The Test and Measurement (T&M) equipment industry has been changing quickly in recent years. As electronic devices have become more complex, testing and validation has become a highly complicated process for many companies. The demand for faster data rates has increased the amount of time needed by engineering teams to validate new technologies, often causing substantial delays in product time-to-market cycles.
Tektronix heard the frustration that was building within the community and set out to create a collaborative, easy-to-use solution that would help its customers. After almost two years and countless hours working hand-in-hand with dozens of customers across the industry, Tektronix recently launched the TMT4 Margin Tester, a new product for PCI Express (PCIe) testing that has the potential to greatly speed time to market.
The TMT4 Margin Tester is a new type of testing tool for the design and validation of PCIe Gen 3 and Gen 4 motherboards, add-in cards and system designs. The first solution of its kind, the TMT4 Margin Tester includes a plug-and-play setup and easy-to-use interface, which in just minutes offer insights that would have traditionally required hours or even days of setup and testing with legacy T&M equipment, and at a much lower bar of entry for both engineering experience and price point.
“While PCIe testing usually requires complex error test systems and engineers with years of experience, the TMT4 Margin Tester gives engineers at all levels the opportunity to participate in what used to be a very complicated process,” said Tony Hillesheim, Senior Program Manager at Tektronix. “Margin Tester is unlike any other product Tektronix has offered, and its power to bring the larger engineering community together is truly astonishing.”
The new benefits and time savings offered by the TMT4 Margin Tester are very exciting but getting this product to market was no small feat; it required a true partnership between Tektronix and its customers from start to finish. Let’s take a closer look at the teamwork required to bring this product to market:
Driving Growth from Within
The original idea for the TMT4 Margin Tester was developed in the Fortive Growth Accelerator program, which encourages company and product growth by identifying pressing customer problems, developing solutions and quickly testing uncertainties and risks to enable fast learning and decision-making. The first solution to move fully through the program from initial idea to available product, the TMT4 Margin Tester required a nimble and powerful team and close collaboration with trusted customers from the beginning.
In January 2021, the Growth Accelerator team had identified the problem, developed concepts and set out to gather the right internal team members to help to bring a solution to life. That team would eventually consist of people working across the software, hardware, mechanical and marketing teams and span many states, time zones and even countries. Due to the isolation and social distancing precautions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most team members were working from home throughout the project and relied on a daily all-team meeting and multiple one-off meetings with necessary team members and customers to keep them all connected, motivated and working toward a common goal. These daily interactions ensured that all members of the team knew where the project stood at any given time and that any bottlenecks team members were facing could be quickly resolved.
“The TMT4 Margin Tester team is small, agile and very diverse in both age and experience, which is pretty unique,” said Sam Gangi, Hardware Engineering Lead at Tektronix. “We met online every day, which gave us many different perspectives on the problems we were solving. When I would hit a roadblock on the hardware side, the software manager or hardware lead would often speak up and suggest thinking about it in a new way, and that often ended up changing the game. Those kinds of fast fixes are what led to us delivering such a great product in such a short amount of time.”
Getting an Outside Perspective
The TMT4 Margin Tester team knew that working in tandem with customers and integrating their valuable feedback from the outset would be integral to success. The team started showing the tool to select customers as soon as they had a viable prototype. The feedback was immediate and confirmed the need in the market for such a tool.
“I have worked at Tektronix for almost 21 years, and I can’t remember a product that caused this much excitement and anticipation,” said Senthil Thandapani, Software Engineering Manager at Tektronix. “Every customer we visited was impressed with the interface and shocked by how fast they were able to get results. They also had constructive feedback about how to improve the product that we were able to quickly address and incorporate due to their dedicated early-stage involvement in the project.”
As the team received feedback, it incorporated it into the product, then returned it to the customer within just a few short months to provide an updated demo and ensure that the customer’s concerns had been addressed. This allowed the team to confirm that the product features were on track and also craft and refine the messaging around how best to introduce a completely new product to the market without alienating traditional T&M customers.
“One of the hardest parts of bringing any product to market is getting the positioning and the marketing right,” said Michael Seaholm, Product Manager at Tektronix. “Finding the perfect way to communicate the product value to the customer is where companies flounder or flourish. Getting our customers involved early on gave us the opportunity to learn from a variety of different personas and industries and refine our message in new and valuable ways.”
Reveling in the End Results
The team plans to continue gathering and incorporating customer feedback into future updates of the TMT4 Margin Tester. To date, customers have been most excited about the following features and benefits offered in the initial release:
- Simple setup and configuration minimizes the need for senior-level engineers to perform link health evaluations of their designs.
- Quick performance characterization of link health and performance before sending boards though full validation testing.
- Full Tx/Rx protocol capability that enables link health evaluation of PCIe Gen 3 and Gen 4 communication technologies on both sides of the link in a single box.
- Multi-lane testing capabilities enable users to significantly reduce overall testing times by reducing the number of connection changes needed to perform testing.
- Visibility of link training parameters provides additional insights into what equalization was used to form the link.
- Variety of adapters supporting the most common PCIe form factors for easy connection to motherboard and add-in card DUTs.
The TMT4 Margin Tester has the potential to fundamentally change how validation engineers do their work, and continued partnerships with new and existing customers are key to making that change. With consistent collaboration and constant iteration, we can ensure that this solution lives up to its potential to help engineering teams get their products to market faster than ever.
“I came to Tektronix to work on the TMT4 Margin Tester because the company seemed to be approaching an industry problem around performance in a new and exciting way,” Seaholm said. “Instead of trying to fix or improve what already existed, Tektronix is asking whether we can work with our customers, think differently about their problems and find new ways to provide value. That’s what makes this company, this team and this product so different, and I look forward to seeing what’s next.”
To learn more about the TMT4 Margin Tester and how it could help support your engineering team, visit Tek.com or contact a Tektronix representative for more information.