2009 EDN Innovation Awards Finalist

EDN Innovation Awards Finalist

EDN Innovation Awards

EDN Innovation Awards

EDN Innovation Awards

This is a bit of a different post. I’m pretty stoked that we are finalists in the 2009 EDN Innovation Awards in 2 separate categories. The award categories are:

  • Best Application Of Analogue Design
  • Best Application Of Design Software

Here is a list of the EDN Innovation Awards Finalists and we are in the 2 categories at the bottom of the page dealing with Analogue Design and Design Software.

 

So I thought I might let you know a bit more about the project, and also give a public thanks to Pablo Varjabedian of Borgtech for allowing us to put the project forward. We design Electronics and Embedded Software products primarily for Australian Electronics Manufacturers. Our focus is outstanding Electronics Design that will propel them into a world class competitive position while delivering improved profit margins. Low Cost Electronics Manufacture but with outstanding performance and reliability.

 

We routinely use non-disclosure agreements, NDAs, with our clients and so don’t usually get the chance to put our design work forward for awards because we will never disclose a client’s Intellectual Property, IP, without their express permission. In this case Borgtech gave us permission and so we were able. As you can probably see, there is a real benefit to the client in allowing the award application because they also get recognition for the product.

 

This is also not an unusual project for us. We have done a lot of outstanding work over the 12 years we have been in operation. So it is good to have some of it recognised by the Industry we are so passionate about.

 

Electronics Design Details

This project was an example of our Project Priorities Perspective in action. In this case Performance was the primary concern with cost coming second and time coming last. We spent the time to get the performance up and the cost down. There was an earlier post on one aspect of this project where we looked at Analogue Electronics as a way to improve battery life in a Low Powered Electronics Data Logger.

 

The Electronics Design trade offs were:

  • OH&S or Operational Health and Safety – must protect users from hazardous voltages
  • Low Power Electronics – operates from 3 AA cells for up to 6 months
  • Convenience – Analogue front end completely Software Controlled
  • High Reading Accuracy – millivolt resolution over +/-10V range with 60dB Mains Rejection

There were many other Design Requirements but the above list are the core Electronics Design Requirements addressed as part of the award nomination. Below I will look at each of these in turn.

Protection From Hazardous Voltages

Now lets look at the hazardous voltage issue in a little bit more detail. The voltages in questions were:

  • 5000V, 5KV, for 2 seconds
  • 250VAC continuously

These come about due to the conduction of Lightning Strike Transients or Mains Leakage Voltages onto the Pipelines and Storage Tanks monitored for Corrosion Protection status. The Analogue Electronics front end had to provide protection against these cases while meeting all the other Design Requirements. And of course quickly settle so that only the readings during the disturbance were affected.

 

It also led to the use of an 802.15.4 RF Telemetry Link because this meant the monitoring PC could do Real Time Monitoring without hazard. Many other products in this industry use RS232, RS485 or even I2C connections for monitoring, configuration and upload of the Data Logger Records. In the case of the Borgtech CPL2 you can put it in place and then configure it and start the logging with no danger to the operator apart from the moment of electrical connection. And the initial part of the run can be monitored to ensure everything is correctly set up. Otherwise you could get a months worth of data that was useless.

 

And finally, because of the power budget and the possibility of the batteries going flat, the Analogue Electronics had to survive the above Abuse Voltages unpowered!

Low Power Electronics

The Borgtech CPL2 is a Battery Operated device. There are several reasons for this but the 3 most relevant are that it is:

  • IP68 sealed against water ingress – it is often installed in a pit that can flood
  • Must operate remotely from a convenient power source
  • Protects the operator and PC from Transient Voltages since there isn’t a direct electrical connection

But this is also part of the challenge. For convenience it used off the shelf batteries you can buy at any service station. But to get 6 months life required a strong Power Management approach including powering down anything not in use including the Analogue front end. If you are taking a reading every minute over six months then most of the device is off most of the time. In this mode the average Power Consumption is 37uA.

Analogue Electronics – Software Controlled

The Borgtech CPL2 handles both Current Shunt and voltage mode readings. The Analogue Electronics were designed to have a software selectable full scale range of +/-10VDC and +/-150mVDC so that is could do either mode of operation from the same input. The previous model required a different connection for each of these modes and most other models on the market are the same.

