular Development
When you have a large project, you break it down into functional solvable units. You can more easily manage and test these subtasks because you reduce dependencies that might cause unexpected behavior. Once you complete these subtasks, you can put them together to build the system. The ease with which you accomplish this division of tasks depends greatly on the underlying architecture of your software.
Breaking down a problem into smaller pieces is a main principle of LabVIEW. Full-featured modules, or subroutines, make up the code in LabVIEW, and you can individually execute, edit, and test each of them. Developing your applications in this paradigm offers several advantages:
When prioritizing the requirements for your project, you may consider performance the most important. To guarantee solid performance, a company may accept inferior software in terms of ease of use, cost, or openness. However, this perception of performance may not equal reality, and the trade-off could prove unwise for the organization.
LabVIEW has been developed to provide exceptional performance in many types of applications. For instance, unlike some other software languages, LabVIEW does not generate intermediate code or any type of script, which means LabVIEW code executes quickly. Additionally, LabVIEW automatically takes advantage of multithreaded OSs to deliver parallel execution between multiple execution processes and between the code and user interface. All of the multithreading is handled by LabVIEW so that the developer can focus on the real purpose of the application.
Because LabVIEW offers these performance benefits, you can deploy LabVIEW anywhere, even in such demanding applications as manufacturing test and control, as well as enterprise-wide network solutions. For example, at Knowles Electronics, implementing a LabVIEW-based test system resulted in a 5-to-1 reduction in test time at their high-volume manufacturing facility for microphones and receivers. (NI Customer Solution, Knowles Increases Production with NI PC-based DSA) Lexmark, using a National Instruments high-speed digitizer device and LabVIEW, increased the quality of their products and production yields, and maintained test performance with minimal development expenses. (NI Customer Solution, Lexmark-When Speed and Accuracy Matter)
With LabVIEW, you can generally distribute your applications as stand-alone executables free of charge and even build your own installers. This feature is important for solutions that need to be deployed to a large number of systems.
Considerations When Selecting Software Tools
You are ultimately responsible for making the right choice that will satisfy your organizations needs in the short term as well as the long term. Long term vision is important not only for cost purposes, but also for scalability and adaptation to future projects. There are several factors to consider when evaluating for long-term viability:
1. Can the software scale to different platforms?
The majority of computer systems use some variation of the Microsoft Windows OS. Nevertheless, there are other options that offer clear advantages for certain types of applications. Real-time and embedded development continues to grow rapidly in most industries as computing power is packaged into smaller and more specialized packages. Minimizing your losses resulting from a transition to new platforms and choosing the right software for this purpose are key factors.
LabVIEW minimizes this concern, because it runs on Windows XP, 2000, and NT, as well as Mac OS X, Sun Solaris, and Linux. LabVIEW can also compile code to run on ETS and Windows RTX real-time OSs through the LabVIEW Real-Time Module to deliver deterministic, reliable performance. You can also port LabVIEW code onto handheld PDAs with the LabVIEW PDA Module and configure custom hardware using the LabVIEW FPGA Module. Additionally, LabVIEW is platform independent; programs that you write for one platform transparently port to any other LabVIEW platform simply by opening the VI.
2. Can people with varying degrees of software expertise use it?
The software you select should be versatile enough that different types of users, with varying levels of knowledge, can use it. With LabVIEW, users at many different levels of programming experience can develop sophisticated applications. Users range from NASA rocket scientists to university undergrads to kindergartners programming LEGO-based robots with LabVIEW-based ROBOLAB. Software expertise in other languages or previous experience is a minor factor when working with LabVIEW. People with little or no programming experience, as well as experts in object-oriented programming, find that LabVIEW covers their design and productivity needs. A useful comparison is Microsoft Excel, where both beginner and experienced users find the tool very useful and scalable. In a similar fashion, users uncover increasing functionality as their proficiency in LabVIEW increases. As mentioned above, LabVIEW is easy to learn, but as you become more proficient, the problems you can solve grow along with your experience.
3. Does it adapt to new technology?
To ensure the best investment of your resources, you try to minimize your companys experimentation with new technologies, doing so only when absolutely necessary. However, when you discover breakthroughs and significant innovations that significantly improve performance, lower costs, and offer your company a competitive advantage, you need to adapt. Software that is ahead of the technology curve integrates these technological innovations with minimal time and effort. This is the best way to incorporate new technology into your products and processes.
LabVIEW consistently embraces new computing platforms, communication buses, technologies such as multithreading and ActiveX, the Internet, PDAs, networking, XML, wireless, distributed applications, and most recently reconfigurable I/O hardware. LabVIEW selectively incorporates such technologies and makes it simple for you to take advantage of them, effectively minimizing your learning curve and helping you keep pace with rapid technology changes. This ensures that you maintain a stable platform over time, yet still have access to new, cutting-edge technologies.
