National Instruments (NI) knows you like to take tests. The company's instrumentation hardware and graphical software convert standard PCs into industrial automation and test and measurement systems. These "virtual instruments" can observe, measure, and control electrical signals and physical attributes such as voltage and pressure. The company also offers programming environments (LabVIEW and Measurement Studio) for creating customizable graphical interfaces, controlling instruments, and capturing and analyzing data. In addition, NI provides test management software for running automated factory test systems. Customers outside the Americas account for around 60% of sales.
NI has offices in more than 40 countries. Its manufacturing plants are located in the US (Texas), as well as in Hungary and Malaysia.
Customers located in North and South America account for 40% of sales. Asia accounts for another 35% of sales, while customers in Europe round out the remaining 25%.
Sales and Marketing
NI relies on a direct sales force to sell hardware and software to its customer base of 35,000 companies. Less than 10% of sales are made through alternative channels, such as distributors, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), value-added resellers (VARs), system integrators, and consultants.
The company targets the automotive, aerospace, computer and electronics, automated test equipment, consumer electronics, education, government and defense, medical research, energy, pharmaceutical, semiconductor, and telecommunications industries, among others.
Throughout its history NI has relied on relentless promotion and publicity to get its name out in front of engineers and researchers. It advertises heavily in trade publications from Reed Business Information US, CMP Media,Penton Media, and other publishers, while unleashing barrages of product press releases on trade editors on an almost daily basis.
The company also promotes itself through technical seminars and conferences presented around the world and over the Internet. Its biggest event is the annual NIWeek conference, staged each summer at the Austin Convention Center, near NI's headquarters. Held every year since 1995, NIWeek attracts thousands of attendees from all over the world.
Sales were up 12% in 2012 to a record $1.14 billion. (NI hit the $1 billion mark for the first time in 2011.) The company enjoyed robust sales in both product and software maintenance around the world. Large orders (valued at more than $100,000) were also on the rise – in 2012 NI sold $59 million in graphical system design application products to one customer. That year the company also took in $90 million in profits.
Mergers and Acquisitions
NI is not heavily acquisitive, but it did buy two companies in 2011, beginning with development partner Phase Matrix for $40 million. Phase Matrix makes radio-frequency (RF) and microwave test and measurement instruments, subsystems, and components. The acquisition drove growth in RF and microwave test instrumentation by adding high-frequency technology and manufacturing capabilities. Phase Matrix will operate as a subsidiary of NI, and continue to sell products directly to customers and OEMs.
A couple months later it bought AWR Corporation, a developer of software used to design RF and high-frequency components and systems for the aerospace and defense, communications, test equipment, and semiconductor industries. NI paid around $66 million for the company, which strengthened its LabVIEW software and RF testing hardware platforms.