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FAQ: The LabVIEW Platform for Industrial Applications

What is the National Instruments LabVIEW Platform?

The National Instruments LabVIEW Platform is a tightly integrated suite of industry-standard hardware components and software tools for building measurement and automation applications. It is widely recognized as one of the strongest and most flexible platforms available for developing Mixed Signal I/O Systems. LabVIEW is the primary software development tool within the LabVIEW Platform, but it is not the only one - the Platform also includes tools for ANSI Standard C and MS Visual Studio, and other configurable software tools that do not require programming.

LabVIEW sounds like a "lab" application - can it handle real-world industrial problems?

Don't be misled by the name. When LabVIEW was initially developed by National Instruments in the early 1980s it was conceived as an engineering "laboratory tool" - Laboratory Virtual Instrument Engineering Workbench. However, as one of the first graphical engineering applications developed for the new generation of Windows and Macintosh PCs, it was very quickly pulled by its target market (engineers) into mainstream engineering software development. It has been actively developed for the broad engineering software market ever since.

My IT Manager/Consultant says LabVIEW is not powerful enough for heavyweight engineering applications and that I should be using C (or C++). Are they right?

Your IT Manager/Consultant is wrong. LabVIEW is an exceptionally powerful high-level application development environment that is optimised for creating measurement and automation applications. ICON Technologies has been working with LabVIEW for over 20 years, and we have never encountered a project that we were unable to complete very effectively using LabVIEW, including full control systems for major pilot plants and critical sub-systems of traditional plant DCS systems. On more than one occasion we have been asked by our clients to take over and complete projects that had exhausted the capabilities of their existing (C or C++ using) contractors. In reality LabVIEW, C, and C++ are all equally powerful programming tools - what you can get out of each tool is more about the skills and experience of your developer than the tool itself.

For another take on the same question see this link - LabVIEW or C? (Could You Rephrase the Question).

How can my professionally trained and experienced IT Manager/Consultant be so wrong?

Most IT Managers/Consultants have received their formal training and experience in IT environments, not engineering enviroments. These IT environments are dominated by enterprise languages like C and C++. In most cases they may have never even heard of LabVIEW, and they almost certainly will have never used it. If they have encountered LabVIEW, it is often limited to LabVIEW code created by undergraduate engineers with only a few days formal experience of LabVIEW, and no software engineering skills or experience at all. They simply don't know any better!

Does the National Instruments LabVIEW Platform include PLC hardware?

No - National Instruments themselves do not manufacture PLCs.  However the Platform does include tools that allow LabVIEW to read and write data in a supervisory capacity to any industry standard PLC. So a system based on the LabVIEW Platform can include industry standard PLCs within its I/O options, and can also act as a Master or Slave to any other traditional PLC-based SCADA System.

The LabVIEW Platform DOES include what is arguably the industry's widest range of PAC (Programmable Automation Controller) products.  A PAC is like a very, very smart PLC, and is increasingly replacing the PLC as the I/O device of choice for demanding industrial measurement and automation applications.

Can LabVIEW be used to program my PLC?

No - you cannot use LabVIEW to program a PLC.  You will continue to program your PLCs using the PLC vendor supplied tools that you or your engineering staff are familiar with. But you can read and write to your PLC code from a LabVIEW application. So a LabVIEW application could write a control loop setpoint to a PLC, and read back the system response.

You CAN use LabVIEW to program all operations of a National Instruments PAC.