Successful Endeavours - Electronics Designs That Work!

Technology


What if we could start again

In the days when DC converters didn’t exist, it made sense to base our electrical distribution system on transformers and AC voltage level shifting. It still makes sense to distribute at high voltage where resistive losses in the wires are a smaller issue than they are at lower voltages. But if we were starting again, what would that look like?

The Grid From The Ground Up

A new approach to electricity distribution

A new formula for electrical distribution

IEEE Spectrum have published the results of discussion on just this topic and it caught my eye. We develop products for high voltage distribution including switch gear and power factor correction controllers so I also have personal knowledge of what goes into those. The full article is at The Grid From The Ground Up – What If We Could Do It Again?

A summary of the core issues we could resolve are covered below.

High Voltage Direct Current Transmission

Use High Voltage Direct Current, or HVDC, as the transmission standard. This is now possible whereas 100 years ago it was not. As much as anything this is a legacy issue. The electricity link between Tasmania and Victoria that runs under Bass Straight uses this technology for instance.

High Voltage Direct Current Distribution

HVDC Distribution

Renewables at any level

And we would design it to cope with any level of Renewable Energy sources. This is one of the inhibiting factors for the use of fluctuating energy sources and traditionally it was considered that 8% was the maximum you could have. Germany recently showed this wasn’t the case with a German Renewable Power Contribution of 59%. There is still plenty of work to do but this is an example that some of the old paradigms are not absolute limits after all.

Sources of Renewable Energy

Renewable Energy Sources

Resilience

Another issue is the robustness or Resilience of the grid. This refers to the ability of the grid to recover from transients and faults. The Northeast Blackout of 2003 showed that a lack of Resilience is a major weakness. If you aren’t familiar with the incident then check out the following short video on what happened and wider implications for not having Resilience.

 Regardless of the source of the issue, we have to be able to quickly isolate faults and not lose complete grid control. A Resilient grid is a must.

Communication

This is one of the things needed for Resilience. All generation and transmission facilities should be able to communicate so that the system can be coordinated. This is sometimes referred to as the Smart Grid and a lot of work has been done to create robust, widespread and secure communications to measure and control the operation of the Electricity Grid. One example is DNP3 which is widely used by Power Factor Correction Controllers, Reclosers, Sectionalisers, RTUs and control systems to monitor and manage the Electricity Grid. 

An example of a DNP3 enabled device is the ABB CQ900R Power Factor Correction Controller which for which we received the Industrial Electronics Future Award in 2011. 

ABB CQ900R Smart Controller

ABB CQ900R Smart Controller with DNP3

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.

Manufacturers’ Monthly Endeavour Awards 2014

I recently spotlighted the Endeavour Awards which are held on the first evening of National Manufacturing Week. This is where we celebrate manufacturing success stories each year. What I didn’t mention at the time was that we had entered this year for the first time.

The awards are run by Manufacturers’ Monthly who also select the categories, finalists and ultimately the winners. They were first held in 2007. We have already been asked a few times if they were named after us. And the answer is that this is a pure coincidence. So a nice synchronicity but no relation.

Technology Application of the Year

We have just received the news that we are finalists in the category of Technology Application of the Year. The technology we put forward was our Production Test Technology that allows us to put in place product test end of line equipment at as little as 5% of the cost of other approaches that are more commonly used. This is one way we help Australian Electronics Manufacturers to be able to have a cost competitive product that is still Made in Australia.

Endeavour Awards Finalist 2014

Endeavour Awards Finalist 2014

We were already going to National Manufacturing Week to support Casey Cardinia Region who are exhibiting this year. We are exhibiting with them.

Casey Cardinia Region

Casey Cardinia Region

The full list of finalists is available at Endeavour Awards 2014 Finalists. There were a record 138 entries this year.

We won’t know the final outcome until 13th May 2014 when the Endeavour Awards Presentation Dinner is held at the Ivy Ballroom in Sydney. Either way we already feel like winners.

Wish us luck.

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.

Tetris

Tetris was the first Russian game exported to the USA. It is a geometric puzzle matching game where falling clusters of squares can be rotated before they hit the bottom. The aim is to form rows with no gaps. These disappear and the stack drops 1 level. The longer you can keep rows disappearing, the higher the core. Once you can no longer fit a new cluster, known as a Tetrimino, onto the screen, the game is over. It requires good 2D visualisation skills to excel at and is thoroughly addictive. I started played it in my teens and the game lent itself to computer gaming and has appeared on every platform there is.

