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case study

National Instruments: Achieving productivity and time-to-market goals with the right choice of system design tools

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NI is a producer of automated test equipment and virtual instrumentation software. Common applications include data acquisition, instrument control, and machine vision
Austin, Texas, United States
Xpedition Enterprise


Customer Profile

NI empowers engineers and scientists with a software-centric platform that incorporates modular hardware and an expansive ecosystem. This proven approach puts users firmly in control of defining what they need to accelerate their system design within test, measurement, and control. NI’s solution helps build high-performance systems that exceed requirements, quickly adapt to change, and ultimately improve the world.

The Problem

“Technology is moving at an unprecedented pace. Our customers are seeing technologies converge across every industry, resulting in increased complexity in their systems. The functionality of these technologies is increasingly defined in software, so customer capabilities are rapidly changing. The engineers who design and test these systems are struggling to create monitoring, control, and test systems that not only keep up with these challenges but also take advantage of technologies and trends to get their jobs done faster and more efficiently.” - Chris Smith, NI


NI has a diverse range of design characteristics and challenges across their high-performance complex systems. These include reliability (conservative design rules), bleeding edge parts (pins, density, and performance), integrated RF, FPGA/PCB integration (I/O optimization), design density, SERDES signaling, high-speed design (impedance, timing), SI/PI verification, power distribution, multi-board design, layout/routing time, constraint definition, and manufacturability.

I would describe the value [of Xpedition] as a platform that has not been stagnant in its feature and development growth. It is critical to work with a tool vendor that adapts to the rapid technology pace we are in and invests and innovates as required.
Chris Smith, Sr. Engineering Services Group Manager

The goal

NI embraced the opportunity to use their design flow to meet their business goals of optimizing product time-to-market while effectively managing cost and product reliability.

To meet those goals they needed a toolset that included:

  • The ability to drive high quality through the effective management, simulation, and DRC of electrical and physical rule sets.

  • Constant innovation with a synchronized flow and user experience.

  • An open platform to allow automation of custom solutions to add efficiencies for development cycles.

  • A tool architecture that supports concurrency for schematic and layout design to improve time to market.

The solution

Using their previous design flow, NI was unable to work in a concurrent environment for schematic creation and PCB layout. Single-source design was a challenge based on the need for parallel changes and updates. Often, users would create copies of the source and apply changes to be mixed into the primary source design later on. This ad-hoc approach of allowing changes and random updates often resulted in multiple instances of project copies, delayed time-to-market, and created conditions that could force a revision.

By choosing Siemens EDA, NI noted design-flow improvements in areas such as:

  • Concurrent design with the Xpedition flow

  • Schematic & layout development

  • SI/PI simulation in HyperLynx®

  • DFM/ DFX validation in Valor®

The Results

The simplicity of the concurrent sessions provided NI with an avenue for collaboration between analog, digital, RF, PCB, and power supply experts. Formalized electrical and physical constraint rules documents were converted into the Xpedition constraint manager, and manufacturability items were maintained within Valor, resulting in increased productivity and meeting time-to-market goals.

At NI the implementation of concurrency using Xpedition® along with new technologies such as FPGA I/O optimization and SI/PI simulation has significantly increased productivity in their PCB development flow.

Typical PCB Design Characteristics

  • Range from low to very-high density (e.g., 630 pins/sq. in).

  • Layer counts of 8 to 28 layers

  • Single- and multi-board SMTs

  • Net counts of 4000+ for high-speed analog/digital as well as multi-gigabit RF, DDR4, SERDES signaling with HDI, and the latest vendor processors and FPGAs.