Successful Endeavours - Electronics Designs That Work!

Product Development


Software Costing

There is an old saying that goes something like this: “hardware is almost free and comes from China; but software is actually free and comes from India”. Actually not such on old saying, and certainly not true. But we do see signs of this myth being alive and well when providing project pricing and estimates for new clients. I covered some of this in Software Estimation.

Software Estimation

Software Estimation

This was about how to try and work out a Software Development Budget in advance. Including forgetting that the entire Software Development Process involves more than just typing. So is it possible to know what it really  costs from real world (non-imaginary) data?

Software Cost

The answer is that it is. My thanks got to VDC Research who recently did a survey of Embedded Developers and made the data available to subscribers of The Embedded Muse, a software development newsletter authored by Jack Ganssle. If you develop software, especially for Embedded Systems, I recommend you sign up if you aren’t already a subscriber.

Jack Ganssle

Jack Ganssle

Here is a summary of some statistics that gave me insights into real Software Development Costs.

Average Median
Project Team Members 19 7
Project Cost $27,000,000 $250,000
Lines of Code 627,000 20,000

So that is a big spread. Our projects are often below the median level shown here so I was interested to work out what these statistics translate to in cost. The $ are all USD$. And the large lines of code average probably represents larger projects using a major Operating System such as Linux as part of the project.

Cost per team member Cost per line of code
Average $1,421,052 $43.06
Median $35,714 $12.50

My first thought is that we don’t charge enough if these are industry typical figures. A bit more thinking shows the process costs of much larger systems. As far as I know there would be few software developers actually getting $1M for their part in the project. And there will be tools costs also included. The statistic missing for me was the duration the money was spent over. We typically budget $5 per line of code for larger projects (20K lines is a decent sized project for a small embedded system) and $2.50 for smaller ones (say 5K lines of code of less).

So there you have a really rough way of estimating cost based on Lines of Code and number of Software Developers involved.

The above is a very small example of the data collected by VDC Research so consider signing up if you want to see all of it.

Software Lines of Code

Software Lines of Code, or LOC, is only one measure of a project. There is much more to consider. We had a recent project where we were asked to fix 50K lines of code for a product that was proving unreliable. So I ran RSM over the top of it to get the average Cylcomatic Complexity and got 6.2! Those who know what that means probably have no idea how you could write code that hard to debug. And no, it wasn’t lots of switch statements. So is the correct answer $250K at $5 per line of code for a complete rewrite?

The answer is a resounding “NO”!

And the reason is because we redesigned the control flow and changed the UI to a table driven design and reduced a spaghetti mess of 50K lines of code down to 10K lines of cleanly designed code. Which is a budget more like $50K. In this case, it was much more cost effective to redesign from scratch than to try and rescue it. We also fixed the hardware design as that was in part responsible for the unreliability.

So the other answer is that good requirements analysis and good design will reduce Software Cost.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Design Led Innovation

Traditional Product Development comes up with the product idea, does the development, gets it into production and then tries to find customers to sell it to.

Design Led Innovation tries to turn that process around so the actual needs of the customer or user become part of both the product definition and the business model development. If you haven’t already heard of it, check out the Business Model Canvas.

I get the opportunity to present on topics like Innovation to Business Groups and even MBA programs and one of the interesting statistics I use is that the number one area for Innovation in the world today is the Business Model.

How Does Design Led Innovation Work?

So how does this all work?

Design Led Innovation

Design Led Innovation Process

In Design Led Innovation, the expected outcome is that when you engage with your customer, and begin to understand their needs, then you can start to offer them something that has much higher value for them and allows you to get a better price for offering that much higher value. The outcome is the classic win:win that great business is meant to deliver. And it is a key factor in not getting caught in the classic commodity service price war with the client’s purchasing officer driving the process.

It is also a continuous process. One description is that it is like “rebuilding the plane while it is in flight”.

Sounds scary, but the results seem to show it is well worth doing.

Design Led Innovation session at SEBN

At a recent SEBN breakfast session we heard from Tricomposite about their  experience of using Design Led Innovation to revolutionise their business and not only service their existing customers better, but offer them products they didn’t even know they wanted and create a much better value offering for them than they had ever considered before. And this has opened up potential market offerings to other customers who they would never have considered they could work with.

