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Introduction to DAQ Software

gathering data

Software for DAQ systems has advanced rapidly over the past few years. Gone are the days of having to write software from scratch for every sensor in your DAQ system. And whilst some of the skill of writing bespoke DAQ software might have faded into the past, the data tools available now offer far more powerful data manipulation and analysis than ever before. This, and the ever decreasing cost of DAQ software, means that it is becoming ever more common to see DAQ systems implemented even on amateur projects.

Whilst the software you use to manipulate and analyse your DAQ data will depend on your individual requirements, and it is therefore hard to recommend the right approach for you, in general there are three approaches to DAQ software – the old-school, bespoke approach, off-the-shelf proprietary DAQ software, and software incorporated into your input device. Let’s take a look at all three.

The Traditional Way

The old-school way of collecting and analysing DAQ data was to have an engineer write you bespoke software for each and every sensor you had implemented. If that sounds like it was a slow, laborious process, you don’t know the half of it.

Today, this approach is not really suitable for the vast majority of users. Some highly technical industries, employing exotic sensors and requiring very low latency rates, still benefit from having bespoke software written for them. For most of us, however, the hassle and expense of doing this rules it out.

Proprietary DAQ Software

Once DAQ cards become standard across many industries, it was possible for software companies to build software that could aggregate and analyse data from most of these cards. Today, there are a huge number of software solutions available for DAQ systems, ranging from simple data loggers to fully-featured data visualization software.

Among the most popular packages today are: WinDaq, a pretty basic but reliable solution; IceCube, a little more expensive but offering a huge scope for modification and customization; and Chameleon DAQ, a newcomer to the market but quickly making a name for itself.

These software packages have many advantages, of course. The ability to analyse data from within common desktop environments, and output this in widely-recognized formats, is a huge advantage over older systems.

Incorporated DAQ Software

That said, proprietary DAQ software still commonly requires the user to have some knowledge of a range of proprietary computer programming languages. The outcome of this is that companies have to spend resources on getting specialists in to program their DAQ systems, and amateur users have to waste many hours learning coding just to get the data they need.

Accordingly, in recent years some DAQ devices have incorporated software into the hardware DAQ device itself. There are many advantages to this approach – not only are these systems easier to use, but the fact that this software is running on a dedicated piece of hardware greatly reduces latency time.

Overall, for most small businesses and amateur users, this kind of DAQ software is recommended, if only because it can be used “straight out of the box”.

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Input Device for DAQ – What is the Best Way to Gather Data

Today we will take a look at input devices for Data Acquisition (DAQ) systems. If you are new to DAQ, or are coming to it afresh after some time away, it’s worth reminding yourself of the basic parts of DAQ systems.

Essentially, most DAQ systems incorporate three components – the sensors that take a real-world phenomenon and turn it into an electrical signal, a card or other device that aggregates and sometimes amplifies these inputs, and then the computer terminal which is used to analyse the data produced.

Input devices are therefore at the heart of DAQ systems, taking the input from many sensors, aggregating them, and then passing them to software for analysis. Nowadays, many input devices are able to perform quite sophisticated manipulation of signals before passing them to software, and these devices range widely in terms of performance and extra features.

It is impossible, of course, to recommend the perfect DAQ input device for your purposes, because the sheer range of systems that now have DAQ systems incorporated in them means that each system is unique.

Nevertheless, there are three broad types of data input device, and it worth knowing the differences between them:

Direct Output

This is the way it used to be done, in the bad old days before modern systems. Typically, in a factory 20 years ago, each sensor would be hard-linked to a dedicated computer terminal. There were many problems with this approach, not least the expense of having individual terminals for each sensor, and replacing these every time the factory’s environment killed them.

Today, this is not a serious consideration for most DAQ users, unless you have very specific requirements that necessitate a direct hardware link.

DAQ Cards

When DAQ cards were invented a few decades ago, they were hailed as a revolution in DAQ systems. The advantage over older systems was certainly pronounced – one card inside a computer could take and aggregate inputs from multiple sensors, and this significantly cut down the cost of DAQ systems.

As DAQ cards developed, the number of inputs they could receive increased year on year, and multi-channel DAQ systems became commonly used. The low initial investment also meant that many companies who had never used DAQ systems before started to implement them.

In addition, as DAQ cards developed, more and more sensors and software systems were made compatible with them, which helped them to become the industry standard DAQ input device for many years.

Portable DAQ Units

Today, however, DAQ cards are themselves being replaced with portable, discrete DAQ units. These devices incorporate all of the advantages of DAQ cards, being massively multi-channel and able to accept a huge range of input types, but also have a few features that give them the edge.

Many of these new devices are able to output data via wi-fi, for instance, using already existing infrastructure as a medium to collect DAQ data, and further cutting costs. This also makes them portable, obviating the need to disassemble machinery to access DAQ data.

All in all, it is expected that these portable DAQ input devices will eventually replace DAQ cards in the vast majority of situations.