Electronic Product Development FAQ

Electronic Product Development FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Electronic Product Design, Development, and Engineering

What is the difference between mechanical engineering and industrial design?

Mechanical engineering and industrial design are very similar, but they differ in function. Industrial designers develop aesthetically pleasing designs that can be useful. Mechanical engineers take those designs and make them mechanically sound.

VPI’s Mechanical engineers take several factors into consideration when designing a product including:

  • Environment – The conditions the design will be subjected to because of its surroundings (Heat, cold, dust, water, sand, radiation).
  • Application/Use – This factor considers how the design will be used. For example, a hammer would need to be designed differently than a feather duster.
  • Thermal Effects – Thermal effects can include temperatures created by the design’s environment, but also can be produced by the design itself. Some products require thermal analysis to ensure that the heat is managed appropriately.
  • Human Factors – When engineers consider human factors they must account for intended and unintended effects that the product may have on the end-user. Great products are easy to use, ergonomic, intuitive, and safe.
  • EMI/EMC – Mechanical engineers create designs that account for electromagnetic interference (EMI) and electromagnetic compatibility (EMC). Designs that do not account for this can produce harmful electromagnetic noise or experience problems caused by noise from other electronic devices. Electronic designs must comply with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), conformité européenne CE, Industry Canada, and/or other regulations that dictate the amount of noise they can produce and how resistant they must be to other electromagnetic noise. This is called electromagnetic conformity (EMC).  Mechanical engineers design measures that help designs conform to regulations. VPI also has certification and testing capabilities for EMI and EMC.

Why is Design for Manufacturability important?

Design for Manufacturability

Designing products for manufacturing is sometimes what sets mechanical engineering apart from mechanical or industrial design. Mechanical designs can be aesthetically pleasing, but they must also be manufacturable. Current manufacturing technologies can produce incredible results, but there are limits. Knowing those capabilities and limits allows an engineer to choose appropriate methods for component fabrication. Our engineers are familiar with proven and cutting-edge manufacturing techniques and can create designs that are compatible with them. Production costs and impacts on a product’s bill of materials (BoM) are also taken into consideration, which, if not properly managed can be prohibitive.

Machining

Machining is a subtractive manufacturing process, which means a solid piece of material is cut into the desired shape. Machining is a traditional manufacturing technique and current technologies allow for quick turnaround times.

VPI has experienced engineers who design CAD models that can then be sent off to reputable machine shops that will produce the part you need.

Cutting

A few common cutting techniques include die, laser, water jet, and plasma cutting. Laser cutting and plasma cutting use heat to melt the material they are cutting. Laser cutting uses concentrated light energy to melt materials. Plasma cutters use a combination of electrical heat and compressed air to heat and then remove material. Water jet cutting uses a thin, high-pressure stream of water to blast through the desired material. Our engineers can help you choose the correct cutting process for your project.

Additive Manufacturing

Additive Manufacturing includes a variety of modern manufacturing techniques that have become possible through recent technology.

One of the first techniques that come to mind, related to additive manufacturing is 3D printing. It has become popular since 3D printers are relatively inexpensive and readily available to the public.

Other additive manufacturing techniques include fused deposition modeling (FDM), stereolithography (SLA), direct metal deposition (DMD), and selective laser sintering (SLS).

Casting

Casting is often used to produce metal components. It is similar to injection molding in that molten material is poured into a form.

Stamping

Stamping uses extreme pressure to form components. It is an efficient process and can be used for high-volume production runs.

Injection Molding

Injection molding is a commonly used manufacturing technique that produces precision-formed components. The process involves injecting molten material into a form, then letting it cool and harden into the desired shape. It is an effective technique for mass-producing components from easily melted materials like plastics.

VPI’s engineers carefully select the materials used both for the product and for the mold. A mold’s composition varies based on the number of components that will be produced using it, the material that will be injected into it, and your budget. More durable molds tend to be more expensive, but they are not always necessary if only a few components are needed.

How do I pick the right material for my product?

Selecting the right materials to use for your project can be difficult. Today’s technology offers manufacturers an almost unlimited number of materials.

