- National Instruments
National Instrument Corporation Type Public Traded as NASDAQ: NATI Founded 1976 Founder(s) James Truchard
Headquarters Austin, Texas, U.S. Key people James Truchard
(Chairman and CEO)
Revenue US$ 873.220 million (2010) Operating income US$ 128.313 million (2010) Net income US$ 109.116 million (2010) Total assets US$ 959.682 million (2010) Total equity US$ 744.545 million (2010) Employees 5,280 (December 2010) Website NI.com
National Instruments Corporation, or NI (NASDAQ: NATI), is an American company with over 5,000 employees and direct operations in 41 countries. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, it is a producer of automated test equipment and virtual instrumentation software. Their software products include LabVIEW, a graphical development environment, LabWindows/CVI, which provides VI tools for C, TestStand, a test sequencing and management environment, and Multisim (formerly Electronics Workbench), an electrical circuit analysis program. Their hardware products include VXI, VMEbus, and PXI frames and modules, as well as interfaces for GPIB, I²C, and other industrial automation standards. They also sell real-time embedded controllers, including Compact FieldPoint and CompactRIO. Common applications include data acquisition, instrument control and machine vision.
In 2010, the company sold products to more than 30,000 companies in 91 countries with revenues of $860 million. For twelve consecutive years since 2000, Fortune magazine named National Instruments one of the 100 best companies to work for in America.
In the early 1970s, three young men, James Truchard, Jeff Kodosky, and Bill Nowlin, were working at the University of Texas at Austin Applied Research Laboratories. As part of a project conducting research for the U.S. Navy, the men were using early computer technology to collect and analyze data. Frustrated with the inefficient data collection methods they were using, the three decided to create a product that would enable their task to be done more easily. In 1976, working in the garage at Truchard's home, the three founded a new company. They attempted to incorporate under several names, including Longhorn Instruments and Texas Digital, but all were rejected. Finally, they settled on the current name of National Instruments.
With a $10,000 loan from Interfirst Bank, the group bought a PDP-11/04 microcomputer and, for their first project, designed and built a GPIB interface for it. Their first sale was the result of a cold call to Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Because the trio were still employed by the University of Texas, in 1977 they hired their first full-time employee, Kim Harrison-Hosen, who handled orders, billing, and customer inquiries. By the end of the year they had sold three boards, and, to attract more business, the company produced and sent a mailer to 15,000 users of the PDP-11 microcomputer. As sales increased, they were able to move into a real office space in 1978, occupying a 600-square-foot (56 m2) office at 9513 Burnet Road in Austin.
At the end of the 1970s, the company booked $400,000 in orders, recording a $60,000 profit. In 1980 Truchard, Kodosky, and Nowlin quit their jobs to devote themselves full-time to National Instruments, and at the end of the year moved the company to a larger office, renting 5,000 square feet (500 m2) of office space. To assist in generating revenue, the company undertook numerous special projects, working on a fuel-pump credit-card system and a waveform generator for I.S. Navy sonar acoustic testing. By 1981, the company reached the $1 million sales mark, leading them to move to a 10,000-square-foot (1,000 m2) office in 1982.
In 1983 National Instruments reached an organizational milestone, developing their first GPIB board to connect instruments to IBM PCs. With the arrival of the Macintosh computer, however, the company felt ready to take advantage of the new graphical interfaces. Kodosky began a research initiative with the assistance of student researchers at the University of Texas into ways to exploit the new interface. This led to the creation of NI's flagship product, the LabVIEW graphical development platform for the Macintosh computer, which was released in 1986. The software allows engineers and scientists to program graphically, by "wiring" icons together instead of typing text-based code. By allowing people to use a more intuitive, less-structured development environment, their productivity greatly increased, making LabVIEW quite popular. The following year, a version of LabVIEW, known as LabWindows, was released for the DOS environment.
The company counted 100 employees by 1986. To keep their employees happy, the founders used the motto "Work hard, and then let's have some fun." Employee achievements, no matter how small, were celebrated, and the company hosted various social gatherings for their employees both during and after working hours. This philosophy of celebrating their employees and playing hard is one the company would retain through its growth.
