DA & Control

Change Is Afoot in the Data Acquisition Market

November 1, 2012 By: J Timothy Shea, VDC Research Group Sensors

VDC has partnered with Sensors magazine to assemble comprehensive demand-side and supply-side studies on the market for data acquisition (DA) systems, examining the respective markets for external chassis and module products, plug-in analog I/O board bus architectures/form factors, and stand-alone DA software.

VDC's research into the DA market covered eight different external chassis and module products, twelve different plug-in analog I/O board bus architectures/form factors, and stand-alone (nonbundled) DA software (Figure 1). The market data were analyzed within eight vertical demand-side markets and three supply-side regional markets—the Americas, Asia-Pacific, and Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA).

Figure 1. The types of DA products researched

External Chassis and Modules Plug-In Analog I/O Boards
Data loggers CompactPCI
Distributed remote I/O ISA
Modular DA systems PC/104
Paperless chart recorders with
panel cutouts <144 mm
Paperless chart recorders with
panel cutouts >144 mm
PCI Express
PC front ends: Other PCMCIA (PC card)
PC front ends: USB PXI
Stand-alone systems PXI Express
Stand-alone (nonbundled) DA software VME


Based on discussions with 600 respondents and >90 suppliers of the DA systems under study, VDC was able to develop a deep understanding of how evolving dynamic issues and trends are affecting the marketplace and creating areas of change and increased opportunity. The overall outlook for DA systems varies greatly by product platform and bus architecture/form factor, but overall demand for plug-in DA analog I/O boards will continue to lag behind that for external chassis and modules over the forecast period of 2011 through 2015.

Several key technical requirements and end-user preferences are major factors driving the increasing demand for DA systems. Among the most noteworthy of these driving factors are:

  • A growing need for DA systems and boards with higher channel counts, greater converter resolution, and faster data sampling rates.
  • A growing need to invest in DA systems which use communications networks that provide the greatest bandwidth, interoperability, speed, and/or fulfill the customer's specific application requirements.
  • A growing desire to work with suppliers, and/or their partners, to develop more meaningful relationships in which the user company and its partner co-develop product road maps, service and solution integration road maps, and strive to develop a deeper understanding of how the right DA system can improve customer operations and/or solve the respective pain points, such as providing greater visibility into operational efficiency through actionable data that were either unavailable or nonexistent before.
  • Although the market for DA systems is fragmented, suppliers enjoying the greatest future success will be those who understand their customer's application needs and work to provide products and services designed to meet those needs at a competitive price/value proposition. They will also leverage more intimate customer relationships to identify new applications and continue to help the customer solve their operational problems.

The market for DA systems has experienced some interesting changes since VDC covered the market during its 2008 research investigation. Among the most noteworthy changes:

  • The market for modular DA systems, which represents the largest external chassis and module product segment under study, is expected to experience the fastest growth in demand (Figure 2) among all external system-level products across all three major geographic regions, the Americas, Asia-Pacific, and EMEA. VDC defined modular systems as products that use plug-in modules to customize the types of signals that can be input or output from the system. Examples of such products include National Instruments' CompactDAQ, Yokogawa's MW 100, and Dataforth's isoLynx system.
  • Demand for paperless chart recorders, as well as data loggers with LCD displays, has also been more robust than VDC's earlier forecast. Stronger demand is due to continued product improvements and new product design that provides real-time visibility, agility, flexibility, and enhanced analytical functionality. The continued move away from paper-based recording also continues to fuel above-average growth for paperless solutions.
  • The continued migration towards USB- and Ethernet-based front-end systems that offer PC computing power and functionality is resulting in faster adoption rates than previously forecast. Users are increasingly relying on the speed, performance, and ease-of-use provided by products that use these standard communication technologies and are using them to gain access to real-time actionable information.
  • Demand for legacy platforms such as data loggers and stand-alone systems is expected to lag behind other systems that offer multifunction performance, enhanced flexibility, and/or greater real-time information access and delivery.
Figure 2. Forecast DA Solution shipments to global markets arranged by platform type
Figure 2. Forecast DA solution shipments to global markets arranged by platform type

The need for DA systems cuts across every industry and application because the ability to obtain real-world data (i.e., pressure, temperature, flow, etc.,) and to transform it into actionable real-time information has never been more widespread and urgent. VDC's research has determined that demand for DA systems is greatest in the Americas and Asia-Pacific regions, where the systems are more widely deployed in manufacturing applications—in both process and discrete, laboratory/R&D, scientific, military, and aerospace markets.

Based on expectations of continued expansion in China and other developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region, VDC is forecasting the fastest market growth rates in the Asia-Pacific region (Figure 3). We also see growth in the military and aerospace segments in several Asia-Pacific countries as they seek to lessen their reliance on the U.S. for security and China seeks to grow its influence and presence in the region.


