Successful Endeavours - Electronics Designs That Work!

National recognition for local Casey Business

OK, I couldn’t resist that blog title or this headline.  It isn’t often you get a chance to say something like that.  If you hadn’t heard yet, we are finalists in two categories in the EDN Innovation Awards for 2009.  Melbourne is the Electronics Manufacturing capital of Australia and we are based in Berwick which is administered by the City of Casey .  And we are also members of the Berwick Chamber Of Commerce.

Successful Endeavours in the NEWS

The Casey Weekly Berwick has just done an article on Successful Endeavours that also covers the EDN Innovation Awards we are finalists for.  You can check it out here Electronics Whiz Wired For Success.  And as a bonus, you get to see what we look like.

Electronics Manufacturing

Our aim is to turn Australian Electronics Manufacture into Low Cost Electronics Manufacture through improving the total cost of a product throughout its life cycle.  This is not a quality reduction process.  Quite the opposite.  Getting the product right so it doesn’t fail and does do what it is meant to do is one of the things necessary to reducing cost.

Located on the outskirts of Melbourne we primarily serve Melbourne based Electronics Manufacturers by providing them with Electronics and Embedded Software Development services that save them up to 70% compared to traditional linear Product Development.

So how do we do that?

Firstly, there are a few blog posts you can refer back to that will fill in some of the details.

Successful Product Development

Australian Electronics Manufacturing

Low Cost Electronics Manufacture in Australia that competes favourable with China is feasible.  Ignoring the trade offs discussed in the links above, the steps to take are:

  • Identify the primary priority – is it time, cost, performance?
  • Reviews costs – all the costs – see the last link above if you are sure what they all are
  • Reduce Cost through redesign to remove unnecessary labour and to streamline manufacture
  • Implement
  • Deploy
  • Monitor and correct as required

Written like this it sound simple, and conceptually it is.  Where it gets lost is in the assumption that it can’t be that simple.  But there aren’t any hidden traps in this process.

We have had a few queries about how we came up with our company name, Successful Endeavours. Next post I will reveal all.

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.

 

This continues our review of the Project Priorities Perspective.  See the Project Priorities Perspective post for the concept behind this and Time and Cost versus Performance and Time and Performance versus Cost for a look at those trade offs and how they affect Low Cost Electronics Manufacture in Australia.

Here is a visual view of this set of electronics manufacturing trade offs:

projectpriorityperspectivelogocb

Project Priorities Perspective – Performance and Cost versus Time

The previous two perspectives looked at cost and performance and their effect on the other priorities.  This one looks at time.  Time is a two edged sword.  It is easy to spend but hard to save.

Here are some of the trade offs that affect time:

  • if you spend more time, you can get the unit cost down or the performance up
  • if you reduce features or performance you can have it quicker
  • if you spend more time you can often select and use less expensive resources
  • to get it quickly, you usually have to buy in either IP or specialised expertise
  • being later to market usually reduces your profit
  • being early to market usually increases your profit
  • doing it right the first time saves time
  • increasing production automation decreases production cycle time

So this is more straight forward than the other perspectives.  To get it faster, you have to either reduce features and performance, or buy in specialist IP or expertise.  And if you can wait longer, then you have more choices for how you go about it and can either increase the features, improve the performance or reduce the cost.

So this wraps up this very cursory look at the Project Priorities Perspective.  It is a powerful tool that is easy to apply and can dramatically improve your results.  The key, is that it makes you think about the priorities and what outcome you are really after.  At the end of the day, if you aren’t clear about your outcome, then you don’t have a basis to plan or succeed.

Next I will be looking at some practical project tips for increasing profits and some surprising ways to improve performance.  And you have probably already worked out that you can apply it more than just Electronics Manufacture in Australia.  You have, haven’t you?

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.

                                                                                                                          

This continues our review of the Project Priorities Perspective.  See the Project Priorities Perspective post for the concept behind this and Time and Performance versus Cost for a look at those trade offs.