 

And all of this while maintaining accuracy, abuse voltage protection and low power operation.

High Reading Accuracy

By the standards of an Agilent (I still want to call them Hewlett Packard) 6.5 digit laboratory multimeter our millivolt, mV, resolution at +/-10VDC isn’t rocket science. But for a device with the Voltage Abuse Protection and Low Power Electronics requirements we had to meet, it is pretty good. Another small twist you might not recognise is that it is +/-10VDC. This means you can monitor it with the polarity inverted and fix it up later on by inverting all the readings. The previous model was unipolar and so you couldn’t do this meaning you could have just wasted a month. And then there is the live monitoring so you can see what the readings look like before leavign the unit to log away in the background.

 

EDN Innovation Awards

On 17 September 2009 we know the final outcome but either way I am pretty happy to have the recognition this project has already received.

 

Ray Keefe has been developing high quality and market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. For more information go to his LinkedIn profile.This post is Copyright © Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Sprechen De Cantonese? – Electronics Design in Australia

There are many companies successfully doing good business in China. Most of them are large, have deep pockets and have core staff in China making sure it stays good. Names like Sony, Siemens, IBM (Lenovo)…

 

Smaller companies can run into trouble. This is a case study of a project we were able to rescue. I won’t give out technical or commercially sensitive details (we will never do that – in fact we offer an NDA, Non-Disclosure Agreement, to all our clients) but I will look at the overall project and the issues that arose.

 

For ease of reference, I will refer to the client as Mr Electronics. Mr Electronics had spent a year getting a product developed in China with the ultimate aim of manufacturing it there. Conventional wisdom was on Mr Electronics’ side. Most people believe that it is cheaper to make things in China than here. And the engineering effort was being done for free by the manufacturer. What is not to like about this arrangement? It has both the perceived benefits of making electronics products in China:

  1. low manufacturing cost
  2. low engineering cost

So where is the catch?

Well, you might have noticed that Mr Electronics had spent a year to date on the project. What I didn’t tell you is that it was simple product; conceptually simple and physically simple. It was battery operated and only did one thing. Every time the project was reviewed with the manufacturer and the question was asked if everything was now clear, the answer was “Yes“. Yet every prototype presented clearly showed the answer should have been “Clueless“. They were not speaking the same language! It wasn’t just English versus Chinese, but it was a completely different culture of how to communicate. Since “Yes” is the best answer, it is the only answer you get, regardless of the real situation. Mr Electronics is not alone in having run into this issue.

 

A year is a long time to not have your product available for sale!

In frustration, Mr Electronics approached us to review the project and advise on how to proceed. The production in this case was going to remain in China (you can’t win them all) since the manufacturer had developed the enclosure and that part looked to be acceptable. So we concentrated on the electronics and software. Within 17 days we had obtained the following outomes:

  1. analysed the specification and recommended changes that doubled the battery life while improving performance
  2. designed the electronics, PCB layout and software
  3. produced a fully working prototype unit for evaluation
  4. generated all the production documentation to make, program and test the PCB (circuit board)

Although I’m proud of the result we got here, my point is that they might have never gone to market if they had stayed on the original path.

 

So did Mr Electronics have a happy outcome? Not completely!

 

Mr Electronics isn’t very much out of pocket since the actual cost was low, even for 10,000 units. He is however out nearly 2 years of his life, hasn’t captured the market opportunity he originally aimed at and isn’t enjoying the profit stream he deserved since his product was a good idea and should have been a commercial winner.

 

Some key take home points for me were:

  1. get the right people involved and you can reduce your time and cost to market
  2. get the right people involved and you can get a better outcome than you can achieve on your own
  3. China might be cheap but that doesn’t guarantee you will get a commercially successful outcome
  4. “Yes” only means “Yes” when you are both speaking the same language

OK, this post looked at what can go wrong. And unfortunately Mr Electronics’ experience is not unique. But from here on I plan to stick to how to make things go right.

 

Next I will show you our Project Priorities Perspective and how it can help to bring focus and clarity to maximise the commercial outcome.

 

Ray Keefe has been developing high quality and market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. For more information go to his LinkedIn profile. This post is Copyright © Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

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