Figure 3. Worldwide DA solution shipments segmented by major region
Figure 3. Worldwide DA solution shipments segmented by major region


VDC does not foresee any major slowdowns in the outsourcing of domestic (i.e., U.S.) manufacturing and R&D operations to the Asia-Pacific region during the forecast period through 2015. However, VDC does anticipate a resurgence of "made in America" manufacturing that will stem the tide of outsourcing of domestic manufacturing jobs overseas and that manufacturing operations in the U.S. will begin to recover starting in late 2015.

The need to obtain data from real-world phenomena is required across a plethora of consuming industries and market segments. Based on 2011 worldwide DA platform shipments, the top fifteen consuming industries, ranked from highest to lowest, are shown in the table in Figure 4:

Figure 4. Top fifteen consumers of DA products

External Chassis and Modules Plug-In Analog I/O Boards
Electric Power Military/Aerospace
Automotive Electric Power
Military/Aerospace Testing Laboratories
Environmental Monitoring Automotive
Testing Laboratories Medical/Health
Pharmaceutical Semiconductor
Electrical Products Electrical Products
Water/Wastewater Oil/Gas
Consumer Electronics Food and Beverage
Food and Beverage Consumer Electronics
Oil/Gas Petrochemical
Petrochemical Pharmaceutical
Medical/Health Water/Wastewater
Chemical Universities
Primary Metals Environmental Monitoring

1. Top five consuming industries accounted for almost 48% of external chassis shipments and 55% of board shipments
2. Top ten consuming industries accounted for >69% of chassis shipments and 75% of plug-in board shipments

VDC segmented the market for DA systems for a number of major application classes that serve the listed industries. Based on 2011 worldwide shipments, the top ten major application classes, ranked from highest to lowest, are shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5. Top major application classes for DA system use

External Chassis and Modules Plug-In Analog I/O Boards
Online Process Manufacturing Military/Aerospace
Offline Production Testing/QC Online Process Manufacturing
Scientific Online Discrete Manufacturing
Military/Aerospace Offline Production Testing/QC
Online Discrete Manufacturing Scientific
Laboratory/R&D Laboratory/R&D
Industrial Maintenance Design Validation Testing
Electronic Testing Electronic Testing
Design Validation Testing Functional Testing
Structural Testing Structural Testing


VDC obtained feedback from 600 respondents identified as users and related stakeholders (e.g., end users, OEMs, and channel partners) to learn more about the key factors driving their investment decisions in the various DA systems under study. The feedback indicated that for both users of eternal chassis and modules and users of plug-in DA boards, the requirements are similar, yet nuanced. Accuracy topped the list of most important product features considered when making an investment in an external chassis and module and/or plug-in analog I/O board system. The top 15 product features, in descending order, are listed in Figure 6. A user's commercial requirements and preferences are, in many cases, just as important as their technical requirements during the investment decision-making process (Figure 7).


Figure 6. The top fifteen product features for DA products

Figure 6. The top 15 product features for DA products


Figure 7. Vendor selection criteria

Figure 7. Vendor selection criteria


The competitive landscape in the DA systems marketplace, especially that for external chassis, is almost as fragmented as the industries and application segments in which they are used. Although in several instances the leading players were companies providing a broader product portfolio in terms of platform types, there were almost as many instances in which a supplier with a narrow product focus enjoyed a relatively large market share and/or business volumes (Figure 8). National Instruments dominated the top ten suppliers of each major product platform category and enjoys very strong brand name recognition.

Figure 8. The top ten suppliers for both external chassis and modules and plug-in analog I/O boards

External Chassis and Modules Plug-In Analog I/O Boards
National Instruments National Instruments
Yokogawa VTI Instruments
Bruel & Kjaer Agilent Technologies
Campbell Scientific Advantech Corp.
Agilent Technologies Pentek
Dewetron ADLink Technology
Hioki E.E. Corp. DynamicSignals
Fluke Corp. Acromag Inc.
Invensys Eurotherm Measurement Computing Corp. (IOTech)

1. Top five suppliers accounted for >41% of external chassis shipments and almost 61% of plug-in board shipments
2. Top ten suppliers industries accounted for almost 55% of chassis shipments and >76% of plug-in board shipments

In the final analysis, VDC determined that the overall market for DA systems is large and growing. It is also highly fragmented; the customer segments each possess varying applications needs, technical performance requirements, and commercial requirements. However, VDC determined that many of these customer segments could be grouped into meaningful clusters that can be well served by different DA systems in a more effective manner.

J Timothy Shea is a Senior Analyst for VDC Research Group, Natick, MA. He can be reached at 508-653-9000, x-132, tims@vdcresearch.com.

About the Author: J Timothy Shea

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