Today is wisdom Wednesday! The day where we enlighten you a little more on the technical aspects of our project. This week: you’re surrounded by it, the chances of you even reading this blog on one are large: electronics. How are electronics designed and developed? In this blog Devon elaborates on the design cycle.

A real brain-teaser; the brainstorm

“Ideas are generated in brainstorm sessions. Starting point is mostly a problem or a demand from the regulations. It often leads to changes on our current electrical system or even the design of a completely new one.” A similar brainstorm, on how to maximize the energy output from the solar panel, brought the 2013 team to the idea of SABINE (Solar Array Balancing Interface Not Expected) which was adopted, prepared and implemented in Red One, the car of team 2015.

This edition’s regulations have stricter (safety)demands when it comes to the electronics, which are connected to a battery. During a brainstorm session thoughts are exchanged on possible solutions. To draw up all the different ideas, use is made of paper and whiteboards. “We can think completely ‘out of the box’, nothing is impossible and no suggestions are wrong!”

From idea to concept

After a successful brainstorm session the different ideas are being worked out into concepts. The key here is to partially think about the execution of these concepts without including too much details. At this level it is decided whether a concept is feasible or not. Of the remaining concepts a selection is made as to which one(s) are further elaborated on.

Simulations; for a complete look!

The best concept is worked out to the final design. Thoughts are given on how the concept must be worked out in detail. Which topologies, the form taken by the network of interconnections of the circuit components, and components are going to be used. Calculations are made to determine the correct and exact values of the selected components. This for some part is done manually, but for complex and critical calculations specialized software programs are being used.

Computer simulations allow for us to check these calculations. These simulations are extremely accurate and can calculate way more properties of a circuit. This allows us to take into account all kinds of non-ideal properties of the components in our calculations.

Designing in Altium

The design phase takes up the largest chunk of time. Every design calls for its own components. For example, one type of transistor can easily have around thousand varieties. This is why the electrical engineers can spend a large amount of time in finding the right fit for maybe one out of the hundred components. When the simulations are satisfactory, the circuit is being drawn in Altium. In which all parameters are being completed and all components are assigned an unique code. In the database properties such as type, value and supplier are being stored. Altium’s software provides a clear view of the complex circuit. When all the properties have been completed the scheme is being transformed into a PCB design. PCB stands for Printed Circuit Board. This is a, usually green, board where all the electrical connections are being implemented in so called tracks. The designing of the PCB requires a lot of effort! All electrical properties have to be taken into account to prevent disruptions, both spacewise as productionwise. Altium also provides a 3D view of the design. This allows us to check the design on aspects which are difficult to identify in the 2D view.

PCB at the heart of the design

When the design is frozen, it is time to produce the PCB. All necessary components are purchased and the production of the PCB’s is outsourced. After which the PCB’s are being prepared, which effectively means that the components are soldered onto the board. This can be done manually but is usually done by machines. The main benefit is that this is much quicker and more accurate. This vlog shows how this is done!

Time to test!

The moment is here! The electrical system which has been worked on for so long is tested and validated. The first prototype is carefully being subjected to step by step testing. This starts with a visual inspection, a short circuit check and only after this with real voltage applied.

Wisdom Wednesday recap:

  • A brainstorm gives you the freedom to think completely out of your comfortzone, this allows for the best ideas!
  • Software, such as Altium’s, can provide you with a different view of your design. Making it possible to get the best possible view on your concept design.
  • The mapping of the PCB is designed in such a way that all components fit as efficiently as possible.

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