As part of the company's decision to begin direct sales of its products rather than representative distribution, in 1987 the company opened its first international branch, in Tokyo, Japan. To engage all of their employees, NI began holding all-hands gatherings at headquarters to communicate key messages to their employees and motivate them to excel.
After growing their staff enough to take over almost the entire building they were renting, in 1990 NI moved to a new building at 6504 Bridge Point Parkway, which the company purchased in 1991. The building, located along Lake Austin near the Loop 360 Bridge, became known as "Silicon Hills = Bridge Point."
NI received their first patent for LabVIEW in 1991. Later that year, they introduced Signal Conditioning eXtensions for Instrumentation (SCXI) to expand the signal-processing capabilities of the PC, and, in 1992, LabVIEW was first released for Windows-based PCs and Unix workstations. To further assist their customers, NI also created the National Instruments Alliance Partner program, attracting a worldwide selection of third-party developers, systems integrators, and consultants who could extend the capabilities of the NI hardware and software.
With LabVIEW now available to a much larger audience, in 1993 the company reached the milestone of $100 million in annual sales. To attract C/C++ programmers, later that year NI introduced LabWindows/CVI. The following year an industrious employee began experiments with the relatively new World Wide Web and developed natinst.com, the company's very first web page. As the company continued to grow, they began to run out of room in their approximately 136,000-square-foot (12,600 m2) campus. In 1994, NI broke ground on a new campus, located at a 72-acre (290,000 m2) site along North Mopac boulevard in northern Austin. By this time, NI had reached 1000 employees.
The new NI campus, which opened in 1998, was designed to be employee-friendly. It contains dedicated "play" areas, including basketball and volleyball courts, an employee gym, and a campus-wide walking trail. Each of the buildings on the campus are lined with windows and feature an open floor plan, so that the employees seated in cubicles throughout the building are never far from the sun and views of northwest Austin. To maintain the focus on equality among the employees, even "Dr. T", as the employees call their CEO, sits in an open cubicle and does not have an assigned parking space.
Employees had been granted stock in the privately-held company as part of their compensation packages. When the company chose to go public in 1995, over 300 current and former employees owned stock. The company is now listed on the NASDAQ exchange as NATI. The initial public offering went well, and although many of the stock-holding employees were suddenly wealthy enough to retire, most of them chose to remain with the company, and many still work there a decade later.
By the late 1990s, customers had begun using LabVIEW in industrial automation applications. With LabVIEW and the more advanced DAQ boards provided by the company, engineers could now replace expensive, fixed-function, vendor-defined instruments with a custom PC-based system that would acquire, analyze, and present data with added flexibility and a lower cost. With the company's acquisition of Georgetown Systems Lookout software, NI products were further incorporated into applications run on the factory-floor. By 1996, the company had reached $200 million in annual sales, and was named to Forbes magazine's 200 Best Small Companies list.
Over the next several years, the engineers at NI continued to stretch the boundaries of virtual instrumentation, releasing machine vision software and hardware, which allow cameras to act as sensors, and motion control hardware and software. NI also introduced the CompactPCI-based PXI, an open industry standard for modular measurement and automation, and NI TestStand, which provides for tracking high-volume manufacturing tests.
User traffic and e-commerce rapidly improved after the company acquired the ni.com URL and began investing in web technologies to better highlight their products. The company quickly introduced online configuration tools to help customers decide which NI products would best interact to solve their problem, and introduced NI Developer Zone, which provides the end-user developers access to example programs, sample code, and development tips, as well as forums in which users and NI employees could help answer questions about the products.
NI undertook a building spree in 2000-2001, first opening its first international manufacturing plant in Debrecen, Hungary. This 144,000-square-foot (13,400 m2) plant helped to diversify the company's manufacturing capabilities, which had been centered at company headquarters in Austin, and allowed for more direct shipping to the company's European customers. NI now manufactures nearly 90% of its production in Debrecen. In 2002, the company dedicated the 379,000-square-foot (35,200 m2), eight-story Truchard Design Center (known simply as Building C to employees) on their Mopac campus, which became the headquarters for the company's R&D operations. Upon completion of this building, the NI campus finally had enough capacity to move all Austin-based employees to a single location.
