New graphical programming platform accelerates understanding
National Instruments (Nasdaq: NATI) announced LabVIEW NXG 1.0, the first release of the next generation of LabVIEW engineering system design software on May 23 at NIWeek. NI, calling itself "provider of platform-based systems that enable engineers and scientists to solve the world’s greatest engineering challenges," said in its announcement that "LabVIEW NXG bridges the gap between configuration-based software and custom programming languages with an innovative new approach to measurement automation that empowers domain experts to focus on what matters most – the problem, not the tool." [Below, see additional comments and explanations for media and analysts at a May 22 press conference. Note that NIWeek has moved to May from August.]
Jeff Kodosky, NI cofounder and business and technology fellow, known as the "Father of LabVIEW," said, "Thirty years ago, we released the original version of LabVIEW, designed to help engineers automate their measurement systems without having to learn the esoterica of traditional programming languages. LabVIEW was the ‘nonprogramming’ way to automate a measurement system.
"For a long time we focused on making additional things possible with LabVIEW, rather than furthering the goal of helping engineers automate measurements quickly and easily. Now we are squarely addressing this with the introduction of LabVIEW NXG, which we designed from the ground up to embrace a streamlined workflow. Common applications can use a simple configuration-based approach, while more complex applications can use the full open-ended graphical programming capability of the LabVIEW language, G."
NI said the 1.0 release of LabVIEW NXG helps engineers performing benchtop measurements drastically increase productivity with new nonprogramming workflows to acquire and iteratively analyze measurement data. These nonprogramming workflows simplify automation by building the necessary code behind the scenes. For instance, engineers can drag and drop a section of code equivalent to 50 lines of text-based code, one of many ways LabVIEW NXG helps engineers focus on innovation rather than implementation, the company said.
"As business has increased, the NI platform has allowed our software to scale up to meet the rising demand," said Casey Lamers, senior controls engineer at Phoenix Nuclear Labs, which provides the world’s strongest commercial neutron generators for industries, such as medicine, energy and material processing, according to the NI release.
"Developing custom software for a new accelerator used for the medical imaging isotope industry has gone from taking months to weeks, and software build times have gone from hours to just 30 minutes. As a participant in NI’s lead user program, we’ve been using early versions of LabVIEW NXG over the last year and are confident it will further reduce our development time and improve our ability to deliver new features faster," Lamers said.
Differences with LabView 2017
NI said LabVIEW NXG introduces a re-engineered editor with functionality that experienced LabVIEW users often request and still offers a user experience similar to complementary software in the market. The refreshed editor extends the openness of LabVIEW to integrate with a broader set of languages. The modernized editor improves programming productivity by streamlining the editor micro-interactions, user interface objects based on vector graphics and zooming capabilities.
As LabVIEW NXG 1.0 revolutionizes benchtop measurements, new capabilities in LabVIEW 2017 target the development, deployment, and management of large, complex and distributed test and embedded applications. These include LabVIEW 2017 features that enhance interoperability with standard IP and standard communications protocols such as IEC 61131-3 programming languages, OPC UA, and the secure DDS messaging standard. Other features help with human-machine interface development and cloud server integration, along with enhanced language productivity. Application areas mentioned include production test, structural test in aerospace and heavy machinery, along with smart machine design.
NI is bundling LabVIEW NXG 1.0 and LabVIEW 2017 for all customers with a standard software package, explaining, "Two versions of LabVIEW demonstrate NI’s continued investment in the productivity of engineers developing applications that require test, measurement or control with rapid access to hardware and data insights."
As NI builds on more than 30 years of software investments, the first release in the next generation of LabVIEW is planned as the first in a series of fast-paced releases expected to expand engineering capabilities from design to test. From simple data acquisition (DAQ) applications to building complex test systems and smart machines, LabVIEW is said to help reduce time to market and accelerate engineering productivity.
Comments, demo, faster iterations
In comments to press, Kodosky’s language took a "back to its roots" flavor, describing the easy-to-use graphical controls inherent in the original design. Since 2003, he admitted, advanced features have made LabVIEW daunting for the casual user. While supporting two code bases might inherently seem as daunting for NI, Kodosky said he sees acceleration with the introduction of LabVIEW NXG. Ideas will flow between platforms, and the beta of the next version of LabVIEW NXG is expected to be released concurrently with each firm release, Kodosky suggested, speeding iterations and incorporation of new features. Because LabVIEW NXG is built with modern programming tools, it will be easier for NI to support and modify, he added, and existing drivers will work with the runtime results of both versions of software.
Jeff Phillips, section manager, software platform market, demonstrated LabVIEW NXG starting by generating vibration data by stomping on the stage. The demo progressed more than 4.5 minutes, probably the longest any demo of LabVIEW ever, Phillips suggested, without showing code. He then showed how non-programmers could create an algorithm to analyze the vibration, configure the measurement node, and export the code for use without knowing how to program LabVIEW code. LabVIEW NXG provides an enhanced editor with ability to explore engineering data immediately and take measurements more quickly.
"LabVIEW NXG brings productive programming to engineers who are not programming experts. We have long talked about domain experts and our ability to bring productivity and the power of graphical programming," Phillips said. "This is a very critical step to bring graphical programming to the domain of medical researchers, automated testing, and industrial machine design."
Shelly Gretlein, VP corporate marketing, with NI for 16 years, mostly in the software group, said NIWeek introductions target the challenge that technology is moving faster than the ability for humans to adapt. NI hardware advances (see separate releases) and the software that allows customers to build on the NI platform, disrupting transportation, communications, and manufacturing tests applications.
NI one-platform ecosystem
National Instruments said its one-platform approach to productive development software and modular hardware has more than:
- 300,000 online members
- 450 user groups
- 9,000 code examples
- 700 field engineers
- 400 software add-ons
- 5 million tools network downloads
- 10,000 instrument and device drivers
- 1,000 sensor and motor drivers
- 8,000 classrooms globally for academic support.
Also available are:
- 4 LabVIEW versions: Base, Full, Professional, and LabVIEW NXG
- Integration of LabVIEW via built-in constructs for interprocess or network communication, inline C or .m code and external library calling.
- Software standard service program with 24/7 access to introductory and advanced online training courses and an early look at conceptual software capabilities as part of the NI software technology preview. Access to degreed engineers via phone and email. Automatic updates and access to prior versions.
NI’s mission, for 40 years, has been to help solve grand challenges and equip engineers and scientists with systems to accelerate product innovation and discovery, she said.
Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, firstname.lastname@example.org, with additional information from National Instruments.
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