Our engineers work with and research materials daily. They can select materials that will perform correctly for any design. They choose materials based on the fundamental mechanical engineering factors listed here: environment, application/use, thermal effects, human factors, and EMI/EMC compliance.

Material Properties

Some of the major factors considered in materials selection are strength, wear and corrosion resistance, thermal properties, UV stability, and optical properties.

Types of Materials

We work with standard and exotic metals, thermoplastics, elastomers, and composites. These materials have their advantages and disadvantages. Metals tend to be hard and resistant to environmental factors, but they are heavier than other materials. Composites like carbon fiber can be lighter and stronger than other materials, but more expensive. Our engineers choose materials that fit each design’s need as well as your budget.

Finishing

Another important factor in materials selection is finishing. Finishes can alter and/or enhance a design’s look, feel, and performance. They can be purely cosmetic or essential for strength and corrosion resistance. Typical finishes include coatings, plating, and surface treatments.

What types of analysis are available through mechanical engineers?

Some designs can be analyzed using simple formulas. Others require detailed analysis, simulation, and testing. VPI Engineering conducts static, dynamic (drop, shock, and vibration), thermal analyses, simulations, and testing. The results of which allow our engineers to create designs that will hold up to the needs of our customers.

Static and Dynamic simulations are performed using finite element analysis (FEA). This process takes into account the physical characteristics of the design, the materials used, and the environment and loading related to normal use.

Thermal analysis is conducted using FEA and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) methods. These simulations allow our engineers to determine how heat impacts the design, how it is transferred within the design, and how the design is affected by internal and external fluids, such as flowing air or water.

What is PCB Design?

A PCB design schematic can be described as a circuit diagram or the functional diagram of electronic circuits. Symbols are used to represent components and show how they are connected electrically. This graphical representation of the electronic circuit is created before the actual design layout of the circuit.

What is PCB layout?

Drawing up a schematic is an important step in the early stages of an electronic product’s development.  Knowing what the various components and interconnects are and how they are linked to each other helps to create a successful PCB layout and working design.

How do I design an automated device?

Automation and motion control can be used in machinery, automotive applications, manufacturing, and other applications. Automation and motion control design includes designing products that use electric motors, hydraulics, pneumatics, and linear actuators.

When designing an automated device, engineers look at the device’s intended use and design based on the fundamental factors discussed earlier on this page, under ‘Why do I need more than an industrial designer?’.

We have experience creating devices using the following motors and their associated controllers.

  • AC Brushless
  • DC Brushed/Brushless
  • Direct Drive
  • Linear
  • Stepper
  • Servo

What does an Electrical Engineering company do?

Most people use electronics every day. VPI Engineering designs electronics for a wide variety of clients. We have experience designing digital and analog electrical systems, imaging systems, battery and power systems, networking systems, antennas, infrared systems, electrical prototypes, RoHS-compliant systems, radiological detection systems, and sensor-based systems.

Electrical Engineering spans a broad spectrum of services. Our engineers have the education and experience to choose the correct components and create electrical designs that are reliable and safe for users.1

Every electronic product requires electrical systems engineering and design to ensure that its electrical components are properly connected and will interact well together. Our goal is to help you create a product or system that fits your customers’ needs and performs to your expectations. Your success is our success.

Currently, VPI is IPC-7711/7721 CIT certified. “The IPC-7711 Rework of Electronic Assemblies and the IPC-7721 Repair and Modification of Printed Boards and Assemblies are the Electronic Industry’s manuals for the guidelines on re-installing or replacing electronic components and repairing circuitry with minimum impact on quality and reliability.” – Blackfox Training and Certification

What types of devices require AC power as opposed to DC power?

Alternating Current (AC) and direct current (DC) describe the electricity used to power electronics. In the U.S., many household devices use AC power.

Battery-powered devices and European electronics often use DC power.

VPI Technology designs both alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC) powered systems.

How are analog and digital systems different?

Electrical systems come in two flavors, digital and analog. Digital systems use incremented inputs and outputs, 1s, and 0s to communicate information. Analog systems accept inputs and then output information as they sense it from the outside world.