4. Is it open to other software and hardware? Does it conform to open standards?Standardization of software relies greatly on the ability of the package to work well with other software, measurement and control hardware, and open standards that define interoperability between multiple vendors. By selecting software that meets these criteria, you ensure that your company and applications can incorporate a wide variety of hardware and software tools to meet your cost and performance needs, thereby maximizing your investments over the long term.
A large number of third-party hardware and software vendors develop and maintain hundreds of LabVIEW libraries and instrument drivers to help you easily make use of their products with LabVIEW. However, this is not the only way to provide connectivity to your LabVIEW-based applications. LabVIEW offers simple ways to incorporate ActiveX software, dynamic-link libraries (DLLs), and shared libraries from other tools. In addition, your LabVIEW code itself can be shared as a DLL, shared library, or via ActiveX.
With LabVIEW, you can easily integrate hardware, such as stand-alone instruments, data acquisition devices, motion control and vision products, PLCs, TEDS, and countless protocols such as GPIB/IEEE 488, serial/RS232, USB, Bluetooth, IEEE 1394, and 802.11 to build a complete measurement and automation system. LabVIEW also incorporates major instrumentation standards such as VISA, an interoperable standard for GPIB, serial, and VXI instrumentation; PXI and software and hardware based on the PXI Specification managed by the PXI Systems Alliance; IVI interchangeable virtual instrument drivers; and VXI plug&play, a driver standard for VXI instruments. LabVIEW also provides native drivers for more than 4,000 different instrument models.
LabVIEW also maintains a full range of options for communications and data standards, such as TCP/IP, OPC, SQL database connectivity, and XML data formats.
The success of customers best illustrates the long-term value and flexibility of LabVIEW. An engineer at ORTHSTAR, a systems integrator for factory automation, process control, and other industries since 1974, made the following comments: [We] like using LabVIEW because we can develop a customized system to meet each customers unique requirements. Also, the flexibility of LabVIEW ensures that we can scale the system to increase its capabilities as the customer needs increase or as changes need to be applied. ORTHSTAR delivered a production-line system for Toshiba Display Devices where Toshiba specified LabVIEW, no downtime after installation, continuous operation 24 hours a day, and flawless execution the first time out. This system had to interface with hundreds of individual pieces of manufacturing and test equipment to provide just-in-time delivery from the line. ORTHSTAR estimates that had they written this application using C/C++, the length of development time would have been too great to meet Toshibas target date. However, they completed the project within 16 weeks using LabVIEW and were so successful that as of the beginning of 2001, they now control 10 of 15 lines in the same facility using LabVIEW.
As mentioned previously, you lower your risk when you use software that is considered an industry standard. In the case of LabVIEW, many companies have successfully used it for a large number of applications. The preference of engineers across the globe speaks for itself. In 2003, National Instruments sold products to more than 25,000 different companies in more than 90 countries around the world.
Market research shows the widespread adoption of LabVIEW for data acquisition and control applications. The following findings illustrate that many engineers and scientists prefer LabVIEW and National Instruments products over other options for their PC-based data acquisition and test instrumentation needs.
Figure 1. Most-Used Software for Data Acquisition and Instrument Control Product Awareness Study Conducted by Reed Research Group, Sponsored by National Instruments, Q1 2004
Not only is LabVIEW the most-used software for data acquisition and instrument control, but National Instruments also provides a wide range of other software and hardware products that are widely recognized throughout the industry. The following data, taken from an independent market study conducted by Frost & Sullivan in 2004, shows that National Instruments is a worldwide leader in the PC-based test and measurement market.
Figure 2. Total PC-Based Test and Measurement Equipment Market: Market Share Trends of Major Participants (World), 2003, World PC-based Test and Measurement Equipment Market , Frost & Sullivan, Q1 2004
"LabVIEW is a programming language, equivalent to C++, Visual Basic, or any other language. It is the ONLY widely accepted graphical programming language. Graphical programming is a language of the future and carries with it many important programming concepts. I feel, it is the responsibility of universities (such as Penn State) to expose, at least, every computer science and engineering student to these new concepts."
Center for Electronic Design, Communications, and Computing
Penn State University
Quality and Integration.
As you create your applications to cover all phases of product development, from design to research, development, manufacturing, and finally production, you realize that quality and integration play a very important role. National Instruments software engineers, digital and analog hardware engineers, chip designers, measurement and signal processing experts, and many more engineers work closely with one another to ensure that the multitude of products integrate well together and provide a high level of quality.