Here are the themes they explored in finding this offering:

  • focus on designers, not buyers
  • test is time pressure leads to design mistakes
  • test is rapid full-sized final material prototypes were valuable
  • test if there was room for service level agreements
  • test if there was room for collaborative design

And the answer to 4 of these was a resounding yes. Only the service level agreement test failed. Basically, customers expect service as a given. But the rest has opened up a complete rethink of their business. In fact, they shared that it was their existing perspective on their business that proved to be their biggest limiting factor.

Business Model Canvas

Rethinking the Business Model is a key component of Design Led Innovation. But not as an end in itself. Only after understanding your customer’s real needs can you determine how to make it easier to do business with them.

I recommend getting the Business Model Canvas book and taking advantage of the free downloads at Strategyzer. Here is a example of one of their tools.

Business Model Canvas Example

Business Model Canvas Example

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2016 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Requirements Capture versus Product Specification

In our post on Requirements Capture I looked at how we can go about understanding what a product has to do, who it has to do it for, and how to assess that. The output of this process is often referred to as a Product Specification or more specifically a Product Technical Specification.

One way to think if this is that Requirements Capture is a pull process, where as Product Specification is often a push process.

I was amused to read Jama Software’s blog on this topic where they show a number of ways to go about writing the Product Specification. My favourite was their description of letting the development team write the specification.

Developers Write the Specifcation

Developers Write the Specification

We see a lot of this with web development where the web developers want to try a particular tool or technique so they use it for your project whether that is good for you or not. Below is a summary  of the other options and some common pitfalls.

Customer Supplied Specifications

If the customer is writing from a marketing perspective or a specific opportunity then you can end up with a very useful Product Specification. But if it purely a sales driven process then you often end up with the following combination:

  • superset of the features of all other products on the market
  • at a price 10% below the cheapest product on the market

This generally leads to a project doomed to fail or at the very least puts the product in a price war with a race to the bottom of the market. At the very least, it can put a straight jacket on the product and significantly reduce the likelihood of commercial success.

A marketing driven process will determine where in the market a product can be and at what price, for who and a clear strategy for competing with the other offerings.

Ask the customer

As Steve Jobs famously said, “don’t ask them, they don’t know”.  This isn’t always true, but the client often doesn’t know what is possible and part of the role of Product Developers is to give good guidance on Technology Selection to give the product an edge in the market.

Otherwise, you just deliver what they asked for without caring about their success. I often think this is one thing we offer. We care about the client’s success.

Analyse across all constraints

This is the process we try and use.  And it is well captured in this image from Jama Software.

Product Specification

Product Specification

To be successful, a product should:

  • be possible and affordable with available technology you can actually buy or deploy
  • solve a well defined problem in an acceptable manner
  • fit within the constraints of either the manufacturing capability, logistics capability or market channels available

The last point is often overlooked. I was recently asked why we couldn’t design a product that cost $20 to make, have the range of a mobile phone, be manufactured in quantities of 100 of on demand, a development budget of under $20,000 and be able to be deployed with no infrastructure costs. This is an example of a wish list that can’t be realised as it is currently expressed. However, when we looked at it from a different perspective, we were able to come up with a solution. The questions we asked were:

  • why do they want it?
  • who do they wanted it for?
  • what problem is it meant to solve?
  • what is solving that problem worth to the end user / buyer?
  • what is the manufactured volume versus unit price trade-off?
  • what can it really cost to develop and manufacture and still be profitable?

And suddenly the impossible can become possible. In this case they knew their market well. It was just an example of the customer starting with a specification rather than using the resources around them to get to a specification that could lead to commercial success.

And ultimately, that is where a Product Specification is meant to lead to: commercial success.

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 © 2015 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things, or IoT as it is abbreviated to, is still an emerging trend. But it is driving some substantial changes in some industry areas. This includes the 4th Industrial Revolution, also known as Industry 4.0.

