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The right tools for the job

Chandran Nair, Asean MD of scientific instrument maker National Instruments, is proud that the company is helping facilitate economic growth and scientific discovery

Chandran Nair, the managing director for the Asean countries of US-based National Instruments, sees significant growth opportunities in Thailand's hard disk drive, electronics, manufacturing, energy, oil and gas sectors.

National Instruments (NI) was founded in 1976 by Dr James Truchard, who remains the company's CEO today. The firm's objective is to provide measurement and other scientific tools for engineers and scientists worldwide that will eventually lead to an increase in productivity, innovation and new discoveries.

Its graphical system design offers a software and re-configureable hardware platform to help speed up the development of any system that needs measurement and controls. In other words, domain experts in various fields can design their own tools using the NI platform.

In Thailand, the firm started out in 2002. Besides providing services and software to large corporations, NI also works with small and medium-sized enterprises and universities in order to help boost the country's national competitiveness.

The company's partners here include Sony Technology (Thailand), Thai Summit Auto-parts Industry, Seagate Technology and PTT Public Co Ltd.

"Thailand's economy is quite resilient, as it was able to bounce back from the negative consequences of last year's massive floods relatively quickly, with 2012 and 2013 GDP growth forecasts at 5.5 per cent and 7.5 per cent, respectively.

"The country's hard disk drive industry, which is the largest in Asia, has got back on track since the floods.

"The production of hard disk drives is forecast to grow by 20 per cent year-on-year in 2013. The Asia-Pacific region currently contributes about 30 per cent of NI's global revenue of about US$1 billion annually," he says.

In terms of research and development, NI also has a long-term partnership with Thai universities such as King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang, and King Mongkut's Institute of Technology North Bangkok.

According to Nair, the world is at an important junction when it comes to various technologies and their convergence. Technologies, and the tools to apply them with, are increasingly defined by the users rather than the vendors, making it less competitive to rely solely on vendor-designed instruments. For example, a new BMW Series 7 car now has as many as 75 microprocessors to control various systems inside the car.

In addition, technologies are changing rapidly, shortening the turnaround time for development of many products such as smart phones, while the prices of these items are constantly going down.

In Thailand, 50-60 out of NI's 400 customers are SMEs who use NI tools to design and test their products for various industries.

NI tools include Labview and other modular tools to build, for example, an in-circuit function tester for PCB assembly in the electronics industry.

At the international level, NI's Labview software and PXI hardware are used at CERN, the operator of the world's largest particle accelerator, which has just provided scientists with solid evidence of the existence of the Higgs bosun particle.

NI's products were chosen because of their small size, ruggedness and cost saving over those supplied by traditional providers.

CERN operates the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is 27 kilometres in circumference and buried up to 150 metres underground on the French-Swiss border.

Its challenge was to measure and control in real time the position of bulk components to absorb energetic particles out of the nominal beam core, with high reliability and accuracy.

The project is expected to provide answers on fundamental questions about the origins and nature of the universe.


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