Tetris Tetriminos - rotate and fill the gaps

Tetris Tetriminos

Skyscraper Tetris

So what can you possibly do to Innovate Tetris? Well they came up with a great idea in Philadelphia where they played Tetris using skyscrapers. 

That would have taken a little coordinating. But with the advent of modern radio based short range communications the technology is already there to do things like this.

My thanks go to Dr Marc Dussault, The Exponential Growth Strategist who brought this to my attention, and also brought back so many good memories.

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

Automated Solving of Rubik’s Cube

The whole point of Automation is to take something that was manually done, and do it via a machine or mechanism in a controlled manner. With more and more software and intelligence being available to use for any purpose, it isn’t surprising that we are looking at more and more  ways of Automating things and at a higher level of Automation.

This post was inspired by the recent breaking of the Rubik’s Cube solving record by Cubestormer 3. This is a robot driven by a smart phone. No super computers here, unless you consider that this smart phone would have been a super computer not that long ago.

Watch the whirl as the cube is solved in just over 3 seconds. 

 The other cool thing about this is that they used Lego Minstorms for the robot mechanisms! When is a toy no longer a toy? It is getting harder to tell with products like this. The Motor Drives and Electronic Controls plus software involved are getting to be impressive.

 The original story came from GEEK OUT at Gizmodo at Lego Robot With A Smartphone Brain Shatters Rubik’s Cube World Record .

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

Viewpoints matter

How does the world look to you?

 This is often one of the areas where Engineers and Customers can get out of step. And in particular, is a big issue for Software Development and IT systems. Check out the image below.

Round or Square Columns

Round or Square Columns

Technical professionals such as Engineers and Software Developers tend to be detail driven and so probably look at the system from the ground up. So we would see round columns.  

Entrepreneurs and Business Owners tend to see the world from the top down and so would see square columns. And this difference in perspective can be a problem in implementing a solution that works for the customer.

So here we have an image that represents the potential difference between the Engineer Viewpoint and Customer Viewpoint.

Requirements Management

The real issue here is Requirements Management. This is one aspect of Software Development where I like the V Model for Software Development and the European Space Agency Software Engineering process. It splits the problem down into steps and also lets you know whose language the documents at the step are written in. So User Requirements are written in the language of the use. Technical Requirements are written in the language of the technical professionals. And Requirements Analysis is required to determine the relationship between the different viewpoints. For most projects the analysis is used to translate User Requirements to Technical Requirements. So now we can all have a viewpoint that we understand and it is linked.

The V Model for Software Development

V Model

The general steps are:

  • User Requirements – in the language of the user
  • Product Requirements – in the language of the user and relevant standards and market needs
  • Technical Requirements – derived from both the above and in the language of the technician
  • Functional Decomposition – breaking the problem down into specific functions to be performed
  • Architectural Decomposition and Requirements Allocation – working out that is done in hardware, software, locally, remotely …
  • Detailed Design and Module Specifications – specific modules to be designed and tested

So we move from user language to technical language in a structured way that allows us to understand was is required and make sure nothing has been missed.

User Requirements and Technical Requirements

Requirements Analysis

Product Development Process

The Product Development Process is intended to ensure that the product meets its requirements and is delivered on time and on budget. And regardless of the size of the project the above steps are required. Who does them and how they are done is less important than that they are done. Smaller projects might not require a formal approach but any significant project certainly does. And this also helps to overcome the difference in viewpoint between Technical Professionals and their Customers.

 The image for today’s blog post was provided courtesy of Dr Marc Dussault, The Exponential Growth Strategist who is always on the look out for examples of antimimeticisomorphism, which I am sure you’ll agree this is!

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

Australian Technical Events and Conferences

My thanks go to Paul Daniels of Circuit Challenges and LC Circuits for preparing this list.

International Conference on Nanoscience and Nanotechnology 
2-6 Feb 2014
Adelaide

 
Web Directions Respond 2014
4-5 Feb 2014
Sydney
 

Electricity Network Regulation, Operation & Maintenance Conference
3-4 Mar 2014
Sydney

International Workshop on Antenna Technology
4-6 Mar 2014
Sydney
 
CONNECT — Expo 2014
13-14 Mar 2014
Melbourne
 
Australasian Software Engineering Conference
7-10 Apr 2014
Sydney
 
Working IEEE/IFIP Conference on Software Architecture
7-11 April 2014
Sydney

CeBIT
5-7 May 2014
Sydney
 
Solar 2014 Conference and Expo
8-9 May 2014
Melbourne

National Manufacturing Week
13-16 May 2014
Sydney

Future Computer and Communication Conference
29-30 May 2014
Sydney
 
International Conference on Industrial Engineering and Applications
29-30 May 2014
Sydney

