System Design

Many electronics engineers create board level products, but their boards are integrated into systems at some point. And systems need things like enclosures, power supplies and environmental management.

New Electronics recognises the importance of system design and its impact on the final product. In this section, New Electronics reviews the latest developments in system design and brings visitors to the website information on how these developments are being applied.

Can intermittent faults in operation be cured at the design stage?

Intermittent faults can be irritating. Often attempts to repair them will result in the phenomenon of NFF – No Fault Found – as the product fails to reproduce its failures when sent for service or repair. Such problems cease to be irritating and start to become very expensive and potentially dangerous when they start to appear in safety critical systems like aircraft or trains.

It might have just turned 40, but the party is definitely not over for Ethernet

Ethernet, the data networking protocol often hailed as the most ubiquitous enabling technology in the communications sector, celebrated its 40th birthday a few weeks ago. It was invented and developed at PARC – Xerox' legendary Palo Alto Research Centre – by a team of engineers led by Bob Metcalfe. Metcalfe had been tasked with devising a simple, yet flexible, networking scheme that would link several hundred pcs and some printers at a distance of a mile and operate at several hundred kbit/s – and with a minimum of cabling, to get rid of the 'rat's nests' of wiring common at the time.

Quiet, low power cooling technology is only 1mm thick

Users don't like fans because they are noisy. Designers don't like them because they are greedy consumers of both power and space. But as more processing power is piled into all sorts of electronic equipment, particularly mobile devices, the choice becomes simple – have a noisy device with active cooling, like a typical laptop, or one with passive cooling that can get almost too hot to handle, like some tablets.

3D printing allows designers to think outside the box

The first thing to clarify is that 3d printing is really the buzzword that has captured the imagination – a better description that includes a broader set of processes is additive layer manufacturing (alm), and these processes are rapidly gaining widespread acceptance.

Sub miniature atomic clocks enable greater precision

Every electronic product or system needs a clock to keep it working at the level of performance which its designers intended. And there's a number of approaches available, ranging from humble quartz crystals operating at 32.768kHz, to very high frequency devices at the other end of the scale.

Mezzanine cards cope with changing I/O requirements

Front panel I/O functionality has been typically been fixed on 3U and 6U form factor cards and changing this functionality meant redesigning the cards – which can be an expensive undertaking. While the advent of PMC and XMC modules has allowed configurable front panel I/O, these modules use much of the 3U and 6U carrier card area.

Reference design to protect fpga based systems uses simple challenge and response system

The fpga has been embraced with enthusiasm by embedded systems designers. Through its programmability, the device lends itself to a number of roles. At one end of the scale, it can act as a level translator, providing an interface between otherwise incompatible devices. It can act as a companion chip to a central processor or microcontroller and it can be the heart of the system in its own right. Meanwhile, fpgas can act as prototyping platforms for devices such as asics.

Smart metering needs smarter test

In the next few years, homes and business across the UK will receive a Smart Meter: a device that will provide detailed information on how energy is being used, helping to reduce consumption, bills and their carbon footprint. The rollout of smart meters is also a major step towards realising the Smart Grid and utility companies are racing to update systems and infrastructure to deliver this massive change to electricity, water and gas metering and billing.

It's worth investing the time to draw up an accurate specification document

Nearly everything in the electronics world has been developed from a specification – a clear and unambiguous statement of what a product or system does or should do. But there is a wide variation in the structure and format of specification documents and no universally correct way to put one together. However, guidelines and best practice methods exist that can benefit any organisation.

OCXOs aren't crumbling under pressure from other approaches

Playing a vital role in everything from mobile phones to military systems, crystal oscillators come in many forms depending on the properties and tolerance required. From basic clock oscillators to temperature compensated devices (tcxos), customers want cheaper products and higher levels of accuracy. Targeting more niche applications, oven controlled oscillators (ocxos) tend to be immune from many of these pressures, but there are still demands being placed on their functionality.

Backplane options for high performance systems

Since the days when classic open platform technologies, such as VME and CompactPCI, were established in the 1980s and 1990s, the processing power available to system designers has continued to increase rapidly. In particular, the emergence of multicore processor technology has created a need for ever higher data throughput, driven by applications like mobile internet and video on demand.

Three wireless charging reference designs should suit most requirements

While consumers in general are in favour of portable electronic devices, they are less happy with having to recharge them by plugging them into a mains adaptor. For many years, this has been inescapable; you either plugged in or your device failed through lack of power. But recently, the old concept of wireless power has been updated and applied to charging mobile phones, tablets and similar equipment.

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