To understand the difference between digital and analog systems, compare digital and analog clocks. Digital clocks are updated electronically as opposed to analog clocks which use motors and gears to move hands that point to numbers on the clock face.

VPI designs analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog systems, which convert inputs into a format that the system can use.¹

When should I implement an internal antenna?

Internal or Chip antennas can be used in devices with limited range and allow for a sleeker look. External antennas can be used to give devices a longer range but are a little unsightly. VPI incorporates appropriate antennas for each project’s application. We can design your device to work with an existing chip or external antenna, or we can design a custom antenna specific to your device.

How do I create a battery-powered device?

The general process for developing electronics can be found here. The suggestions below are attributes of successful battery-powered devices.

Rugged Design

Each electronic device will face certain environmental factors, such as humidity, dust, heat, cold, or sand. Successful systems are designed to withstand their environment.

For example, we design high-reliability systems with low failure rates for commercial and military-grade battery systems, which require rugged designs that will continue to function in extreme conditions.

Power Optimization

Power optimized designs incorporate power management systems to help them conserve battery life for as long as possible. This means that power is selectively supplied to areas of the system that need power at the time. This design strategy is sometimes called low power consumption design or ultra-low power consumption design.1  

VPI designed an iPad case/keyboard for Zagg that can be used for over a year on one charge.

Battery Charging/Recharging Circuit Designs

When designing a battery-powered device, generally a charging system also must be in the plan. Depending on each product’s battery type needs, an efficient and fast charging circuit/charging station will be created to fit the battery and the product design’s criteria.

Are all high-voltage systems dangerous?

High Voltage System Design

The short answer is yes, all high voltage systems can be dangerous. Two main concerns when designing and testing a high voltage system are:

  • Is the user protected from harmful or fatal electric shock?
  • Is the device designed so that it can handle the current that will run through it?

Danger to the user

The danger high voltage devices can present to users increases as the amperage increases. Many people have experienced relatively high voltage shocks without realizing it. Any time you feel a static discharge after walking across the carpet in your socks, or when you touch your car after getting out, you have felt the effects of high voltage electricity. Most of these shocks are harmless unless you have some sort of medical condition.

Harmful or fatal electric shock normally comes from sources with higher amperage, like a wall socket or powerline.

Danger to the device

High voltage shocks can melt circuits and render them useless if they are not designed correctly.

Modern technology is tested to withstand high voltage shocks. VPI is tested to withstand high voltage shocks. VPI Laboratories offers this type of testing. They have an electrostatic discharge (ESD) gun that converts house current into high voltage electrostatic energy. The tester then shocks the device various times to make sure that it will hold up to testing.

Conclusion

Safe reliable designs are not created by happenstance. They take careful planning and execution. VPI is careful to design devices that pass regulatory requirements for safety and reliability. We have in-house testing facilities, that make it simpler for us to perform necessary testing.

How do I design an imaging system?

Designing imaging systems is similar to designing any other type of electronic device. We’ve outlined our design process on our homepage. We recommend that designers use a similar process if they choose to develop electronics on their own.

First, come up with a clear concept. Imaging systems should have a purpose. Some of the imaging systems we have designed are made to analyze the density of specific chemicals in the skin for example.

After you’ve decided on the system’s purpose, develop a method for the device to accomplish that purpose. It may require a very controlled environment or a specific type of sensor. To learn more about sensors read CCD and CMOS Imagers below. Electrical engineers are a good resource for help if you get stuck in this phase.

Knowing how the system will work will help you to pick out components. This is kind of a chicken and the egg process. Make sure that current technology can perform the tasks you need. New technology can be developed, but this is a long and expensive process. You can find electronic component dealers online. Keep in mind, the more expensive each component is, the harder it will be to make a profit later. We have a team of sourcing professionals that can help you optimize costs. Together with our electrical engineers, they can help you find reliable components that are cost-effective and that manufacturers will likely continue to produce. When certain components go obsolete it can sometimes mean that you’ll have to do almost a complete redevelopment to incorporate a new part.

