Successful Endeavours - Electronics Designs That Work!

Casey Business Awards

The City Of Casey are holding there inaugural Casey Business Awards and at the Casey Business Breakfast this morning Successful Endeavours were nominated as finalists in 2 categories.

Casey Business Awards

The 2 Casey Business Awards categories are:

  • Manufacturer Of The Year
  • Business and Professional Services

We fall into the Business And Professional Services category with our Electronics and Embedded Software development services where we design products for Australian Electronics Manufacturers  so they can achieve Low Cost Electronics Manufacture in Australia at a good profit margin.

The Manufacturer Of The Year award category recognises that for some of our clients, we also manufacture the product the product and delivered to them programmed, tested and calibrated; ready to sell.  This includes products like a DNP3 enabled power controller product for the US Smart Grid market which is made right here in Berwick as well as the Award Winning Borgtech CPL2 Corrosion Protection Data Logger with Wireless Data Logging.

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.  We will find out who the winners are on Friday 27th August at the Casey Business Awards gala dinner.

Cranbourne News 5th August 2010 Best in Business

 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 Design Awards

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

We came away with 2 trophies.  The awards were:

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

 

EDN Innovation Awards 2009

Successful Endeavours – EDN Innovation Awards 2009

 

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

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

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

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

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

Casey Weekly Berwick 31 August 2009 Electronics Whiz Wired For Success

Wyndham Weekly 30 September 2009 It’s A Pipe Dream

Casey Weekly Berwick 5 October 2009  Electronics Firm Delivers The Goods

Ray Keefe has been developing high quality and market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years.  For more information go to his LinkedIn profile. This post is Copyright © Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

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.

 

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.