After spending my first few years in the manufacturing area, I had upset enough people that they wanted to move me somewhere else. They told me to go check out the design team, since that is “where all the problems come from”. I had studied electronics, albeit the science of electronics, so I was at least familiar with the concept. My experience of design though at the time was something more to do with bits of “Letraset” than anything using computers. What a chore that used to be – decals, lines and symbols to try to make up a circuit. A good motivation though for “do it right the first time” when remedial work was so difficult to do. The early example of extreme design.
So, next chapter, learn about design – on computers! It all looked very nice and colourful and having done the job manually, I really appreciated the ease of use. As normal however, I got carried away. My interest at the time was audio, so I thought the best way to train myself would be to design my own micro-processor controlled pre-amplifier. This was nineteen eighty something so such things were not readily available in the shops, at least not at a price that I could afford. With the entire design in my head, since I have never been able to read my own writing, I set out. A masterpiece, an art-form, everything nice and square, parallel, quite futuristic looking, double sided of course. Of course, no design rules in those days, just check and check again. Just design, review, repeat until will to live is all but lost.
My boss at the time was a very kindly person who, seeing my enthusiasm, said that perhaps we could have the PCB actually made up, to see if it actually worked. In those days, design was still done manually, then input to the CAD system. Designing straight into CAD was radical. No-one believed it would work, certainly not first time. In my case, they were not wrong.
I bought all of the components, almost all of which fitted. A couple had to have some “slight modification” to make them fit. If only we had Design for Assembly back then, I would not have had to have left it to my own impatience. I then soldered it all up, wrote some software, burned it into an e-prom, plugged it in, applied the power, and, well… it didn’t quite work. A few tracks had shorted, a couple of (few) design mistakes, and some solder bridges that would not go away until I had frazzled the board. A couple of scratched out tracks and addition of some new links and it was sorted. It had taken quite some time to find all the faults. Trying to troubleshoot things I couldn’t get to. No Design for Test for me. Once these were fixed, and a little bit of debug on the software, and hey presto, it appeared to work fine, at least on the bench. I was really pleased. I thought that I had proved my point. I of course fell into my usual trap, pride goes before a fall….
The next job was to fit it into the case and wire it up to everything. I wish I had thought more about that. Design for Assembly again. The connectors were not really in a good place, wiring up the relays and LEDs, potentiometers, analogue and video modules, it soon became like a giant rat’s nest. I could not even see my nicely laid out design any more, which also now was running quite warm….. Hmm.
Oh yes, and then it actually didn’t work after all. The microprocessor was running, the LEDs were blinking on and off, but even so, it seemed that “no-one was home”. No sound, no video. I had most of the transistors the wrong way around. All this PN P and NPN. Basic mistake. What a nightmare, and why were they right at the back where I could not reach? So, a complete disassembly….
Once it was up and running, I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy to this day many years of trouble-free operation, well, except that a few years ago, the reset circuit failed. Perhaps Design for Serviceability might have been an idea, there was no way with my design and construction that I was going near this, I could not even remember where the offending circuit was, never mind how it was supposed to work – so a new little switch for a manual reset on the front panel.
People with far more experience and know-how than I have learned so much in the design process over the years. A professional designer today would dismiss my efforts as child-play. Have we gone as far as we can now with design? Is there nothing more? Where is our modern extreme design opportunity.
Well, there is a barrier still to be broken, one I wish I had myself. “Design for Life”. This includes the current design rule checks, the design for assembly, fabrication, test and assembly etc., all the ones we know and rely on today already. What can be added though is design for quality, for repair, for longevity, for recycle, for the environment, for the customer experience, perhaps even to learn how the customers use the products, what conditions the products are subjected to in their life. Extreme design is when the design flow becomes a closed loop with the recycle of the final product retaining and re-using all of the information that we can. Closing the loop on this, design, engineering, manufacturing, service, and recycling, then design for a better product in a better future. I can’t wait, get me on that production line! Let’s go! The Valor division Valor MSS product suite plus the regular Mentor design products have given me inspiration on this. This is all getting very interesting…..