Future of T&M industry looks brighter

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The 100 year old test and measurement (T&M) sector plays a pivotal role in the electronics industry. With time, it has evolved to currently offer instruments of greater accuracy with higher definition measurements.

By Himanshu Yadav 

Monday, September 12, 2012: The growth in the telecom, automation, electronics and education sectors, along with increasing defence spending are prime factors influencing the growth of the T&M market. Investments from the government as well as private players are also expected to grow

A recent study conducted by Frost & Sullivan estimated the market revenue for T&M to reach around Rs 6,692.5 million by 2011. This has largely been due to the formidable growth registered by key industry segments like automotive, electronics, pharmaceuticals, life sciences and telecommunications. Sectors like defence, backed by government investments, have also been instrumental in driving this growth. Increasing R&D activities across various industries are expected to further augment the growth of the Indian T&M market.

Key drivers for growth

The telecom sector is the most promising areas for T&M equipment. Many manufacturers of instruments are making devices exclusively for this sector. Further, biomedical and industrial electronics have spurred growth because measurements of optical and magnetic properties are very important. Another rapidly emerging field is nanotechnology, where test equipment designers will face challenges as they attempt to measure current and voltage levels at atomic and molecular scales.

The presence of multinational firms like Texas Instruments, Intel, ST Micro, Motorola, Alcatel Ericsson, LG, Samsung and Nokia with their R&D, design and manufacturing facilities has given an impetus to the demand for T&M instruments.

Says Sai Venkat Kumar, Pacific marketing group, Tektronix, “Technological development is the key driver for the growth of the T&M market in India. T&M always has to be ahead of any innovation in order to help and support it to happen. Investments are being made in design, R&D and manufacturing in most of the major industry verticals like telecom, aerospace, defence, automotive, consumer electronics and semiconductors. Post recession, the future of T&M in India looks brighter as investments from the government as well as private players are expected to grow.”

To cater to this ever increasing demand, a number of international and domestic players are operating with successful bases in India. Firms like Aplab, Tektronix, Agilent Technologies, Rohde & Schwarz India, Fluke Networks, Scientech Technologies Pvt Ltd, Salicon Nano Technology Pvt Ltd, Sumitron Exports Pvt Ltd, etc are doing good business with an expected growth rate of 30-40 per cent per year.

Latest trends and innovations

Considering India’s poor performance in manufacturing, not much T&M equipment is being produced locally. Therefore, most of the demand is catered to through imports from the US, Europe, the UK, Singapore, Thailand and China.

The basic function of T&M equipment is to get accurate measurements. Hence, the main focus is to build products that give the most accurate results with negligible error.

Due to increasing complexity, the T&M sector has also moved towards software packages. According to Mukund Kulkarni, business development manager, TMI division, Aplab Limited, one of the major trends is the use of LSI chips. “With the cost of digital signal processing chips coming down, people are encouraged to use LSI chips to derive a solution. However, the unavailability of trained manpower and vital components locally are major challenges,” he says.

States Tej Narayan Singh, CEO, Salicon Nano Technology, “PC based oscilloscopes are fast picking up in the market. These are simply connected with a card to the system. The user can get the ratings, store them, or retain them for later analysis. The cost is also reasonable, just like the normal oscilloscopes and sometimes even cheaper.”

Another recent trend in T&M pertaining to the telecom domain is a heightened demand for protocol analysis based network optimisation solutions. This trend springs from the new radio access network environment, including cell breathing and power management in universal mobile telecommunication systems (UMTS). The introduction of multi-input, multi-output (MIMO) and beamforming also needs continuous monitoring in order to capture the rapid variances in the network.

Says S K Jain, CEO and managing director, Sumitron Exports Pvt Ltd, “The number of operators is increasing every day due to the deregulation of the telecom industry. There is also emphasis on teledensity, which means more carriers are needed to carry more bandwidth. Another trend is that because of the continuous emphasis on the quality of services, the expectations of subscribers and operators are changing. So, deregulation, bandwidth and quality of services are the basic drivers, which are paving the way for the growth of optical networks that can carry more bandwidth. This leads to more opportunities for T&M players.”

The latest products

Companies keep updating their product portfolio to offer the latest products in the market. Agilent Technologies has recently introduced the Infiniium 90000 X-Series oscilloscope family with a realtime bandwidth of 32 GHz. Its new models range from 16 GHz to 32 GHz are bandwidth upgradable. These new scopes deliver the lowest noise and have the lowest jitter measurement floor in the industry, ensuring superior measurement accuracy, claims the company. The company has invested in a proprietary indium phosphide (InP) integrated circuit process to enable high frequency capability.

Aplab Limited has been in the T&M field for the last 45 years. “Our products are indigenously developed to suit India’s environment standards and, hence, we are better placed to give good after sales support. Ever changing and developing technology has been our core focus and we spend around 10 per cent of our revenue on R&D,” says Kulkarni.

