Successful Endeavours - Electronics Designs That Work!

Analog Electronics


Technology Selection

Before we look at how to choose a Technology, what does Technology mean?

In very general terms, Technology is understanding how stuff works and how to get it to do what you want.

Technology Selection

Technology Selection

There is lots of different stuff available. In the case of Electronics Design this stuff is the type of Electronics you will use and how you will make use of it. The most important choice to make is to determine:

  • What functions will I implement using Electronic Hardware ?
  • What functions will I implement using Embedded Software ?
  • What functions will I implement using Remote Communications ?

In looking at the answers to these questions I also need to consider:

  • Cost to Design
  • Cost to Manufacture
  • Cost to support
  • Production Volume
  • Power Consumption
  • Performance
  • Time to market

In the process of Product Development it is often Technology Selection that can make the biggest difference.

Electronics Hardware

If there is no software involved, then this is the choice of which devices can be used to implement the design and how best to use them.

Electronics Hardware

Electronics Hardware

A recent example for us was the interface and power supply for a new GPS module for the Yarra Trams Passenger Information Systems. There was a problem with the existing GPS modules in scenarios where buildings either side caused the GPS module to lose position. And guess what you have a lot of in the central part of a city? That’s right, taller buildings. The Passenger Information Systems required an accurate GPS position to work correctly. So the GPS module had been selected including the use of dead reckoning to update the position based on the wheel rotation and the interface between this and the rest of the tram had to be designed including some level shifting to adjust voltage levels. We also manufactured the interfaces for them.

Yarra Trams VPIS

Yarra Trams VPIS

So that is an example of a project that required no Software.

But most of the time there will be Embedded Software involved. And there are several really good reasons for this:

  • Embedded Software costs less in manufacture – see Reducing Electronics Manufacturing Parts Cost
  • Embedded Software is extremely flexible
  • Embedded Software can test itself
  • Embedded Software improves field support, service and upgrade capability
  • The Electronics Hardware to run Embedded Software gets cheaper every year
  • Remote Communications is getting cheaper all the time

So today we spend 80% of our time writing Embedded Software in C and C++ to run on the Electronics Hardware we design through the PCB Prototype or even Production. This is known as an Embedded System.

For this typical project type we do as much in Software as we can.

Embedded Software

Embedded Software is the software that runs on the Electronics Hardware. Unless the product must be super Low Power Electronics, we will do everything in Software except for the power supply and physical interfaces to the outside world. But there are a few caveats:

  • signal filtering is usually more power effective in Analog Electronics than DSP
  • sleep and wake timing for high powered systems is often best done with external Electronics Hardware
  • you have to be able to select a Microcontroller that has the right combination of price, features and performance
Embedded Software

Embedded Software

Given the enormous range of devices available today you would think the last point was easily covered but a recent project we did ended up with only 1 possible choice in the whole world for the Microcontroller. Here is the requirements list:

  • Run from a button cell for at least 2 years
  • Has a beeper
  • Has an LED
  • Operated from -20C to +70C
  • After a period of dormancy, start flashing the LED and activating the beeper
  • Beeper frequency, on time, off time, number of cycles and gap time are configurable
  • LED on time, off time, number of cycles and gap time are configurable
  • Dormant period is configurable
  • Unit timing must be accurate to better than 1 hour per year
  • Unit price in 100K quantities must be less than US$1
  • Software must be protected from copying

The solution was an MSP430 based device from Texas Instruments with a 32KHz crystal. Actual cost ended up at US$0.71. And absolutely everything was done in Software.

Remote Communications

 With ubiquitous Internet enabled devices, knows as the Internet of Things or IoT, it is more cost effective than ever to add Remote Communications to products. This can have many benefits that reduce the cost of field and service support for a product and also makes possible features you could not have provided any other way.

Remote Communications GSM Modem Cinterion

Remote Communications GSM Modem

An example from a recent water metering project we undertook. This is a remote water dispensing system, also known as a Bulk Filling Station, that records who took water, how much water, when and where. The transaction is sent to a website via GSM modem and the Council can get the records to bill for the water without having to travel. It also means the tanker drivers don’t have to manually fill out log books and the Council don’t have to chase them for the data. Great savings there alone. But there were some extra benefits for us and the client that they hadn’t considered. These were:

  • Remote updates to the system application
  • Maintenance monitoring of batteries and valves
  • Regular check in to confirm the system was still operational

So if a new feature is needed, we can update the software and remotely distribute it the units in the field. Since these are currently spread over half of the east half of Australia that is an enormous saving. 