National Instruments sued MathWorks for patent violations in 2002. For the next several years NI argued in court that MathWorks had infringed on four NI patents, as their Simulink software was very similar to LabVIEW. A jury found that all four patents, U.S. Patent Nos. 4,901,221; 4,914,568; 5,301,336; and 5,291,587, were valid, and that the first three were illegally infringed upon. After several appeals, the case was finally resolved in 2004, when a federal judge barred The Mathworks, Inc. from manufacturing and shipping their Simulink products. NI offers a LabVIEW Simulation Interface Toolkit which customers of MathWorks can purchase so that they have a licensed way to control and use the data they acquired while using Simulink.
Following the company model of selling directly to customers, by 2006 NI had opened 21 sales offices in Europe and 12 offices in the Asia/Pacific region, as well as a multitude of offices in the Americas, Africa, and the Middle East. Research and Development centers are located in the U.S., Germany, India, Romania, China, Canada, Denmark and Malaysia.
Beginning in 1995, National Instruments has held an annual developer conference in Austin. Engineers and scientists from around the world attend the week-long conference at the Austin Convention Center. Activities center on technical sessions on the company's products as well as the underlying technologies, presented both by NI employees and external presenters. An exhibition hall allows selected industry integrators and suppliers to showcase their products, and various customers or university students also present papers on their work with NI tools.
In 2011, National Instruments donated testing equipment to Greentown Labs, an incubator in Boston providing a space for a group of entrepreneurs to form a hands-on "clean-tech" workshop where they might present their clean energy ideas in a room with other like-minded companies.
- ^ a b c d e f "National Instruments 2010 Form 10-K Annual Report". United States Securities and Exchange Commission. 2010. http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/935494/000093549411000009/d123110.htm. Retrieved 2011-04-07.
- ^ "FORTUNE Magazine Again Names National Instruments Among '100 Best Companies to Work For'". National Instruments (press release). 2011. http://digital.ni.com/worldwide/bwcontent.nsf/web/all/C3E7833EFCF00F478625781E0050139F. Retrieved 2011-04-04.
- ^ Seegmiller, Neal (2006). "James Truchard and National Instruments: Engineering a Successful Company" (PDF). University of Texas at Austin. http://www.engr.utexas.edu/roden/archive/essay/2006/1st2006.pdf. Retrieved 2007-03-02.
- ^ a b Schneiderman, Rob (October 21, 2002). "James Truchard and Jeff Kodosky: Turning PCs into Virtual Instruments". Electronics Design. http://www.elecdesign.com/Articles/Index.cfm?AD=1&ArticleID=2860. Retrieved 2007-03-02.
- ^ a b c d "Three Entrepreneurs Seed a Revolution". National Instruments. 2006. http://www.ni.com/anniversary/chapter1.htm. Retrieved 2007-03-02.
- ^ a b c d e f g h "Building a Global Community". National Instruments. 2006. http://www.ni.com/anniversary/chapter2.htm. Retrieved 2007-03-02.
- ^ a b c d e f g h i "Measurement and Automation - Transforming the World Around Us". National Instruments. 2006. http://www.ni.com/anniversary/chapter3.htm. Retrieved 2007-03-02.
- ^ "Court of Appeals Upholds Patent Infringement Judgment Against The MathWorks, Inc.". Machine Vision Online. September 8, 2004. http://www.machinevisiononline.org/public/articles/archivedetails.cfm?id=2169. Retrieved 2007-03-02.
- ^ "Court Enforces NI's patent infringement case against The MathWorks". Austin Business Journal. October 15, 2004. http://www.bizjournals.com/austin/stories/2004/10/11/daily35.html. Retrieved 2007-03-02.
- ^ Martin LaMonica, CNET. "Clean-tech incubator gets down and dirty." Jul 1, 2011. Retrieved Jul 1, 2011.
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