IEEE International Symposium on Circuits and Systems
1-5 Jun 2014
Melbourne
 
Security Exhibition & Conference
4-6 Jun 2014
Melbourne

IEEE International Conference on Communications
10-14 Jun 2014
Sydney

2014 IEEE Workshop on Statistical Signal Processing
29 Jun – 2 Jul 2014
Gold Coast

OECC/ACOFT
(OptoElectronics and  Communication Conference/Australian Conference on Optical Fibre  Technology)
6-10 Jul 2014
Melbourne
 
Integrate 2014
26-28 Aug 2014
Sydney
 
ElectroneX (Electronics Design & Assembly Expo)
10-11 Sep 2014
Sydney

International Congress of Condition Monitoring and Diagnostic Engineering Management
16-18 Sep 2014
Brisbane

International Symposium  on Information Theory
26-29 October  2014
Melbourne

IEEE Information Theory Workshop
2-5 November  2014
Hobart

Australasian Telecommunication Networks & Applications Conference
26-28 Nov  2014
Melbourne
 
International Conference on Control, Automation, Robotics and Vision
11-12 Dec 2014
Melbourne

International Conference on Electrical Engineering and Technology
15-16 Dec 2014
Sydney

International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing
19-24 Apr 2015
Brisbane

IEEE International Conference on Power Electronics and Drive Systems
9-12 Jun 2015
Sydney
 
International Conference on Accelerator and Large Experimental Physics Control Systems
Oct 2015
Melbourne

International Symposium on Antennas and Propagation
9-12 Nov 2015
Hobart

International Conference on Vehicular Electronics and Safety
10-11 Dec 2015
Melbourne

International Conference on Electrical Engineering and Technology
14-15 Dec 2015
Sydney
 
World Engineers’ Convention
2019
Melbourne

If you know of any others then leave a comment and I’ll add them to the list.

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.

Solar Cells

The primary Solar Cell material is silicon. It converts photons into electricity and the more efficient panels have a multi-layered construction.

Silicon Solar Cell Construction

Silicon Solar Cell Construction

But it isn’t only the construction that affects the efficiency. There are other factors such as:

  • Angle of Incidence of the incoming light
  • Photon Density in the silicon
  • reflections
  • shading

These can make a significant difference to the outcome. In 2012 we received the Electronics News Future Award for The Environment. This was for our work in developing the control systems and sensors for a Tracking Solar Array. This has greater efficiency because it addressed all 4 of the above factors at the same time. Here is how it did that.

Angle of Incidence

The Angle of Incidence is also referred to as the Cosine Effect. As the light comes into the panel from a more acute angle, the effective area of the panel reduces and so the energy to be converted also reduces. So this means that Solar Cells produce more electricity when the sun is immediately overhead and the production falls of before and after that. So if the panel follows the sun during the day keeping the sun overhead or normal to the panel, then the amount of energy converted and electricity produced increases. But how much?

Solar Tracking Efficiency Improvement

Solar Tracking Efficiency Improvement

The graph above shows the improvement in Solar Photo-Voltaic Electricity Production due to tracking the sun for either the entire day, from 45 degrees either side of midday or from 30 degrees either side of midday. Even just tracking 30 degrees either side of midday gives you 40% more electricity whereas tracking 45 degrees either side of midday produces nearly 60% more electricity. This on its own is more that the current trends in materials and panel construction are predicted to be able to achieve.

It wasn’t that long ago that a panel would not produce, in its lifetime, enough energy to recover the manufacturing energy it took to make the panel.  The past 20 years have seen advances that now reverse this and a properly manufactured and installed Solar Panel is a net energy producer.

So where do the other efficiency improvements come from?

Photon Density

The Technique Solar Module used Fresnel lenses to concentrate the sunlight into strips of 1/4 cut Solar Cells. There were 10 such strips. As a result, the Photon Density went up by a factor of 3. This not only allow less silicon to be used for the same amount of light, but it also increases the energy conversion efficiency. So the Solar Cells were getting a conversion efficiency above 40%. This is double the normal efficiency of higher grade Solar Panels.

The reduction in shading comes from having a smaller structure which can be positioned to maximise access to open sky.

Reflections off the inside of the individual strips were actually used to direct sunlight back onto the Solar Cells. And the cells were high grade with the best anti-reflection surface layers.

