JClass LiveTable from KL Group proved to be the ideal solution for building an intuitive and dynamic graphical user interface for the Vanguard product family from Integrated Measurement Systems Inc., a global leader in the development of engineering testing systems.
Engineers involved in device testing know that intuition and on-the-fly interpretations have significant impact on device-testing sequences. The engineer's next step is often difficult to predict as it may depend on a real-time interpretation of the results produced by the immediately preceding test. As such, any system that's designed for use in these environments must be highly dynamic, allowing for seamless and interactive information flow between the device and the engineer. Flexibility, responsiveness and ease of use in the software interface help to ensure that fast, accurate and effective testing takes place.
IMS, based in Beaverton, Oregon, is well versed in the challenges posed by such a dynamic environment. IMS has developed Vanguard, an industry-leading family of hardware and software systems dedicated to the verification, characterization and failure analysis of complex, high-speed digital integrated circuits (ICs). By accelerating information exchange between the device and the engineer, Vanguard significantly increases engineering productivity and reduces the time required to get devices into production. For IMS customers these condensed testing phases translate into faster time to market and a powerful competitive advantage.
Underlying IMS's success in this field is a solid understanding of the way engineers think and work. Recognizing "the real-time analysis going on inside the engineer's mind," IMS focused on making Vanguard as intuitive, fast and responsive as possible. Vanguard's Java-based software architecture, together with the use of JClass Java components from KL Group, played a key role in realizing these goals. The graphical user interface had to be easy to read - and user-friendly - and allow engineers to set up and execute individual tests and test sequences quickly and easily.
Bob Vistica, senior software engineer at IMS and project lead on Vanguard's GUI development, spoke about some of the challenges he faced in developing the interface. IMS's dedicated GUI developers were assigned to another project, leaving Vistica with limited specialized expertise for creating the graphical front end to the IC tester. With neither the time nor the developer resources to build GUI components in-house, Vistica looked to vendors of JavaBeans for ready-made, reliable GUI functionality, eventually turning to the JClass family of JavaBeans from KL Group.
"JClass was the only suite of components that offered the breadth and depth of functionality we needed. Other products just didn't come close to the feature set available in JClass."
IMS needed to create a largely table-based interface to display test results and to enable easy input of new data by users of the system. JClass LiveTable offered several capabilities that were key to the success of the project. Scalability was paramount, as Vanguard's tables would need to accommodate large quantities of data. Capable of managing tables of up to 2 billion columns by 2 billion rows of data, JClass LiveTable clearly presented no limitations in this regard. Effective data management was also important: tables would be populated with data from a variety of external data sources and had to permit live user interaction and real-time updating.
"With its robust data connectivity, LiveTable met our complex data requirements with ease," said Vistica. "We needed a solution that allowed for real-time user input, and that could handle large amounts of information."
IMS was able to prototype many of the Vanguard windows quickly using LiveTable. In addition, the move from prototype to the real software produced little throwaway code. Vanguard currently features 15 table-based windows built using JClass LiveTable, and providing a wide range of functionality:
- The system configuration screen illustrates revisions and calibrations (see Figure 1).
- The device screen lists all device pins and allows engineers to easily rename pins in a group (see Figure 2).
The benefits of using JClass LiveTable weren't limited to optimizing Vanguard's interface functionality. From a productivity standpoint, Vistica points out that by using prebuilt components, IMS slashed two to three man-years of work from their GUI development cycle.
- The levels screen provides an easy means of setting and resetting values, giving engineers the ability to modify their tests on the fly (see Figure 3).
- Vanguard's timing screen takes advantage of LiveTable's flexible rendering model to show an actual logic diagram within a table and depicts what's happening through each cycle of the test (see Figure 4).
- At 1 million rows long, Vanguard's pattern screen, which displays every test sequence and acquired data, benefited greatly from LiveTable's scalability (see Figure 5).
"The time and money savings were extremely significant: for a minimal initial investment of a couple thousand dollars, we saved close to $300K in developer costs. Building this functionality in-house would have been prohibitive. With JClass we knew we were getting reliable, well-tested functionality we could count on. The return on investment was clear," said Vistica.
Today IMS is planning to extend its use of JClass for future releases of Vanguard. Work is underway to create new windows that take fuller advantage of JClass LiveTable's powerful rendering model to add new functionality to the Vanguard interface. In addition, IMS is looking at the wide range of charting and graphing capabilities available with JClass Chart for possible integration into future projects.
"Our experiences with KL Group have been positive from day one," said Vistica. "The products are easy to use and extremely well documented. As such, we've had little need for their support, but the few times we've called on them, the responses have been timely and very helpful."
Sam Watts is studying computer science at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. He specializes in Java development.[email protected]