Aplab has developed new equipment like RF generators based on DDS technology and optical testing equipment for the telecom sector, with support from overseas partners. “Our latest products include 9 KHz to 1GHz /2GHz /3GHz signal generators, RF communication testers and mixed signal oscilloscopes with multimeter features,” says Kulkarni.

Scientech Technologies, a global manufacturer of T&M instruments, has developed many products of its own in the categories of portable oscilloscopes, oscilloscopes with inbuilt functions like logic scope, frequency counters, curve tracers, function generators and power supplies. The firm also promotes a few global brands such as Rigol, LIG, Micronix, Designsoft, etc. It spends a sizeable portion of its turnover on R&D every year. At Scientech Technologies, innovation plays a pivotal role and all the company’s products run on digital controls and are menu driven. “Equipment and instruments that are easy to use, compact and very powerful like the Caddo 820 are the latest in the market,” points out Mohammed Ghouse, country manager, business communication, Scientech Technologies.

Salicon Nano Technology imports a majority of its products from companies like Cleverscope, a German oscilloscope firm, and ReVolt Technologies. “We only manufacture 20 per cent of the equipment. We have a small R&D team and offer customised products to customers,” says Singh.

Sumitron Exports offers the entire range of T&M instruments from Ideal Industries, USA—from basic equipment to the most sophisticated instruments for research labs. “Our instruments are handy and collect accurate data. Our skilled team of engineers offer excellent after sales support,” informs Jain. “We also offer various types of multimeters clampmeters, thermal imagers and power analysers,” he adds.

Tektronix has recently announced the availability of the MSO70000 series of mixed signal oscilloscopes, which is the industry’s first high performance family of integrated MSOs. “The USP of the MSO70000 series is that it brings tightly integrated digital and analogue analysis to systems integration, debugging of memory, RF and serial bus designs. With four channel analogue bandwidth ranging from 4 to 20 GHz, depending on the model, the MSO70000 offers up to five times more bandwidth and five times better timing resolution than the fastest integrated MSOs currently available, enabling greater signal visibility for problem discovery,” says Kumar.

Fluke Corporation has introduced the Fluke 233 remote display digital multimeter with a detachable wireless display. It gives users the ultimate flexibility in unusual test situations. The company has also designed products specifically targeting Indian users. The series is called the new 15B, 17B and 18B multimeters. 18B multimeters cater to the fast emerging LED industry because, in addition to functioning as a highly capable multimeter, Fluke 18B is a fast, intuitive and intelligent tester, claims the company.

Indian vs. imported products

Companies feel there isn’t much difference between domestic products and the imported ones. As Singh explains, “If the specs are fine, one can as well opt for the Indian products.”

Ghouse states, “Indian products can lag behind on the technology front, but they provide true value for money and are durable and precise.” Kulkarni agrees, “Indian products are rugged and made for Indian environmental conditions like high temperatures, humidity, etc. They are indigenously made with the Indian customer’s needs in focus, and are on par with many imported products.”

“Imported products are of high standard and technically advanced. Though they are costlier than the ones available in the local market, service, quality and the results provided by the imported equipment make them an asset,” says Jain.

Challenges faced

Though the T&M market registers a steady growth, it does have its share of challenges. “Imports of low quality Chinese products that are sold by traders here are harming the country’s self reliance in technology. Moreover, these traders hardly make any money themselves. The traders cannot give a service backup for these products. Ultimately, both the traders and the buyers of such products are the losers,” says Ghouse.

Adds Jain, “The T&M sector also faces the challenge of making products that have accurate data capturing capabilities, while being rugged in nature—and not to forget the problem of keeping the price of products competitive.”

Other than these, ever increasing labour costs, non-availability of locally manufactured key vital components, infrastructure and government policies also hamper the manufacturers. As shared by Kulkarni, “Basic components such as SMDs/semiconductors /ICs, LSIs, microprocessors, DSPs, FPGA chips, memories ADC/DACs, CRT, LCD displays, etc are totally dependant on imports. So inadequate infrastructure and bureaucratic delays add to the overall manufacturing costs.”

What lies ahead

Demand for T&M equipment will continue to grow as long as there is development. Awareness for the best practices in preventive maintenance is increasing in India, and there is a huge CAPEX in preventive maintenance rather than post breakdown support.

The future of wireless will be riding on 3G deployment and value added services. On the other hand, wireline broadband is another key segment that is helping the T&M business grow. The explosive growth of the infotainment industry is another area that will influence growth in the T&M business. The T&M market is also benefiting from the growing focus on mobile phones, broadcasting and chipset design and manufacturing.

As the market is picking up after the recent slowdown, the future is promising, and within the next three to five years the T&M market will be worth over Rs 5000 million, predict industry analysts. Now, it is to be seen how manufacturers take the opportunity presented by this promising situation and improve their products and increase production capacities to meet the needs of the buyers.

Electronics Bazaar, South Asia’s No.1 Electronics B2B magazine

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