Electronics has revolutionized the many of the products and processes around us. It is used to control, communicate and entertain. It is the enabling technology allowing the previously unachievable to be realized at a low cost - but how do you get to use it in your application?
The exact process will depend on the project in question, but the following steps are typical.
Step 1. The first step is always gathering requirements.
What does the product / system / process have to do? Under what conditions must it operate? What are the constraints on size, weight, noise, power, cost etc.? How quickly must the project be completed?
Step 2 Partitioning.
This is where we determine which technology is best suited to each function. Which tasks should be performed by the electronics, and which would it be more appropriate to implement using other technologies. We can produce a Boundary Definition for the electronics. This shows the functions included and all of the interfaces with other systems.
Context of Electronics Within Design Process
Step 3 Electronic Functional Definition
Using information from steps 1 and 2 we can produce a full functional definition of the electronics. This should include interface requirements for each device on the boundary of the electronics. These devices may include switches and keypads, motors and solenoids, temperature sensors, speakers etc.
The functional Definition should also specify the processing and functions that the electronics must carry out. This would include logical description of functions for example "Monitor a temperature sensor and turn off motor if temperature exceeds 80C for 1 minute, or immediately if temperature exceeds 95C."
The specification should detail response times, operating speeds and should fully and unambiguously describe functionality.
Step 4 Electronic Hardware And Software Design
Step 5 Design Validation Testing - This testing is to provide confidence that the design meets the requirements. During this testing unforeseen problems in the interaction of the electronics with the overall system may become apparent. Once the system is working reliably as intended the design phase is complete.
If the system is a product then it can be prepared for production.
For complex production projects, additional steps may be necessary. Often a prototype is produced to perform the required function but not necessarily implemented in the intended manor. The purpose of the prototype is to resolve system and interfacing issues early on and produce an accurate Functional Definition. This allows the production solution to be developed with a high degree of confidence that it will perform as required. There may be a number of sample levels. At each level, one or more system is produced. Each level gets closer to production intent in its implementation.
There may be extended testing at component and system level to meet industry standards, with any necessary modifications being fed back into the design.
For an explanation of some commonly used electronic terms and acronyms why not check out our Guide To Electronic Terms