If you are deploying to a factory or industrial complex, then generally the networking and power is already dealt with and you can piggy back off the existing infrastructure. But what about deploying Remote Telemetry? If you wanted to measure water tank levels or water usage in a rural location you might have to use a solar powered or primary battery powered system and 3G or 4G communications to get the data back to a website or server. That can have its own challenges. The typical industrial computer used for these monitoring tasks and posting reports or transactions requires a lot of power to run and is expensive. So can you do it if the budget for the hardware is $600, you don’t want to use solar cells and also don’t want to change the batteries every month?

The answer is YES. Check out this short video to find out how.

The awards referred to are covered in our recent posts on the National Manufacturing Week Endeavour Awards and the Process Automation and Control Electronics PACE Zenith Awards. The applicable categories are:

  • Water and Wastewater – IoT Monitoring Platform
  • Best Fieldbus Implementation – IoT Monitoring Platform
  • Power and Energy Management – IoT Monitoring Platform
  • Australian Industrial Product of the Year – IoT Monitoring Platform
  • IT Application of the Year – Telemetry Host IoT web platform
Endeavour Awards 2015 Finalists

Endeavour Awards 2015 Finalists

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 © 2015 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Product Development

As a process, Product Development can be handled a number of different ways. And if your product only requires input from a single technical discipline which you are very experienced in, then you can usually predict everything you need to do and just make sure it all happens the right way.

But if the product is complex, involves many disciplines, and has unknowns about the technical direction to take, then it can sometimes resemble a roller coaster ride more than it does a straight forward journey. And there can be unexpected bumps along the way.

Our most recent employee brought this video to my attention and I thought it covered this topic really well. We used it for an in house lunch and learn session so I recommend you check it out to. It isn’t short so you might want to set aside a time you can sit back and enjoy it.

The presented is Andrew “Bunnie” Huang and the conference he is presenting at is linux.conf.au 2013. 

Quite a list of things you can run into just getting a fully package embedded computing device ready for market. The HDMI Man In The Middle exploit was my favourite part.

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 © 2015 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Printed Circuit Board Assembly

Also referred to as a PCA, the Printed Circuit Board Assembly follows on from Printed Circuit Board Manufacture. This is where the components are placed onto the Printed Circuit Board and the electrical connections formed.

In this post I will focus on volume manufacturing techniques. We also make Printed Circuit Board Assemblies in house by hand loading very small quantities. This is appropriate for prototypes and Niche Manufacturing quantities.

To start with, lets look at the 2 types of components we most work with. The first type is the Through Hole Component. These have pins that go through the PCB to make electrical connection. These components dominated PCB Assemblies until the 1980s when higher PCB loading density requires a change of technology. They are still widely used where mechanical strength, tall components, heavy components or high current levels are involved. An example is shown below with the connectors, relays, transformers and removable components as Through Hole with the Surface Mount Components toward the centre: 

Through Hole Technology

Through Hole Technology

The second type is the Surface Mount Component or Surface Mount Device and the overall process is referred to as Surface Mount Technology or SMT. These devices do not require holes through the PCB to mount them and so can be placed closer together and it also improves track routing options because tracks can run on the other side of the PCB without having to avoid the through holes. An example of all Surface Mount assembly is shown below in close up:

Electronics Hardware

Electronics Hardware

 Printed Circuit Board Assembly Process

The infographic below was provided by Algen Cruz of Advanced Assembly in the USA. Algen also provided a brief explanation to go with it and I have added that as well. You can click on the infographic to view a larger version. 

Printed Circuit Board Assembly

Printed Circuit Board Assembly

 “Design-for-Assembly (DFA), although not as well known as Design-for Manufacturing (DFM), needs to be taken into account during the design phase. And the first step in being able to design-for-assembly is to understand the assembly process. This infographic features this process by showing how a board goes from an unpopulated printed circuit board (PCB) to a final product, ready to be packaged and sent to consumers.” Algan Cruz

 

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 © 2015 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Printed Circuit Boards

In our series on Electronics Design we have looked at the Electronics Design Process from Requirements Capture, Technology Selection, Component Selection, Schematic Capture and finally the Printed Circuit Board or PCB Layout. Now we have a design and the Electronics CAD files to make a Prototype. 

