National Instruments Corporation, or NI, is an American multinational company with international operation. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, it is a producer of automated test equipment and virtual instrumentation software. Common applications include data acquisition, instrument control and machine vision.
In 2016, the company sold products to more than 35,000 companies with revenues of $1.23 billion USD.
In the early 1970s, 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 minicomputer 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 minicomputer. 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, Texas.
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 U.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.
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.
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 domain 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.
In the 2000s, NI began exporting most of its manufacturing overseas by 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. NI now manufactures nearly 90% of its production in Debrecen and has expanded several times in the last decade. In 2011, with a multimillion-dollar grant from the government, NI increased production in Debrecen by approximately 20%. With state-of-the-art automation processes, headcount increased by only 2%.
In 2002, the company dedicated the 379,000-square-foot (35,200 m2) Building C 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.
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.
National Instruments' engineering software includes:
National Instruments' hardware platforms include:
The National Instruments Electronics Workbench Group is responsible for creating the electronic circuit design software NI Multisim and NI Ultiboard, which was previously a Canada-based company that first produced MultiSIM, and integrated ULTIboard with it.
Interactive Image Technologies was founded in 1995 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada by Joe Koenig, and specialized in producing educational movies and documentaries. When the government of Ontario needed an educational tool for teaching electronics in colleges, the company created a circuit simulator called Electronics Workbench.
In 1998 the company started a strategic partnership with another electronic design automation company named Ultimate Technology from Naarden, Netherlands who was the European market leader in printed circuit board design software, with their package ULTIboard. Like Electronics Workbench, founder James Post had focused heavily on the educational market and gained PR fame when he organized the distribution of 180,000 demo floppy disks via electronics magazines in Europe.
In 1999 the companies merged, and renamed itself after its most well known product, Electronics Workbench. The then current product line consisted of schematic capture and a simulation product named MultiSIM and the printed circuit board software called Ultiboard. Soon thereafter the combined product suite became worldwide leader in PC based computer-aided design.
In 2005 the company was acquired by National Instruments, and was rebranded as National Instruments Electronics Workbench Group.
Beginning in 1995, National Instruments has held an annual developer conference in Austin, NIWeek. 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.