Here is a visual view of this set of trade offs:

projectpriorityperspectivelogofc1

Project Priorities Perspective – Time and Cost versus Performance

Reducing performance can decrease cost and it can also decrease the time it takes to achieve an outcome.  This is the classic marketing dilemma.  In general:

  • More features or more performance increases cost
  • More features or more performance increases time to market
  • Do I know the relationship between these and the market share I can achieve?’
  • Will a lower featured product at a lower price point give me better overall profit?
  • What features MUST I have as a minimum?
  • What performance MUST I have as a minimum?
  • Will delaying market release reduce my overall profits?

Of these, the last is the only one that is usually true. The rest all depend. It comes down to how well you know your customers, your competitors, your market and how good your marketing plan is.

Going for the ultimate product is usually fraught with difficulty, firstly because there is no such thing as Perfect Information,  and secondly because it takes longer; sometimes the equivalent of forever in marketing terms.

Another way of expressing this is Feature Creep.  This problem often exists before the product is even ready for market.  Not knowing the market well, the temptation is to add every possible feature to ensure no objections at the point of sale. It normally results from a lack of confidence in the marketing position rather than a genuine evaluation of the benefit of features to overall profitability.

The final way of looking at the challenge is expressed in an old adage, “Perfection is the Poison of Profitability“.

So now the trade off exists:

  • Will I add more features in the hope of better sales?
  • Will I reduce features to decrease cost and time to market?
  • Which features will I keep and which will go, and why?

In my experience, this is one of the most common trade offs that is handled poorly in less successful companies.  And it stems from not knowing their market well enough to be able to position the product.

The answer – know your customers and why they buy from you.  Then you have a basis for deciding. Up until then, it is guesswork.

You might have noticed that although we focus on low cost electronics manufacture in Australia, these principles can be applied to product development in general.

Next we will look at Time as 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.

                                                                                                                           

This continues our review of the Project Priorities Perspective.  See the Project Priorities Perspective post for the concept behind this.

This is the easiest of the the trade offs to appreciate.  If you want it quickly and it has to be good, then you are going to pay more for it.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shop around for the best price you can get, it just means that all things being equal, the cost for this trade off will tend to be higher.

There are several ways this pans out:

  • you can buy in technology or expertise to save time or improve performance
  • you can use less tooling or automation to decrease the time to market
  • you can hire more experienced or qualified staff
  • you can use a more expensive technology
  • you can partner with another business to spread the workload

There is overlap between these possibilities and several may be required to achieve what you are aiming for.

Here is the visual representation for this scenario:

projectpriorityperspectivelogofb

Project Priorities Perspective

Now cost is a complicated trade off because there are many contributors to cost and their impact is felt in different phases of the project.  For instance:

  • buying in technologies tends to happen up front and is an early cost contributor
  • creation and tooling costs are amortised over the production and so dissipate slowly
  • staffing costs also happen up front
  • production unit costs can be reduced by tooling and automation
  • reducing tooling and automation increases rework
  • tooling and automation cost up front and increase time to the first production unit
  • short cutting development effort can increase production and warranty costs
  • component costs can be reduced with creation or tooling costs
  • warranty and maintenance costs happen after production
  • maintenance costs can continue on past the selling life of the product
  • more expensive technologies can be better proven and so quicker to implement
  • more expensive technologies can provide better performance in the same development timeframe
  • another business can reduce your time to market but you will share some of the profit with them
  • being late to market can eliminate the profit all together, the ultimate cost

And estimating costs can be difficult.  Particularly downstream costs like market entry delay and ongoing maintenance and support costs.  See our recent post on Strategies To Be More Profitable for a more detailed look at the contributors to the Total Cost Of Ownership of a product.

But in general, selecting the right technology, the right team and the right supply chain will give you the greatest likelihood of getting to where you want to be, when you need to be there.

So who are you going to partner with to ensure your next product  comes to market on time and on specification?

Next up we will look at getting to market faster while reducing cost.

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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This is a tool we use to fine tune projects toward the most commercially successful outcome.  It works by highlighting the 3 competing priorities in every project.  These are:

  • Performance – how good does the product have to be
  • Cost – how much will it cost to make
  • Time – how quickly will it be available

The easiest way to understand this is to look at some examples.  Firstly, here is a visual perspective.

projectpriorityperspectivelogo0

Project Priorities Perspective

So you can see that each competing priority is at one of the corners of a triangle.  If either Time, Cost or Performance is critical, then you can trade off the other two and get what you want.  Simple.