Design the form factor for the device. If you need your device to fit into a specific space or look a certain way find a way to fit all of the components into that form factor or design a different form factor.

Once you’re done with your design, build some prototypes that you can use for testing. If the prototype(s) is satisfactory, begin preparing for production. Find a manufacturer if you haven’t already and make sure all of your components will arrive on time.

Start production and get your product in the hands of customers.

CCD and CMOS Imagers

Charge-Coupled Device (CCD) and Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) image sensors are used in cameras and for other imaging applications. CCD imagers tend to be more expensive and produce higher-quality images. CMOS imagers are less expensive but suffer somewhat when it comes to image quality. VPI Engineering can help you find the correct sensor for your price range and application.1

Illumination Control

VPI Engineering also designs illumination control for devices that use CMOS and CCD Sensors so that they perform within a consistent environment.

How are infrared systems used?

Infrared Technology

Infrared (IR) technology senses, and/or transmits infrared radiation. This can be useful for military applications such as surveillance, targeting, and tracking. It’s also useful for fire surveillance and security as well as short-range wireless communication and can be used to determine the efficiency of a building’s insulation through temperature sensing and thermal imaging.

IR Technology is used in most TV remote controls.

How are IoT systems connected?

Networking

Networking may seem like something you do at a trade show, but in this case, we are talking about networking between electronic devices. This is a process used by IoT devices.

Networking Systems

Networked systems can be connected through Ethernet or wirelessly, much like a computer’s connection to the internet. VPI Engineering designs networking systems that give the end-user a more efficient experience than if each device operated individually. Connected devices can be useful for IoT applications like smart home systems, sprinkler controllers, and security monitoring systems.

VOIP Systems

(Voice over Internet Protocol) (VoIP) makes it possible to talk like you would over traditional phone lines, but through an Internet connection. Making a call over the Internet requires converting analog signals from your voice to digital signals.1

One project completed by VPI enabled companies to record multiple calls for quality assurance.

What is logic in digital electronics?

Logic describes the basic functions of electronics. Writing logic for programmable logic devices (PLDs), complex programmable logic devices (CPLDs), and field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA) allows engineers to program very fast devices.

PLDs and CPLDs

PLDs are Programmable Logic Devices (PLDs) and CPLDs are Complex Programmable Logic Devices (CPLDs).

What is an FPGA?

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) are like microcontrollers that can be configured to process inputs in a variety of ways and can be programmed to work very quickly. They are not used as frequently as microcontrollers or microprocessors for simple electronics because they are more expensive and use more power, but when they are needed, they can be very useful.

How do I create a low EMI or RFI design?

Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) and Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) refer to the amount of electromagnetic noise that electronics produce. VPI Engineering designs devices with low EMI and RFI.

The FCC and other regulatory authorities require products to meet certain EMI and RFI standards before they can be sold legally. Not only do we design products to meet these regulatory requirements, but we also have testing facilities to conduct product testing to Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Industry Canada (IC), and Conformité Européene (CE) standards.

What is RoHS compliant design?

What are RoHS and non-RoHS?

RoHS stands for Restriction of Hazardous Substances and effects on products that will be sold in Europe most heavily. It is a set of regulations meant to help reduce waste and maintain a healthy environment.

VPI’s engineers can design your product so that it meets RoHS requirements. One of the main factors that determine a device’s RoHS compliance is whether or not it contains lead.

What is the WEEE?

Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) requirements are a subset of RoHS requirements. They require that companies treat, recover, and recycle electric and electronic equipment.

If your current product design incorporates lead components, VPI Engineering can help you redesign your product so that it no longer contains lead.1

What is Embedded System Design?

Embedded system design and engineering services provide a convenient way to design and manufacture hardware and software that performs specific, predetermined tasks. Embedded systems typically involve low power utilization, operate in rugged operating conditions, and are small in size.

What is RF Wireless Technology?

RF Wireless technologies include antenna design and optimization, RF transceivers, and amplifier design. This can also encompass custom radio designs and standards-based radio design including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Zigbee. VPI offers a comprehensive range of custom applications for radio-frequency and wireless engineering.