What engineers want in DAQ systems

-October 01, 2010

Fred Molinari of Data Translation

Fred Molinari
President and Founder
Data Translation
Marlboro, MA

Following engineering and marketing positions at EG&G, Analogic, and Analog Devices early in his career, Fred Molinari launched Data Translation in 1973. Since then, the company has expanded its expertise in high-accuracy, high-performance, and easy-to-use dataacquisition products to more than 40 countries. The company operates an extensive network of distributors as well as a subsidiary in Germany. Molinari holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, an MSEE from Northeastern University, and a BSEE from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Contributing editor Larry Maloney interviewed Fred Molinari at the Data Translation offices in Marlboro, MA, about the evolution of data-acquisition technology and its broadbased applications.

Fred Molinari discusses other aspects of data-acquisition technology, including trends in bus systems, in the continuation of this interview.

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Q: What are some of the biggest changes in data acquisition?
We’ve improved software to the point where all the control capability that engineers need has been programmed onto the data-acquisition board. And in hardware, our products are much more accurate than in the past. We used to ship boards that provided 12-bit accuracy, which was purportedly 10 times better than most engineers needed. Now, we see a surge of demand for accuracy and throughput, which has led to many 24- bit data-acquisition products. Our new DT9836S USB module provides simultaneous analog inputs at up to 800 kHz for each of its six analog channels.

There’s often a good opportunity for progress at what I call the “edge,” when two factors converge, such as analog and digital. Analog-to-digital conversion keeps getting better and better in data acquisition. Another example is the interface of the sensor’s signal with the measurement device; we’ve integrated signal conditioning into our data-acquisition instruments to help customers meet time-to-market goals.

Q: How about new applications for data acquisition?
Alternative energy is an emerging area. A European wind-turbine manufacturer uses our modules in mobile test systems to gather data for predictive maintenance. We’ve also developed a precision measurement instrument called VOLTpoint for lithium fuel-cell applications. It features 48 separate 24-bit resolution inputs over a sampling range of ±400 V, each with its own ADC. Medical also is opening up interesting applications for our modules, such as a device for measuring pulmonary function. In oil exploration, our products gather data on temperature and force in mud-encasement systems that monitor and control drilling-fluid pressure.

Q: What impact did the recession have on your product development?
We continued to move forward. One of our most important new technologies, found in our precision instruments and in new modules like the ultra-high-resolution DT9824, is a feature we call ISO-Channel. It addresses the noise problems resulting from today’s high-density ICs. ISO-Channel uses galvanic isolation to guarantee 1000-V isolation between input channels, so common- mode noise and ground-loop problems are eliminated. The technology also increases reliability by integrating a 24-bit ADC on each channel.

Q: What’s new in your special-purpose data-acquisition instruments?
Two new products in that category are MEASURpoint and VIBpoint. MEASURpoint lets you simultaneously measure temperature and voltage. With this 48-channel instrument, you can measure any combination of voltage, thermocouple, and RTD (resistance-temperature detector) inputs with a single software solution. Customers for this product range from battery producers to a jet-engine manufacturer.

VIBpoint, introduced this past spring, targets sound and vibration applications, including noise-emission monitoring, predictive maintenance, and shock analysis. The device provides data analysis using FFT (fast Fourier transform) modes for linear, exponential, and peak hold. The data can then be displayed or saved to disk.

Vibration measurement is becoming more and more important, and we believe that VIBpoint will help move this type of testing from traditional applications, such as aerospace and automotive, to such fields as consumer electronics. For cellphone manufacturers, for instance, we can now offer a standard test mechanism at a cost they can afford, versus the very expensive vibration testers traditionally used in aerospace.

Read the continuation of this interview.

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