Successful Endeavours - Electronics Designs That Work!

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 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.

 

Analogue Electronics

Sometimes you come across a post elsewhere that is absolutely on the ball.  When it comes to Low Cost Electronics Manufacture, Analogue Electronics Design and Analogue signal integrity, the three are closely linked.  Many a product has had expensive technical band-aids added to it to cover up poor underlying Analogue Electronics Design.  So avoiding the poor Electronics Design will avoid the unnecessary expense.  This is especially true when it comes to the two most misunderstood aspects of Electronics Design:

  • Analogue Electronics
  • Radio Frequency Electronics (RF Design)

For this post we will focus on Analogue Electronics and some simple strategies to avoid problems.  A problem you don’t have is a problem you don’t have to fix.  The key to success with Analogue Electronics is very simple:

  • Know what you are doing
  • Do it right the first time

So for some excellent advice on addressing Analogue signal integrity issues check out this post on Analogue Signal Integrity.

And for a general view of how to avoid problems here is a simple strategy to avoid Signal Integrity Issues.

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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Today we look at one of the Project Priorities Perspectives in action.  This was a case where performance was the most important factor and so minimising cost or time to market was a lower priority in the this Electronics Manufacture project.  In this case the PCB and electronics were Manufactured In Australia.

We were developing a wireless Data Logger product.  We selected 802.15.4 as the wireless protocol but did not need the interoperability of ZigBee.  A key issue here was Battery Life.  One use of the product was as a device left in the field and collected after 1 to 6 months.  The actual time interval depended on the use.  Since we have the client’s permission we can share details of the project and the product with you.

The product is a Corrosion Protection Data Logger and the client is Borgtech.  The first version is the Borgtech CPL2 and it is on the market today.

Some key product features made it a little tricky as an Electronics Design Project:

  • inputs must withstand lightning strike impulses.  This equated to 5KV for 2 seconds according to the local standards!
  • wireless connection for both convenience and also as an OH&S safety measure
  • 6 months battery life
  • 60dB rejection of mains frequencies at 50Hz and 60Hz
  • 10MOhm input impedance
  • a good profit margin

Don’t worry if you don’t understand what all the details mean, I wanted to show how we used the process to identify the best approach rather than go further into millivolts and microwatts.

Technically, this project was quite a challenge.  And a classic niche marketing example as well.  My initial approach was to minimise the production component cost and look at ways to meet the other objectives.  But it didn’t take long to realise that battery life was going to be the hardest challenge here.  I was able to use digital signal processing techniques (software) to meet the mains frequency rejection but the power requirements meant we were never going to get 6 months battery life and the radio side also contributed to that problem.  I’ll concentrate on the filtering problem.

Analogue Electronics to the rescue

Normally we have been removing electronics components and replacing them with software to save on product cost.  But this time, the priority was performance and not cost.  So I added components instead.  Below is a schematic representing the front end of the product.

schematic

Analogue Electronics Schematic

For those interested, this is a twin T filter.  It is a notch filter that takes out specific frequencies.  If you want more details then post a comment and I’ll add them.

The great thing about this is that it doesn’t use any Battery Power.  Unlike the software solution which uses the whole power budget on its own.  So from the batteries perspective, it is FREE!  It did cost some design effort and did add some production cost but the battery got off lightly.

So here is how the priorities played out for this project.  To get the performance, it cost a bit more and took a bit longer.  The outcome was the right product at an acceptable price point and in a market with growing demand.  Powerful stuff.

Now we did have to do a lot of other stuff to deliver this product so that it met every one of the design objectives.  It also delivered on the client’s expectations and met the cost target too.  It helped a lot that Borgtech understood their market and were able to guide us when making the decisions about priorities.

In practice, we make decision like the one above every day.  Going left at the right time when everyone else is going right can deliver outstanding results. Marc Dussault refers to this as antimimeticisomorphism.

Next I want to look at going the opposite way to the path we took for this project.  This is a case where cost is king and performance must be good enough but is not the primary priority.

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.