Internet of Things - IoT

Internet of Things – IoT

And we can also determine when the batteries need to be swapped out so that can be a preventative maintenance operation at a time of the Council’s choosing and not an emergency call out when a truck driver can’t get water. It is quite common for the first tanker to fill up before dawn when the solar charging has been off overnight and the temperature is at its minimum for the day. The worst timing from the batteries perspective so it just works better all round if we known for sure how the batteries are travelling by keeping track. It also means that if a solar panel is damaged the Council can see there is an issue before the system stops working.

And the regular check in allows the Council to know if a unit is still operational or not. A recent example from NSW was a fire fighting crew going to a water dispensing point to refill their tanker during a bushfire only to find it had failed sometime last winter and never been repaired. With Remote Communications you can avoid that and although it costs more to design,manufacture and operate (due to SIM costs) it can still reduce the overall cost of a system significantly.

So that is the general process. Once we have decided what we will do in Electronics Hardware, Embedded Software and how much Remote Communications to use we are ready to get into the Electronics Design in detail.

And of course, no post like this is complete without an input from Dilbert.

Technology Selection - Get It Right

Technology Selection – Get It Right

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2014 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

On the threshold of a career

I have often been asked about how I got into Engineering. I got a serious reminder of it on 23 November 2011 when I went to see The Moody Blues in concert in St Kilda.

The Moody Blues - Live in St. Kilda 2011

The Moody Blues – Live in St. Kilda 2011

I had started a science degree at Deakin University in Waurn Ponds, Geelong, and stopped after the first year because I realised I didn’t have a good reason for being there. I had always liked science but I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career.

Isn’t life strange

One thing that did happen that year was that a fellow student introduced me to a music group I had never heard of. This was The Moody Blues. I was hooked on the first listen. They sang songs about the meaning of life and communicated with such skill that I wanted to able to do the same. So I took up guitar and started teaching myself how to play.

At the end of that year I decided not to go back for second year of science and took a year off. I worked a couple of mundane jobs, move from Geelong to South Melbourne and joined a pub band to try my hand at music. We were no comparison to The Moody Blues but something very important happened. I found that I loved working with the equipment and thought it would be really cool to be able to design my own guitar effects, amplifiers and PA equipment. Music Electronics was the career for me.

I had no idea what to study so I went back to Deakin University and asked them. They said that I should do a degree in Electrical Engineering majoring in Electronics. So that is what I did for the next 4 years. This time I had a reason to be there and it showed in my academic results when I graduated with a First Class Honours degree and a grade average of a High Distinction. I also started designing music equipment during my career and even before graduating had equipment installed in recording studies and sold to professional musicians.

So that is how I got started in Electronics and why Analogue Electronics is one of my technical specialties.

Lovely to see you again my friend

So back to the concert.

The Moody Blues - Live in St. Kilda 2011

The Moody Blues – Live in St. Kilda 2011

Wow. The Moody Blues were founded in 1963 and the main lineup dates from 1967 where they released the first concept album. That’s right, they beat the Beatles to it. The album was Days of Future Past. Of that lineup, 3 are still touring: Justin Hayward, John Lodge and Graeme Edge. Graeme Edge turned 70 earlier this year. And they still rock. That’s what finding the right career does for you. Passion and perseverance for the long haul. It is one of the best concerts I have ever been to.

And again I am grateful for the inspiration they were to me and for the career in Electronics that came from that.

Some of you may have noticed that the headings are all based on albums or songs by The Moody Blues.

New Horizons

I still play guitar and now also produce music. So as an example, here is a piece I recently produced trying to capture the journey from uncertainty into hope using music only. It is titled “Finding Hope“. Enjoy.

Finding Hope -Ray Keefe

Finding Hope -Ray Keefe

Finding Hope – © Ray Keefe Right click to save or click to listen in the browser.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years.  This post is Copyright © 2011  Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd

Australian Engineering Week 2010

Today begins Australian Engineering Week 2010.  You can get a full run down on all the events at Make It So which you might recognise as a tribute to the Star Trek series. 

It got me thinking about why I got started in Engineering.  It was music.  I had done 1 year of a Science degree focusing on Physics and Chemistry at Deakin University and had taken a year off because I had no idea why I was doing a degree.  So I worked a few mundane jobs and joined a pub band.  We were pretty bad.  I had only started playing guitar a year before that.  The equipment was low grade and needed a lot of maintenance and I was constantly trying to improve the PA, the mixer, the guitar and amplifier and the effects.  They were all analogue electronics in those days. It was mostly trial and error and occasionally trial and success!

What if I knew enough about Electronics to be able to improve, or even design from scratch, my own guitar effects pedals, guitar amplifiers, mixing desks and PA system?

But where would I learn that?  So I went back to Deakin University and asked them.  And they suggested Engineering.  I had mostly thought of Engineering as roads, buildings, bridges and transport so this was a new type of Engineering for me.  But I was also hooked.

