The Test & Measurement and Sensors Markets Converge

Kevin Parmenter, Director, Applications Engineering. TSC, America



Kevin Parmenter, Director, Applications Engineering. TSC, America

­The test and measurement equipment market is forecast to reach $33 billion by 2025 and is estimated to grow from now until then at a CAGR of 4.05%, according to research organization MarketsandMarketsTM. Although this market still comprises the typical DMM, oscilloscope and spectrum analyzer segments, it also includes new and innovative test equipment with tremendous capabilities that increasingly offer functions incorporated into one instrument.

For the power electronics engineer’s bench, the equipment is better than ever. In the early 2000s, when I needed an IR camera to take measurements of the thermal performance of integrated power stages, I used an $30,000 thermal camera. It plugged into AC power and took a half-hour for its sterling cooling engine to make it ready for measuring. For comparison, I recently bought a new thermal camera for under $500 that was almost instantly “on” from a cold start. Plus, it was battery-powered and connected to a PC to download the photos. Here’s another example. Not long ago a VNA (Vector Network Analyzer) which measures the frequency characteristics of reflected power and passband power of a high frequency RF networks input voltages and I / Q signals had a price tag in the mid-five figures -- and you’d risk a hernia trying to pick it up. Now an open-source design of a NanoVNA running off a 3.7-volt battery is under $150, and it comes in a case.

Closely related to the test and measurement market is the global sensor market, which according to Data Bridge Market Research, should reach $345.77 billion with a CAGR of 8.9% by 2028. This market has also evolved. Early in my career, microwave power meters were costly instruments that consumed a good amount of bench space. Today they are USB sensors that plug into your PC.

The level of integration and performance of sensor and test and measurement technologies are blurring the line of which markets they fit into. Is a sensor with a USB connector that plugs into a PC a sensor or test and measurement device? If it connects to the internet, is it an IoT device? Regardless, their capabilities and performance/price ratio are simply astounding. Both general-purpose and specialized test equipment is widely available, from network analysis to earth-ground resistance measurement to hipot testers and more.

But it’s wise to remember that we still live in an analog world and sophisticated sensors and test and measurement gear must make sense to us (analog) humans. I have an oft-repeated but important message for engineering managers. Let your technical staff get the test equipment that they need to do their jobs – and keep it calibrated. Your people can’t get results with either outdated/obsolete equipment or uncalibrated equipment (i.e., toys). Your products and services are only as good as the quality of the test and measurement equipment and sensors that they use in their daily work. It’s worth the investment. As one of my favorite lines in the movie “The Right Stuff” goes: “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.”