Successful Endeavours - Electronics Designs That Work!

Technology


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

Sound Manipulates Water

Every now and again I come across something that is entertaining to watch and shows how amazing the use of technology can be. This is a simple example of using vibration from a speaker to excite a water stream leading to an Amazing Water & Sound Experiment. I especially like the part where it looks like the water is flowing upwards against gravity.

Enjoy. 

 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.

Collaboration

So what is Collaboration? The first thing it is not is convincing someone to work for you for nothing with the vague promise you will make it worth their while in the long run.

Collaboration = Working Together

Collaboration = Working Together

Let’s look at a few formal definitions:

  • Collaboration is working with each other to do a task and to achieve shared goals.
  • Collaboration: To work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort.
  • Collaborate: to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something.

Of these, the first I like best. Shared Goals is a key point for me. And it also supports the idea of each party freely bringing something to the other.

Collaboration matters?

Australia has the lowest rate of inter-business Collaboration in the OECD! Seriously!

This is a huge problem. And we see it at every level from Federal Politics down to union engagement with enterprises through to the 3 million Small Businesses in the SME sector who are all operating in silos and not working together. I have come to the view that this is one of 2 structural problems in the Australian economy that most prevents us from being competitive. And it is a problem we can’t rely on government fixing. This needs a grass roots revolution since it is attitudes and values based.

The above data was put together by Professor Goran Roos based on OECD statistical data. His role as Thinker in Residence in South Australia was to look at how to revitalise manufacturing in the state. And to solve a problem you have to first understand it. And then understand the different possible solution spaces to work in.

South Australia Thinker in Residence

Professor Goran Roos

The solution to today’s problems will require better thinking than got us into them in the first place. Albert Einstein. That is probably a paraphrase as he has expressed several versions of this same truth. But the core point, is that more of the same will get you more of the same. To get a better outcome you need better thinking. So for me it is time to think differently. This also leads to Innovation but that is another topic.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

So rather than rant I decided to do something to show how we can get beyond the current situation. And was very fortunate to find George Zeidan of Zeidan who are a digital agency that amongst other things can develop custom web API based back ends for pretty much anything and the web and mobile interfaces that go with that. 

Successful Endeavours have a lot of experience in the design of remote telemetry devices and data loggers. And we had an existing problem. A great water dispensing device that allowed remotely located tank stands to provide water to tankers and record who, when, where, how much and then transport that back over GSM to a back end so that councils can keep track of it. It also had “Over the Air” firmware upgrade capability and “Over the Air” configuration update capability. However the client’s back end was taking forever to build and we had concluded it would never have the features we needed. The web developers were going to kill the opportunity. Another 9 months later and obviously still a problem, George Zeidan and I got talking and decided to Collaborate. 8 weeks later we had a working system with a feature roadmap in place and our first sale. 

Collaboration between Successful Endeavours and Zeidan leads to a new opportunity

Collaboration between Successful Endeavours and Zeidan

The picture above shows Ray Keefe of Successful Endeavours and George Zeidan of Zeidan,  rather like proud parents, with some examples of the internals of hardware devices already supported by the Ritri system. That is the name given to the web API back end product. You won’t be able to do much without a login so leave a comment if you want a demo.

The press release for the collaboration effort is available on line at Networking in the Net.

Planned future products to be supported by the system are:

  • Corrosion protection data loggers
  • Apartment water metering and sub-metering
  • Water Bulk Filling Stations
  • Septic Tank monitoring systems
  • fill in your product idea here…

So this is our official notification that if Australia is open for Business, Successful Endeavours is open for Collaboration.

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

iAwards

The iAwards are an annual celebration of Innovation in driving economic growth in Victoria. This year we were pleased to see one of our clients, Rectifier Technologies Pacific, nominate for an award. They were encouraged to do so and I was pleased that they followed through on that encouragement.

iAwards

iAwards

iAwards Winners 2014

The iAwards 2014 Winners have been announced and Rectifier Technologies Pacific are winners in 2 categories:

  • Research and Development
  • Sustainability

This was for their RT15 240V 100A HRE Rectifier. This is a high power level and high efficiency AC to DC Power Converter.

Rectifier Technologies Pacific

Rectifier Technologies Pacific

One of the reasons we are familiar with the product is that we did some of the core Embedded Software Development and know just how good the hardware design in the power stage is. You can get more information from Rectifier Technologies Pacific AC/DC Product Range.

So congratulations again to Rectifier Technologies Pacific and to all the rest of the winners at this year’s iAwards.

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

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things or IoT, has been around for a while now as a term. It refers to the ecosystem of smart and connected devices that provide access to remote information and also allow remote control and supervision. There is a lot of technology involved in making this possible and it is estimated that there are now more Internet enabled devices on the planet than people and that they will grow at a faster rate than the world population.

We are already working in this area allowing the water level of remote tanks to be monitored and water dispensed to tankers allocated automatically to the company taking it using Solar Powered GSM. For a very wide ranging view of the Internet of Things check out this infographic from Postscapes.

Internet of Things, an infographic

Internet of Things

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.

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.

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

Next Page »