The oscilloscope is a vital tool through which electronics engineers can test their system designs operate correctly and ensure that they comply with key industry standards. Scopes represents a healthy business sector. A report published by market research firm TechNavio predicting that the revenues generated worldwide by these items will experience a compound annual growth rate of 19.4% between now and 2016, though importantly it does also note that relatively low replacement rates could hold back growth in the longer term. The current difficult economic climate means that engineers want to avoid having to specify and source new units, instead keeping hold of their existing ones for as long as possible. As a result it now appears likely that in many cases upgrades in functionality and performance will be dealt with in software, rather than as a hardware issue.  

There continues to be a fierce rivalry between the leading instrumentation manufacturers when it comes to developing more sophisticated models – and of course these new models will have very hefty price tags associated with them. There are, however, a large number of engineers for whom on-going advances in scope performance levels at the high end are of little other than just marginal interest. They are much more concerned with how to contend with the exacting financial demands they face on a daily basis and still be able to do a good job. As long as they can get the functionality necessary for a particular task without exceeding their budget, then they are happy.

The more forward-thinking scope manufacturers have now reacted to this by offering a broadening range of optimised test software packages to support their standard product lines. By installing such software onto their scopes, significant enhancements can be witnessed. A standard scope can effectively be transformed into a highly optimised analysis tool that is capable of meeting explicit requirements. It means that the engineer’s equipment is powerful enough to undertake, for instance, investigation of high speed serial data buses – so that compliance with standards like SATA, USB 3.0, HDMI, Wireless USB and DisplayPort can be checked.

Thanks to its strong relationships with these manufacturers, Teddington-based test sourcing specialist Livingston now complements the comprehensive portfolio of scopes that it has available to rent with a wide variety of different test software packages. These packages furnish engineers with temporary access to special, software coded, test options for post-delivery installation. The engineers thus have the capacity to accomplish more with their rented equipment, taking advantage of superior test capabilities, as well as greater operational flexibility. The array of scope software offered by Livingston is designed for use with rented Agilent, Rohde & Schwartz and Yokogawa units.

To summarise, perpetual improvements to scope performance are of major benefit to the electronic engineering community, but manufacturers must take into account whether customers have the available funds to pay for such improvements. It is clear that the leading test equipment brands, with the assistance of their supply chain partners, have to start appreciating that the average electronics engineer needs to get as much as they can out of their scope while still keeping their budget reigned in. The emergence of a broader selection of supporting software packages is likely to prove critical in simultaneously meeting the expectations of modern engineers, but not inflicting too heavy a financial burden upon them.

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