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Altium helps to create a brighter future for Manchester students

The UK educational landscape has changed massively over recent years, bringing a whole host of challenges to University staff and management. For those specialising in engineering, the need for Universities to keep abreast of modern technology and techniques adds further demands.

At the University of Manchester, the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering is working in collaboration with Premier EDA Solutions to put state-of-the-art Altium design software at the very centre of their teaching and research programmes.

New undergraduates studying electronics at the University of Manchester get off to a fantastic start. The innovative teaching programme allows students to become involved in a practical electronic circuit design during their very first semester as an undergraduate. David Foster, Senior Lecturer, explains, "Our first year undergraduate students undertake a practical electronic construction project in the first semester. The emphasis is on practical skills, mechanical fabrication, electrical component identification, understanding engineering drawings, circuit and placement diagrams, soldering, electronic circuit testing and fault finding completed assemblies. This gives the students practical experience, rather than simulation, for a better understanding of engineering in the real world."

The Microcontroller Project, involves the students in the construction of a simple Input/Output board for use with the microcontroller board. The students identify and solder the components to the pcb and fabricate the aluminium front panel - filing the edges square and punching the holes necessary for the switches, displays, potentiometer and leds. Altium is used by all first year undergraduates in a CAD exercise including schematic capture and pcb layout design. "We just give the students printed schematic diagrams plus a set of laboratory notes showing how to use the software and then we let them get on with it." says Foster.

Having built and tested the Input/Output board and been provided with a fully tested microcontroller board, the whole assembly becomes their property to keep. Further teaching units introduce the concepts of programming the microcontroller. Software development is performed using assembler during the first year and moves on to 'C' during the second year.

A new Microcontroller board is being introduced this year which includes more input/output ports and utilises surface mount technology. This new design includes stackable expander plugs/sockets which can be used, optionally, by the tri-colour led matrix display which forms the core of the CAD exercise. With this stackable add-on, the students can programme the display to function as a retro-gaming console.

The School has the facility to fabricate single/double sided pcbs in situ, the more complex multilayer designs are manufactured externally. Altium is also used by postgraduates for the design of custom pcbs used in systems associated with their particular research. The mobile underwater sensor platform is being developed to monitor liquid based industrial processes. The demonstrator for this technology is for monitoring nuclear storage facilities.

The control circuitry for the sensor platform comprises four custom pcbs designed in house using Altium. The pcbs deal with the sensor suite, propulsion systems, power regulation and processing requirements.

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