Test & Measurement

Advancing test & measurement: insights from Tektronix's Sarah Boen

13th March 2024
Sheryl Miles

Sarah Boen, Director of Strategic Technology and Advanced Integrated Circuits (AICs) at Tektronix, talks to Electronic Specifier about the field of Electronic Test & Measurement.

Promoting a comprehensive and collaborative approach to advancing AI/ML technologies, Boen believes that innovation is crucial for societal progress, altering the ways we work and live. Her inspiration comes from developing technologies that enable the industry to launch new market solutions.

The test and measurement industry has evolved greatly in the last decade - what pivotal changes are currently shaping its landscape?

I have had the pleasure of working in the test and measurement industry for the past two decades, and I will say this current chapter in the industry is one of sizable and exciting change. The test and measurement industry has evolved from providing general purpose solutions, which customers need to adapt for their specific needs, to delivering solutions that are market and application-first. Test and measurement professionals now have the opportunity to become very closely tied to the application of the end user, beyond just the product. Our relationships with customers are more specific, allowing for innovation to meet niche customer needs and challenges.

Another big market shift impacting the current test and measurement landscape is the growing number of industry alliances, consortiums, and ecosystems. Tektronix is part of a greater ecosystem, which doesn’t centre on just one company or organisation. New talent is entering the space, creating a really rich, fast-changing sector. This has made the industry more diverse, both in the individuals working in test and measurement and the clients we serve. I find this shift invigorating, as it opens us to more opportunities and collaborations industry-wide. For anyone in the test and measurement space, whether at the beginning of their career or within a leadership role, there are real opportunities to innovate, disrupt, and impact the industry.

In the age of AI and ML, how are these technologies impacting test and measurement processes? Are we seeing that they bring tangible benefits to accuracy and efficiency?

Of course, artificial intelligence and machine learning are huge buzzwords right now, and they are at the forefront of many conversations for good reason. AI and ML are key areas of research for Tektronix as we continue to provide cutting-edge solutions in the electronics space. AI/ML initiatives are driving strategic thinking in how we deliver solutions, what we deliver, and how our customers interact with Tektronix as a company.

As is the case for any emerging technology, I like to think of its potential applications in the following three ways:

  1. How do we use AI/ML to meet customer needs and improve the overall customer experience?
  2. How do we adapt to use these new technologies?
  3. Looking internally, are there efficiencies to be gained by using these tools?

One of the biggest challenges for our customers is time, so customers are looking at ways to increase workforce productivity through the use of technology. AI is one technology that can be used to solve customer problems in new ways with the end result of maximising the efficiency of their workflows. For example, test time optimisation through the use of AI not only enables faster time to market for our customers, but it also allows customers in the production workflow to reduce their overall cost. As a new technology solution emerges, we continuously look at ways to leverage it to solve complex customer challenges. Today AI and ML are key enabling technologies that can be used to address that challenge.

In order to appropriately use AI and ML, leaders in test and measurement are looking at use parallels within other industries. We are also utilising forward-thinking partnerships. For example, the 6G program at University of Texas, Austin is a perfect space for Tektronix to investigate how we test devices that are enabled with AI and ML, and to look at how those devices will work together within a connected network. This opens up new opportunities in the test and measurement industry.

Another use case for AI and ML is for productivity. We have the opportunity to use these tools to make our products more reliable and accurate, and we are looking at how Tektronix can best partner with our vendors in using these tools to create the next wave of enabled products. The other side of productivity is examining how to improve our customers' digital experience. In short, we are taking a holistic view of technology and applying it in many ways to improve the overall experience our customers have with Tektronix.

What major challenges are test and measurement professionals facing today, and how are they confronting these challenges with innovative solutions and R&D?

Technology is changing rapidly, which is both exciting and challenging. This means there is space for innovation in the engineering of test and measurement products, as well as new opportunities in how we actually test our customers' products.

At Tektronix, the technology team is responsible for identifying these emerging technologies by spearheading early research. From this research, we can find what technologies make sense for future use, but the real key is to partner in early research to understand the applications early. If a certain technology doesn’t make sense to use now, it could be useful in the future as it matures. For example, with 6G we are researching the future of extended reality from a test and measurement standpoint.

Another challenge is that market inflection points are occurring much faster than in the past. This means we need to examine any and all potential productivity improvements internally to get our solutions to market faster and meet customer demand. To accomplish this, we will look both internally and to our partners for support and collaboration.

How is the test and measurement sector adapting to Industry 4.0 processes while ensuring secure and reliable data collection, especially as we are seeing increasing device connectivity?

As a test and measurement vendor, it’s a fascinating time to be innovating solutions that are used to test the components that go into the networks of the future, and that are used to enable electrification, security, and other emerging applications. As we look to solve security issues, we have the opportunity to look at these challenges from two distinct angles: From the perspective of how our products function, and how Tektronix is enabling the future of secure communications as a whole.

Security is an issue at the forefront for all of our products that we take very seriously. New security threats and solutions are changing rapidly, and it is a priority issue for the electronics industry including Tektronix. There is constant news about cyber security attacks and vulnerabilities across various industries, and the test and measurement sector isn’t unique in this aspect. In the electronics space, security is an industry-wide problem that needs to be addressed.

At Tektronix we are lucky to be a Fortive company, which means we are part of a large ecosystem that is working through these issues. Tektronix has the opportunity to tap into thought leadership conversations across multiple different companies within this ecosystem. Another source for research and solution generation when it comes to security issues is our partnership with the Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C), as they are key to enabling the technology to ensure a secure network of the future.

Looking forward, what upcoming trends in test and measurement do you think hold the most potential, and what impact might they have on diverse industries? How can professionals stay ahead in this rapidly evolving technological landscape?

Some upcoming trends and technologies I find interesting are the use of 6G and the convergence with sensing and compute, resulting in new opportunities in the test and measurement space. As the network evolves from a communication transportation function to a network of intelligent nodes, it opens up new opportunities for test and measurement.  The testing and verification of devices must evolve as they become enabled by AI. Pioneering the future of testing and playing a role in bringing future technology to the world is one of the most exciting parts of my job.

At Tektronix, we are always looking at the potential technologies poised to change the landscape of test and measurement. We are driven by the question, “How can this particular technology solution be applied in a test and measurement context?” To answer this question, we focus on the problems that we are trying to solve and conduct early research to make decisions on the applicability of new technology within our application space.

To stay at the forefront of potential trends and influential technologies, we need to draw parallels between our test and measurement ecosystem and other industries. We need to bring a sense of creativity, curiosity, and forward-thinking to look beyond our current solutions, and build relationships with key players outside of the test and measurement network. It’s all about looking for collaborative opportunities to advance the knowledge pool.

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