There are a number of steps involved in making a PCB and the following infographic provides an overview.

PCB Manufacture Steps

PCB Manufacture Steps

This infographic is courtesy of Newbury Electronics.

PCB Manufacturing Problems

That is a lot of steps. And there are things that can go wrong. The main pitfalls to avoid in the PCB Design Process are:

  • track widths too narrow
  • clearances between tracks are too small
  • acute angle entry to pads
  • component footprints have pins in the wrong place or the wrong size
  • component outlines are wrong
  • silkscreen or overlay over solder pads
  • via annulus too thin
  • mounting holes in the wrong place or the wrong size
  • PCB outline incorrect
  • PCB 3D profile doesn’t fit into the intended enclosure

 And there are a range of issues that can affect the PCB Manufacturing Process. These include:

  • misalignment of drill holes to tracks to PCB outline routing
  • internal cut outs missed / not routed
  • over etching or under etching of the copper
  • incomplete plated through holes
  • poor surface finish
  • poor FR4 and copper bonding or moisture ingress leading to delamination

Maybe you are wondering how a PCB ever gets made successfully? This comes back to undertaking the PCB Design with an understanding of both electronics engineering design principles and the process capability of the manufacturer into account. And when you get it right, the final product can be pretty awesome. A good example can be found at this post about making a Fine Pitch PCB

RGB LED Array Close Up

RGB LED Array Close Up

Next we will look at the PCB Assembly process.

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 © 2015 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

PCB Layout

After the Schematic Capture component of the Electronics Design  is complete, the logical connections for the electronics components have been determined. If the Electronics CAD package also supports it, you can add rules to guide the Printed Circuit Board Layout, also abbreviated to PCB Layout which we will use from here on.

The PCB provides both the mechanical support for the components and is many cases is a critical part of the circuit since the length of tracks, their thickness, their clearance from other tracks and the relative placement of components and tracks can significantly influence the final performance of the PCB. This is particularly true as power levels, clock speeds or frequency increases.

The Electronic Schematic defines the electrical connections between components, the value of components such as resistors, capacitors and inductors, the type of semiconductors used (silicon chips) and the connectors that take signals and power on and off the PCB. Each item on the schematic has to be linked to a physical shape that will go onto the PCB. This is done by assigning a footprint to the schematic item.

Schematic Symbol

I will explain  it works. The Schematic Symbol for an FT232RL USB Serial Interface device is shown below. This is arranged with the signals conveniently placed to suit logical connections and to make the overall Schematic easy to read and understand.  The signal name is shown inside the symbol boundary, and the pin number of the IC package is shown on the outside. 

FT232RL Schematic Symbol

FT232RL Schematic Symbol

Schematic Circuit

So this  is the symbol for a single part, an IC or Integrated Circuit. The Schematic Circuit or Electronic Schematic shows the connections to the other parts of the circuit. Below we see USB connector wired up the the FT232RL IC and the power supply bypass capacitors. The logic level UART signals are shown at the top right. This section of the Electronic Schematic provides the logical connections for a USB serial interface.

FT232RL USB Schematic

FT232RL USB Schematic

PCB Footprint

 Before we can do the PCB Layout, we have to associate the PCB Footprint each Schematic Symbol will use. The PCB Footprint for the FT232RL IC is shown below.

FT232RL PCB Footprint

FT232RL PCB Footprint

This is one of the 2 possible footprints for the FT232RL. This one is a 28 pin SSOP package.

Once each Schematic Symbol has a PCB Footprint, we are ready to do the PCB Placement.

PCB Placement

 The first step is to create the outline for the PCB and its mounting points, then to place each PCB Footprint so it is in the correct place. For some components, such as connectors, there is a specific place it must go. For other components, there is more freedom to choose the position and there are groups of components that must be in a specific relationship to each other. An example of this are the power supply bypass capacitors which must go very near to the IC they are supporting.

An example of a completed PCB Placement is shown below. This is a USB to RS232 serial converter.