And the array was split into 2 sections using a Micro-Inverter on each section. Micro-Inverters are a topic for another day but they will have a big role to play in the overall move toward renewable energy at the residential and commercial level.

Concentrated Solar Panel Array

Concentrated Solar Panel Array

The array above is a linear solar array. There is a Sun Position Sensor at the center of the linear array and the array it rotates about the central axis. This is a different approach to the work we did for Solar Systems (now part of Silex)which was a Concentrated Dish Array that did 2D tracking as shown below.

Solar Systems Dish On Sun At Fosterville

Solar Systems Dish on sun at Fosterville

What is clear is that Solar Cells and Solar Photo-Voltaic energy conversion are here to stay and will continue to grow in importance for creating energy with reduces pollution in the future. Regardless of the individual views on Global Warming and Climate Change, reducing pollution is always going to be in all of our long term interests.

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 © 2013 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Computer Programming

In a previous post I referred to Ada Lovelace who has been recognised as the First Computer Programmer and an inspiration to legends such as Alan Turing. However most of her programs never ran on anything. The technology to do it didn’t exist and was too hard and too expensive to make at the time. But the concepts were brilliant. So I was pretty amazed to see an even earlier example of a Mechanical Computer that operated on a different principle using cams and levers; an already well known principle.

Clockwork Computing

Clockwork Computing

When Software is Hardware

 Charles Babbage developed the concept of the mechanical calculating machine. And most of us will probably know about player pianos and music boxes that play back tunes according to either a drum or roll.  But here we have something a little different.

My thanks go to the team at Efficient Pumping for bringing this to my attention. And that is quite appropriate since it is a mechanical device. An an amazing one at that. The video starts off a little slow but I recommend watching unit they start to show how it works and the programmable bit at the end is really clever. 

And did you notice the age? 240 years ago!  An excellent example of Mechanical Computing or Clockwork Computing even if it is primarily for fixed automation.

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 © 2013 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Computer Programming

When we think of Computer Programming, we are generally thinking of electronic based computing engines with code running out of some form of electronic memory and typed in using some form of keyboard. Even punch cards partially fit this paradigm. And they seem ancient now.

So would it surprise you to know that the first acknowledged computer programmer was born in 1815, and was a woman?

Ada Lovelace - also known as Lady Ada King, Countess of Lovelace

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace

Introducing Ada Lovelace, or more formally Lady Ada King, Countess of Lovelace. Only daughter of a mathematics loving mother she was educated in science, logic and mathematics and eventually became a good friend of Charles Babbage. She was fascinated by his mechanical clockwork computing engines and although he never built one, she was able to describe them, there operation and programming algorithms for them in better detail than he was. Her papers became the primary works for describing these machines and their use, and eventually inspired Alan Turing in the 1940s that led to the modern computing machine concepts we now take for granted.

She died at 36. I can’t image what else she might have achieved given more time. Her contribution is celebrated on Ada Lovelace Day.

This link leads to a pictorial copy of one of the programs she wrote Ada Lovelace Computing Program.

Here are some references for those wanting tho know more:

As an interesting aside, before the invention of magnetic media, even the software was still hardware.

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 © 2013 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

 

 

Wireless Power Is Coming

In a very real sense it is already here in part. Wireless Charging is becoming mainstream. But seriously powering a device wirelessly has been a difficult challenge and there are many who think it will never be effective unless done at power levels that would be unsafe.

So it was with interest that I read of Cota by Ossia which claims to be able to deliver 1W of real power in a regular home in a way that is not only safe but well advanced in their approval process with the FCC for use in the USA. 

Qi Wireless Charging

There are several efforts to product ubiquitous wireless charging and we are already working with one of those technologies. This is Qi Wireless Charging and chipsets and standards have been agreed as part of the Wireless Power Consortium. This creates one very useful ecosystem where devices and chargers from different manufacturers are interoperable.

Qi wireless

Qi wireless

Qi works by using inductive coupling and some smart power devices that communicate with each other over the coupling. This 2 way communications allows the power transmitter to optimise its performance to suit the power receiver.

Qi Tx Rx Block Diagram

Qi Tx Rx Block Diagram

Cota

So Cota is a very exciting new development that allows significant wireless power transfer at distances of metres rather than millimetres. The technology was officially unveiled at TechCrunch Disrupt 2013 in San Francisco. Backed by patents from 2007 and looking like it will soon gain FCC approval there is quite a buzz about the first commercially viable Wireless Power Technology.

Cota Hardware

Cota Hardware

I’ll be watching this space carefully because the applications for Wireless Sensor Networks is huge.

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 © 2013 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

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