Four years later with a First Class Honours Degree in Electrical Engineering I was doing just what I had set out to do.  Electronics Design was now a part of who I was, not just an area of study.   My rig was designed and built by me.  And I also doing electronics design and custom pro-audio equipment construction for recording studios and professional musicians.

So check out Australian Engineering Week 2010 and for some more insights into Engineering you can also read the blog at Engineering Education Australia.

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 © 2010  Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

We have been pretty busy so far this year preparing several new products for both the Australian and International markets including an advanced DNP3 enabled power controller for the American Smart Grid initiative.  So it was a pleasant interruption to this when we received news that our local Council wanted to run a feature on us for their business magazine.

City Of Casey

The City Of Casey In Business Magazine recently featured Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd following our national recognition with 2 national awards in the technical areas of Analogue Electronics Design and the use of Electronics Design Software in bringing advanced Electronics products quickly to market.

Check out what the City Of Casey have to say about us in this extract from their In Business Magazine, “Casey Electronics Business Wins Innovation Awards“.  You can see the full In Business Magazine here City Of Casey In Business Magazine which not only has an article on Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd but also on another local company, Paint Tek.  Paint-Tek is run by a good friend of ours and they specialise in custom surface coatings and treatments.  Ross also runs Can-Tek who specialise in pre-gassed aerosol cans, contract aerosol packing  and a range of water and solvent based aerosols in retail, commercial and industrial grades.

You can check out the full story on all our awards at Successful Endeavours awards.

It was an honour to be recognised by our city council together with other small business owners in the City of Casey, a municipality in the outer south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

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.

Electronics Design To Save Energy

We have looked at how Low Power Electronics is a green strategy because it reduces the amount of power that has to be generated.  And then we looked at a range of options for Reducing Electronics Power Consumption.

Now we are into specifics.  The last post looked at Sleep Modes For Microcontrollers and how extending the Sleep Period and reducing the Sleep Current could dramatically Reduce Electronics Power Consumption.

Saving Electronics Power When Awake

The next logical step is to ensure that Power Consumption when awake is also reduced as much as possible.  This can be a little tricky to get right as it can sometimes eliminate all the benefits you built up with you sleep strategy.  The reasons for this are:

  • you can use Analogue Electronics to reduce software power requirements but it has to be turned off during Sleep Mode
  • if you do turn the power off to Analogue Electronics then there is a Settling Time after it is powered up
  • using Smart Electronics Chips can increase overall Quiescent Current
  • unless the Startup Time and Shutdown Time are quick, these can dominate the Power Consumption

Now there are some Software Architecture issues that affect these, especially the last one, but we will look at that in another post.  For the last part of this post we will address the Electronics Design issues that have been raised here.

Electronics Design – To Save Power

Electronics Design can address these Power Consumption issues.  Here is an example of a Power Consumption curve where an RC Time Constant must be taken into account to minimise average Power Consumption.

RC Time Constant affect Power Consumption

RC Time Constant affect Power Consumption

Here is a list of general strategies to select from to reduce Power Consumption:

  • using the lowest feasible Clock Rate so Clocked Devices use less power
  • using shorter Settling Times particularly by controlling RC Time Constants
  • select semiconductors for lowest overall Quiescent Current taking awake and sleep operation into account
  • ensure streamlined Startup and Shutdown operation

The overall Quiescent Current issues often gives the most difficulty.  This can be addressed through Design Simulation either by SPICE, Software Modelling or a spreadsheet.  For simpler systems the spreadsheet is often the easiest solution to implement.  For very Software Intensive Systems the Software Modelling approach is the most reliable method.  This will allow you to construct scenarios and be able to predict the Power Consumption implications for each of them.

For our Electronics Design and System Test methodology we often create a full system Software Model and so it is easy to use this same Software Model to accumulate the power consumption as it runs.  This can also be automated and so simulate months of operation very quickly.

Next we will look at the role of Embedded Software in ensuring Power Consumption remains as low as possible.

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.

What is so good about Low Power Electronics?

If you read my last post, you would have noticed that this has the potential to reduce overall Power Requirements.  Up until now,  only Battery Operated Devices have really cared about Power Consumption.  If you could plug it into a wall outlet then all was OK unless you were consuming more power than a standard circuit allowed.

Today, things are different.  Climate Change is a global concern and reducing the Carbon Footprint for a product is important, regardless of what sort of power it consumes.

If we can reduce the Power Consumption of an appliance by 50%, then provided it’s Electronics Manufacture does not add that back again, we have a net Carbon Footprint gain.  In fact, if we can do this across all products then we will meet our Global Carbon Reduction target of 50% by 2050 with this strategy alone.

