Successful Endeavours - Electronics Designs That Work!

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.

 

Low Power Electronics is a Green Strategy

There are 2 ways to reduce your Carbon Footprint.  The first is to get the same power from a Green Power Source that reduces the Carbon Footprint at the power generation phase.  This is where Wind Power, PV PhotoVoltaics, Wave Power, Geothermal Power and other such technologies come in.

Wind Power Generator

Wind Power Generator

The second way is to use less power from the same source, which is a Power Reduction Strategy.  This is a bit different to the concept outlined in Unlimited Wealth by Paul Zane Pilzer where he shows that we keep finding ways to meet the expansion needs of the future. That is also happening.  The ‘use less power’ approach is about getting more from the existing. The great thing about this is that you can effect a reduction in you Carbon Footprint independent of the Power Generators and so this strategy can run ahead of large scale system changes.

First you have to have a baseline to measure from.  This will become critical for businesses that must show Carbon Footprint reductions once legislation in this area is brought in around the world.  The issue isn’t if, but when this happens, and what the specific details are.  Carbon Trading is an interim measure that allows money to be made off the problem while not actually ensuring there is real progress.  Eventually significant net reductions must happen.

Carbon Footprint Calculation

There is a Carbon Footprint Calculator available at IEEE.  You can see what your Carbon Footprint looks like by clicking on the IEEE picture below

IEEE

IEEE Carbon Footprint Calculator

How did you go?  Some of the questions are not that easy are they?  We often don’t know the source of some of our power or the real Carbon Cost of our lifestyle.

Carbon Footprint Reduction

So reducing the Electronic Power Requirements for Electronic Devices is a primary Green Strategy for reducing your Carbon Footprint. For a complete system the calculation is of course much more complicated.  The survey above is aimed at households but the principle is the same.  A true Carbon Reduction Strategy requires you to consider not only your own operation but upstream and downstream operations as well.

This is of course only one strategy and we will look at others in the near future.  But for my next post I’ll concentrate on design techniques for Reducing Power Consumption in Electronic Appliances so that they become Low Power Electronics Appliances and help to reduce the overall Carbon Footprint.

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.

There are a lot of news feeds running this story.  Here are a few:

Timeline ABC News
IEEE Spectrum
National Geographic
Business Journal

And when the Internet first began, no-one knew what we would be doing with it today.

This has happened to a lot of other technologies.  Low Cost Electronics and Low Power Design that can be Battery Operated has made many thing possible such as mobile phones, portable computers including netbooks, notebooks and laptops; portable media players, MP3 players, PDAs and the list has just begun.

But where is it going?  Realistically, you need a few things to come together and the environment and carbon footprint considerations now sit alongside the more traditional requirements such as:

  • Low Cost Electronics Manufacture
  • Low Power Electronics Design
  • Design Tool Productivity improvements
  • Electronic Design Automation
  • Increased Processing Power per milliwatt (mW)
  • Embedded Software of immense complexity and flexibility
  • Flexible circuits
  • Transparent Electronics
  • Compact component size
  • Reduced Polluting and Increased Recyclability and reuse

Vernor Vinge looked into what might become of this in his book Rainbows End which I recommend as a good read and full of well thought out ideas about how augmented reality might operate including concepts such as  wearable computers, gesture recognition, graphic overlays, the equivalent of doing a Google search on any object in your field of view, and other ideas like that.  It is set 20 years from now.

The most interesting for me was the way work was conducted in the future and how much advantage there was in having 100,000 people as affiliates on a program.  Pay is based on royalties for contributions.  You choose what you join and contribute to.  Your income directly reflects the product of your contribution and your negotiated royalty rate.  A large company has 3 direct employees and everyone else is an affiliate on one or more programs of work.  This produces phenomenal synergies.

It will be very interesting indeed to see how much of his vision matches the future.

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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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.