NI will now join the long list of T&M companies whose names we’ll see only online, on eBay, and at electronics flea markets. Product names such as LabVIEW should live on.
This week, Emerson announced its acquisition of NI, the company formerly and still legally known as National Instruments, for $8.2 billion. Having covered test and measurement since 1992, I watched NI grow from a mid-sized company to a major player in the business.
Looking back on NI and having attended numerous NI Weeks, I was always impressed by the company’s clever engineering and marketing. After all, NI invented LabVIEW and PXI, technologies running countless automated test stations on benches and in factories. As the back of the first NI Week (1995) T-shirt said, the number one reason for attending was to “See what NI’s competitors will copy next.”
The press release announcing the acquisition says, “NI will become a new reported segment within Emerson called Test & Measurement and will be consolidated into the Software and Control group.” That surely means the NI and National Instruments names will vanish. I assume that the domain name ni.com will someday redirect to somewhere on the Emerson site. The folks in Austin are probably now designing new labels for their hardware and software products. The bird logo, which had already been replaced for marketing purposes, will one day be seen only on eBay and in flea markets.
In my years covering test, many companies have been acquired and their names extinguished. Here are some that disappeared into NI:
- HiQ: Math software incorporated into LabVIEW
Hyperception: DSP software.
- AWR: RF design software. The AWR name never completely vanished and is now part of Cadence.
- IOtech and Data Translation: Both data-acquisition companies were once fierce NI competitors. Both were acquired by NI subsidiary Measurement Computing. I can’t help but wonder what will happen to that business. Will it fall under Emerson, be spun off, or be sold?
- OptimalPlus: data analytics software.
- Capital Equipment Corp. (CEC): The company made GPIB interface cards and data-acquisition equipment. Like Measurement Computing, CEC was acquired by NI because it developed graphical programming software for test instruments. NI went after several companies claiming patent infringement. NI also purchased Wavetest software from Wavetek as part of its domination of graphical programming. Other companies such as Intelligent Instrumentation also developed graphical programming platforms that no longer exist.
What might become of NI’s flagship product, LabVIEW? If you’re a LabVIEW developer or have followed NI as long as I have, you know that its following borders on a religion. It’s now closing in on it’s 40th birthday.
For most of NI’s life, Dr. James Truchard called the shots. He and several others built the company from nothing into what Emerson paid $8.2B to acquire. Truchard, a recipient of many industry awards including induction into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame, ran NI until his retirement in 2018. Alex Davern took over from Truchard, a move I never understood given that Davern came from the finance side of the company and was not an engineer. On February 1, 2020, Eric Starkloff succeeded Davern, who is now on the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin. I interviewed Starkloff later that year. Starkloff came to NI out of Virginia Tech as an application engineer, rising through the marketing ranks to eventually become CEO. With the Emerson acquisition, Starkloff surely heads off into the sunset a rich man. He announced his departure on October 12, 2023, in a LinkedIn post.
What about everyone else, the engineers, assemblers, programmers, marketers, and other employees? Hopefully, they will all keep their jobs. Too often, it’s the staff who pays the price when a new owner initiates round after round of staff reductions. Sometimes, those cuts make sense but too often it’s just to raise the stock price.
In addition to the NI name about to vanish, NI stock is no longer traded on the NASDAQ. NI went public in 1995. The publisher of the magazine where I worked at the time bought stock at the IPO price, something I find questionable given that NI was a major advertiser. NI bought the back cover of every issue. The image shows one of them, announcing LabVIEW 4.0 in 1996.
Now, NI joins a long list of test-equipment companies whose names have vanished due to acquisition. What test-and-measurement companies do you recall? Leave a comment.
For a detailed account of NI’s history, read Measuring History by Blake Snow. See my book review.