Using a standard measurement services architecture, LabVIEW integrates tightly with a complete array of National Instruments hardware. This layer of services includes data acquisition, instrument control, motion control, vision, GPIB, FieldPoint distributed I/O, PXI systems, reconfigurable I/O, and VXI systems. With this architecture, you can abstract the particulars of the diverse instrumentation and I/O and present a uniform interface to help you quickly build your custom application. National Instruments completes the platform with the powerful TestStand test management software, as well as LabWindows/CVI for C and Measurement Studio tools for Microsoft Visual Basic and Visual Studio .NET. With all this in mind, you see how easily you can integrate LabVIEW with existing systems, eliminating the need to modify your equipment, while extending its usefulness with state-of-the-art software tools.
For further information on National Instruments and our Measurement and Automation Software Framework, please visit ni.com/revolution.
Motorola took advantage of this integration when developing a Cellular Base Solution. Here, the challenge was to [develop] a single test software application capable of testing a wide variety of Motorola cellular base station products. The goal of this project was to maximize reuse while minimizing duplicated effort and dramatically reduce future time to test. They decided to use LabVIEW as the development environment, because [the] LabVIEW graphical programming language is perfect for test automation. It is simple to code and offers numerous functions for maximum productivity. In this solution they mention that creating a common test application resulted in a large cost reduction and that [their] combined annual maintenance costs were reduced from $700,000 to $400,000. [Their] annual projected new product test development costs fell from roughly $200,000 to $25,000. (NI Customer Solution, Using TestStand for Testing Cellular Base Solution)
Global Service and Support.
Not only does National Instruments offer a variety of technical support options to help you develop your application quicker, but there are also many other tools available to help you develop with LabVIEW. There is a large community of LabVIEW users willing to share their knowledge through books, online discussion forums, and user groups, as well as system integrators and consultants, university professors, and the Web.
National Instruments Service and Support
LabVIEW Zone, where you can share ideas, code, and discussions with thousands of others in the LabVIEW Community
NI Developer Zone, which contains hundreds of tutorials, tips, and techniques from National Instruments engineers and expert customers
NI Developer Exchange, where you can ask your question and receive answers from LabVIEW experts worldwide, or browse and search for past questions and answers
NI KnowledgeBase, where you can search thousands of entries of common questions, view current product issues, and keep up to date on top support issues and their solutions
NI Business Center, where you can check order status, status on returned materials, and repairs
NI Catalog, where you can browse all product datasheets, obtain pricing information worldwide, and order online
NI Support Web site, which provides direct online access to applications engineers and helps guide your questions to an answer as fast as possible but with the highest level of quality
NI Alliance Partner Program, which gets you in contact with more than 600 National Instruments Alliance Partners who provide integrated solutions for specific applications and industries.
Join the Extensive LabVIEW Community
You will also get involved with the expanding LabVIEW Community of users. Groups of users from around the world have developed a wide array of tools for sharing their LabVIEW expertise and experiences with one another. Stay up to date on the latest LabVIEW technologies and find local experts by attending local user group meetings, held regularly in hundreds of locations worldwide. In addition, you can get plugged into this group of users through LabVIEW Zone, a portal to the online community of LabVIEW users who share code and programming tips, and collaborate on projects in a wide variety of ways.
Many LabVIEW users have even published books to share their LabVIEW knowledge. For a technical journal on LabVIEW development news, tips, and techniques, subscribe to the LabVIEW Technical Resource, published quarterly by LTR Publications. For books including LabVIEW Graphical Programming, Internet Applications with LabVIEW, LabVIEW Signal Processing, and other LabVIEW-related reference material, order online at amazon.com or check with your local bookstore.
Take Advantage of LabVIEW.
"Before using LabVIEW, I used C and VC++ which took on average three months to finish a project. I recently completed a VGA signal generator project in just one month using LabVIEW and NI modular instrumentation. I found LabVIEW easy to use in developing high-performance algorithms. There were many useful VIs and built-in functions that helped me reduce my development time while allowing me to integrate my current C algorithms"
A large number of companies have already standardized on LabVIEW software for developing test, measurement, control, and automation applications. The clear benefits you gain in productivity, performance, and integration combine with its high quality and flexible development environment to make LabVIEW an industry-standard graphical development environment for PC-based measurement and automation.
Because engineers and managers today face shorter development cycles and increased project loads, often in the midst of reduced budgets, they must find software that can handle those needs. With the benefits of LabVIEW and the comprehensive global service and support available from National Instruments, you can meet the challenges of today while preparing for tomorrow. By taking advantage of LabVIEW, you can start your projects faster, build your applications quickly, and get to market first.