How to reduce Electronics Power Consumption

This is not a new topic, and much of what I present here represents the combined experience of the Electronics and Embedded Software industry.  Here is the short list:

  • reduce the Supply Voltage for Microcontrollers, Microprocessors and CMOS Circuits in general
  • use Sleep Modes and keep the Wake Periods as short as possible
  • replace High Power Consumption Devices with Low Power Consumption Devices
  • replace high utilisation Digital Filters with Analogue Electronics equivalents
  • replace Polled Operating Modes with Event Driven Operating Modes
  • use Low Power Smart Peripherals that Wake the rest of the System only when required
  • reduce the Time To Wake and the Time To Sleep
  • optimise the Software Execution Flow
  • use Energy Harvesting
  • Remove power from sections of Electronics Circuitry when not in use

There is overlap and interdependency between these but that is a good starting point.

Next I will start look at specific examples.

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.

 

Electronics Manufacturers are the people we serve

A common question we are asked is what sort of Electronics Manufacturers do we Develop Products for?

So I thought I would compile 3 lists:

  • The first is a list of the Electronics and Embedded Software product types we have worked on
  • The second list is a list of the industries we have Developed Products for
  • And the third list is the Technologies we have worked with so far

I might have to regularly update this third list since knowledge and technology are constantly expanding.  Before I do the lists I’d like to present a video that specifically addresses this last point.  This is very much worth thinking about.  Enjoy.

Electronics and Embedded Software Products

Did you notice the section from 1:45 to 2:15?  We are being prepared for jobs that don’t yet exist, technologies that haven’t been invented, and problems we don’t even know we will have!

Here is the list of some of the Electronics and Embedded Software Products that do already exist and which we have helped to create:

(more…)

Analogue Design Awards

You might recall we were finalists in the EDN Innovation Awards 2009 .  Yesterday, we were in Sydney for the EDN Innovation Awards dinner held at Dockside, Cockle Bay Wharf.

We came away with 2 trophies.  The awards were:

  • Best Application of Analogue Design – Highly Commended
  • Best Application of Design Software – Highly Commended

 

EDN Innovation Awards 2009

Successful Endeavours – EDN Innovation Awards 2009

 

Ray Keefe receives the EDN Innovation Award for Best Application of Analogue Design

Ray Keefe receives the EDN Innovation Award for Best Application of Analogue Design

We are very pleased to have had Australian Electronics Industry leaders recognise our work as being of the highest standard.

And thanks again to Pablo Varjabedian of Borgtech Pty Ltd for his support and encouragement and for having a vision as we do that products like the Borgtech CPL2 can and should be Made in Australia.

There have also been several newspaper articles focusing on the role of local businesses in the Australian Electronics Manufacturing Industry.

Casey Weekly Berwick 31 August 2009 Electronics Whiz Wired For Success

Wyndham Weekly 30 September 2009 It’s A Pipe Dream

Casey Weekly Berwick 5 October 2009  Electronics Firm Delivers The Goods

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.

Electronics Development and Success

Hello again,

A couple of posts ago in Electronics Manufacture Shines in Melbourne I said I would explain the origins of our company name.  Many have suggested that Successful Endeavours sounds more like a personal coaching enterprise or a business that handles products by people like:

And the list could go on for a long time.

While I do hope we motivate and encourage our clients to improve their results, we assist them by undertaking activities such as:

Electronics Development Activities

  • Electronic Circuit Design
  • Electronic Circuit Simulation
  • Analogue Electronics
  • Analogue Design
  • Printed Circuit Board Design
  • Printed Circuit Board Layout
  • Electronic Prototyping
  • Electronic Testing
  • Embedded Software Design
  • Embedded Software Development
  • Embedded Software Coding
  • Embedded C
  • Embedded Software Debug

 

Development Statistics

The name came from some industry statistics on the success rate for Product Development.  You can read more details in Reducing Electronics and Embedded Software Product Development Costs and I will summarise here:

  • 80% of embedded development projects fail in someway or another
  • Embedded software is 80% of the cost of an embedded development project
  • Embedded software is responsible for 80% of the delays and shortcomings

 

Successful Product Development

So it seemed to me that many Product Development Projects are unsuccessful endeavours.  I wanted to change that.  We have a success rate significantly better than all the industry norms. Our short USP ( Unique Selling Proposition ) is:

We Make Stuff Work

That’s it.  The details are complex but the philosophy is simple.  So for me, Electronics and Embedded Software Development should be a routinely Successful Endeavour.  And so the name Successful Endeavours was chosen.

I am passionate and committed to assisting Australian Electronics Manufacturers who want to keep making their products in Australia.  Made In Australia is what we are pursuing and we are focusing on this segment.

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.

 

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.

 

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