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Targeting the Production Line

Audio Precision, the Oregon-based manufacturer of audio analyzers, has announced the next addition to its APx range of analyzers.

Audio Precision’s APx515 Audio Analyzer

Audio Precision, the Oregon-based manufacturer of audio analyzers, has announced the next addition to its APx range of analyzers. The APx515, as it’s known, is the baby of the family, and retails at a much lower price point than any of the other APx models. The APx515 has a $6,200 price tag in the U.S., making it, by our reckoning, the most affordable fully featured digital audio test analyzer on the market by some margin.

The APx515 is aimed at productionline audio test, an area towards which many T&M manufacturers currently seem to be looking for sales growth. According to Daniel Knighten, Audio Precision’s product specialist for the APx range, the company felt that while its sales to design engineers have always been strong, its instruments were regarded as too expensive to be purchased in the numbers needed for production line test, meaning that while some companies would have an AP analyzer in their design department, they would use something cheaper on their production lines.

This pattern was evident when Knighten was on a tour of AP’s customers in China and South Korea. “These factories were customers of ours,” he explains, “but instead of using AP analyzers for the quality control throughout their manufacturing chain, they might have just one of our instruments in their factories. They’d use that to test their production-line test instruments, which were often nothing more complex than older, very inexpensive distortion analyzers. And there would be lots of those—in a dozen factories, I counted over 500 very old analog distortion analyzers in use—but only one Audio Precision product in each. When I asked the factory managers about this, they said that they’d like to have more AP analyzers on the floor, but they were just too expensive to have them in those quantities. Clearly, we wanted to do something to change that situation, and make our analyzers more attractive at that production-line level. And of course, that aim is equally valid across the globe as it is to the contract manufacturing market in the Far East.”

To achieve its goal of providing “an APx at production-line prices,” as Dan Knighten puts it, AP has chiefly made its savings in the physical construction of the instrument, although the audio input stage has also been simplified slightly, with fewer input impedance options. The chassis of the 515 is less expensive to manufacture, with more affordable parts, and the expandable modularity offered by other APx models has been sacrificed. Thus the APx515 is a fixedconfiguration device with two channels of analog I/O and standard 2-channel digital I/O, and it lacks the ability to add I2S interfacing, or the square-wave generator option offered by its larger siblings. But, of course, these are options that are required more by designers than by production line staff.

Aside from these physical differences, the APx operating software that runs on the APx515 is exactly the same, so the instrument is capable of batch-processing multiple tests in just a few seconds and compiling a report in PDF, Word or Excel formats, just like APx’s more expensive analyzers. The 515 can also be integrated easily into a larger automated production line controlled via LABView, for example; in fact, AP publishes a full API for the APx series, so they can be controlled by whatever third-party programming language the production line manager wishes to use.

AP makes much of the synergies that can be enjoyed if design and production departments are using the same test platform, making the point that if production hits a quality problem and the design department needs to troubleshoot a problem being highlighted at the production test stage, the process is made much easier if the production-line test hardware is compatible. If the manufacturing is taking place overseas, this debugging process can be very complex. Once again, Knighten’s experiences in the Far East influenced the design concepts for the APx515: “We were definitely thinking of the benefits an affordable APx analyzer could offer companies that use contract manufacturing overseas. As we all know, it’s now very common for one company to design a product, and another company to make it, in the interests of keeping manufacturing costs down. However, this can lead to problems in manufacturing and quality control. It usually means that the company that designs the product cannot be the company that tests the product on the production line, and this makes the production- line test more important than ever. The companies that design the products really need to be able to trust the quality control that their contract manufacturers carry out, but it can be hard to do that when the designer is using one audio analyzer and the manufacturer is using a completely different one. The fact that the designer and manufacturer may be separated by several thousand miles of sea, many time zones and a possible language barrier doesn’t help, of course!

“Because the APx515 is so much more affordable, we hope to make it easier for designers and contract manufacturers to use a common test platform, so that there is complete agreement on measurement results,” continues Knighten. “What’s more, because the underlying software in all of the APx analyzers is the same, Projects and batch-testing routines can be moved seamlessly from one analyzer to another. So if the designers and manufacturers are both using APx-Series analyzers, the designers can create a batch of tests, e-mail it to the manufacturers as an APx Project file and say ‘run these tests.’ The designers can then be assured that instruments that pass the production-line test are in accordance with their standards, because effectively the same yardstick is being used to make the measurements on the production line as it is in the design lab.”

Knighten admits that AP also hopes to tempt designers with the APx515’s entry-level price tag, perhaps encouraging design departments with an existing, more expensive APx analyzers to invest in additional APx515 units for use by junior staff. “Once again, if everyone is using the same test platform, everybody can benefit from having interoperable test routines, compatible test results and consistent reporting,” he explains. “We think our target market will appreciate the benefits of that proposition.”

Matt Bell works for Direct Red Media, providing media and marketing services to Audio Precision from Cambridge, U.K.

Audio Precision