PCB Unrouted

PCB Unrouted

PCB Routing

Now we have the components where we want them, we turn on the autorouter and the PCB is finished. Sorry but I couldn’t help that. The autorouting features of most PCB Layout CAD software packages are never as good as doing it yourself. They can be useful for testing the ease of routing for a particular placement. There are a lot of manufacturing considerations that need to be taken into account and track size requirements, either for current carrying or voltage drop, can be hard to define from just the schematic. And example of this is the main system voltage such as VCC. In some parts of the circuit the required current is low so smaller track sizes are OK, whereas other areas need heavier tracks. It isn’t easy to define this at the schematic level because they are all the same signal or Net.

The PCB with the routing complete is shown below. The selection of track size is related to the current the circuit needs to carry. A good reference for determining the track size is provided by the standard IPC-2222A.

PCB Routed

PCB Routed

PCB 3D Cad Integration

 It is also important to make sure the PCB will fit into a mechanical enclosure. Most modern PCB CAD tools, such as Altium Designer which we use, can create full 3D models of the PCB. Shown below is an example of just the PCB without the components showing.

3D PCB View

3D PCB View

 So there we have it. A PCB taken from the completed Electronic Schematic through to a PCB Layout.

 Next we will look at prototyping our new PCB.

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 © 2015 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Schematic Capture

Schematic Capture is the process of defining the logic connections between different components in an Electronic Circuit. At the end of the process you have a diagram or Schematic of the circuit. That’s a complicated way of saying that it shows the connections between the selected components. We use Altium Designer as our EDA or Electronics Design Automation tool. 

That is a lot of links but this is an important part of the process. Get this wrong, and you have a product that doesn’t work.

Electronics Schematic

Electronics Schematic

This the Electronic Circuit Schematic for a 5VDC Switch Mode Power Supply, also known as SMPS. It can deliver up to 0.5A and includes a number of novel features to reduce noise and ripple. The RC damper across D5 is one of these. The other is the 82R series resistor that limits the maximum current through the charge pump diode C14. The measured ripple is less than 1mVRMS.

I’ve gone into a bit of detail because this shows how effective Component Selection can lead to a great outcome. We started with the design objective of a non-isolated power supply to get a 5VDC rail for our circuit from the incoming 12VDC rail. I wanted an efficiency above 80%, low noise, small footprint and low cost. So we looked at a wide range of suppliers including some like Texas Instruments, or TI as they are usually referred to, who have tools on their websites that will select suitable components for you. In this case they didn’t have a suitable offering but Microchip did. 

And the Schematic above is the result of the Component Selection process, review of the datasheet to get the circuit requirements for things like calculating the output voltage feedback divider (R10 and R12) correctly. And now we have our Schematic ready for creating the PCB Layout

Altium

Altium – EDA

Altium have a comprehensive tutorial on the whole process using their tool at Get Started With PCB Design.

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

Component Selection

We have worked our way through Requirements Capture and Technology Selection. After doing some initial design work and deciding on how the circuit will work, you have to find components that you can buy on a reasonable lead time and at a reasonable price. This depends a lot on the expected production volume because if the volumes are low then you might not be able to secure the components you prefer.

For products Made in Australia, the typical production volumes are less than 5000 units per annum. Products in this category are niche or low volume products and are generally defensible internationally because of the special and targeted nature of the products.  But it does introduce a complication. You don’t have much of a bargaining position with suppliers. In this circumstance you often have to look at what you can buy and from who. This will involve looking at both local distributors and international sellers of components. An example from Element 14 is shown below for options for a 22uF 350V radial leaded capacitor:

Component Selection

Component Selection

And once selected, you might have to go through this exercise for each subsequent production run. Whereas much higher volume products can negotiate forward schedule orders and secure components in advance of their being required. So each product and production run needs to be handled according to your specific circumstances.

External events can also influence component availability. As an example, after the 2011 earthquake in Japan there were many components that were in short supply for up to 6 months.

This is one of the things you look for in a Niche Electronics Manufacture supplier, the ability to handle the component selection not only for the first production run but for subsequent runs.

Electronics News

Electronics News

If you want to explore this further, I have also contributed to an Electronics News article on this topic titled Electronic component sourcing: evolution and strategies. And for Online Components I’ve written a blog post expanding on Online Component Sourcing.

Online Components

Online Components

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

Next Page »