Life is usually a bit less simple.  The impulse is to say, “I want maximum performance at the minimum price and I want it now”.  You can only get this if someone else has already designed it and built it and you are buying it as a mass produced commodity product.  Mobile phones and portable media players are examples of this.  But then they are already doing it and you are a consumer, not a profit maker.

For a niche product opportunity, the point is that no-one else has done it;  or if they have, no-one knows about it.  The difference here is arbitrary since the outcome is the same.  The old saying goes, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door”.  But time and marketing has shown this to be untrue.  If no-one knows, then no-one is beating a path regardless of how good your product is.

So the project will either have to buy technology to save time or increase performance, spend time to save cost or increase performance, or reduce performance to save time or cost.

An alternative view is obtained using a mind map.  Here is one possible way of representing this.

projectpriorityperspectivemindmapsmall

Project Priorities Perspective – Mind Map

Over the next three posts I will explore how these trade offs work for each of these scenarios and how the Project Priorities Perspective helps to identify these trade offs.

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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There are many companies successfully doing good business in China.  Most of them are large, have deep pockets and have core staff in China making sure it stays good.  Names like Sony, Siemens, IBM (Lenovo)…

Smaller companies can run into trouble.  This is a case study of a project we were able to rescue.  I won’t give out technical or commercially sensitive details (we will never do that – in fact we offer an NDA, Non-Disclosure Agreement,  to all our clients) but I will look at the overall project and the issues that arose.

For ease of reference, I will refer to the client as Mr Electronics.  Mr Electronics had spent a year getting a product developed in China with the ultimate aim of manufacturing it there.  Conventional wisdom was on Mr Electronics’ side.  Most people believe that it is cheaper to make things in China than here.  And the engineering effort was being done for free by the manufacturer.  What is not to like about this arrangement?  It has both the perceived benefits of making electronics products in China:

  1. low manufacturing cost
  2. low engineering cost

So where is the catch?

Well, you might have noticed that Mr Electronics had spent a year to date on the project.  What I didn’t tell you is that it was simple product; conceptually simple and physically simple.  It was battery operated and only did one thing.  Every time the project was reviewed with the manufacturer and the question was asked if everything was now clear, the answer was “Yes“.  Yet every prototype presented clearly showed the answer should have been “Clueless“.  They were not speaking the same language! It wasn’t just English versus Chinese, but it was a completely different culture of how to communicate.  Since “Yes” is the best answer, it is the only answer you get, regardless of the real situation.  Mr Electronics is not alone in having run into this issue.

A year is a long time to not have your product available for sale!

In frustration, Mr Electronics approached us to review the project and advise on how to proceed.  The production in this case was going to remain in China (you can’t win them all) since the manufacturer had developed the enclosure and that part looked to be acceptable.  So we concentrated on the electronics and software.  Within 17 days we had obtained the following outomes:

  1. analysed the specification and recommended changes that doubled the battery life while improving performance
  2. designed the electronics, PCB layout and software
  3. produced a fully working prototype unit for evaluation
  4. generated all the production documentation to make, program and test the PCB (circuit board)

Although I’m proud of the result we got here, my point is that they might have never gone to market if they had stayed on the original path.

So did Mr Electronics have a happy outcome?  Not completely!

Mr Electronics isn’t very much out of pocket since the actual cost was low, even for 10,000 units.  He is however out nearly 2 years of his life, hasn’t captured the market opportunity he originally aimed at and isn’t enjoying the profit stream he deserved since his product was a good idea and should have been a commercial winner.

Some key take home points for me were:

  1. get the right people involved and you can reduce your time and cost to market
  2. get the right people involved and you can get a better outcome than you can achieve on your own
  3. China might be cheap but that doesn’t guarantee you will get a commercially successful outcome
  4. “Yes” only means “Yes” when you are both speaking the same language

OK, this post looked at what can go wrong.  And unfortunately Mr Electronics’ experience is not unique.  But from here on I plan to stick to how to make things go right.

Next I will show you our Project Priorities Perspective and how it can help to bring focus and clarity to maximise the commercial outcome.

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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