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Moving forward to prevent the continued wasted time and effort put into designing and redesigning systems as we have done so far, it is important that we discuss and agree on a design process. Basically something that will help students that are not necessarily comfortable being given a project somewhere to go to figure out a next step. Our systems to this point have be designed with the electrical equivalent of “cowboy coding” where things are select and used without thinking about the actual requirements of the system. We are stuck in a loop of design > build > test > fix without ever passing fix since test is never done.

  1. So your starting a new project? what does it need to do? make a new word document and write out the basic requirements, for example the solar panel simulator, it needs to simulate 7 solar panels with the ability to change sun angle and it needs to talk with a computer.
  2. Now you have basic requirements its time to look into how that can be done, read up on solar cell simulation circuits, there are lots out there which ones could actually be build? what are the pros and cons? How do we talk with a computer, FTDI is the normal and easy but its not the only option
    1. summarize what you found in the document so that if you or others want to come back to the project after a term or two away on co-op all this information you went looking for is there
  3. Now that we know more about the project we should go back to the document and refine the requirements, rather than just say it needs to simulate 7 solar panels list IV curve it needs to simulate for our panels, list the range the curve needs to be changed to simulate the angle of the sun onto the panel, list the controllable parameters that the computer interface needs to have access to, etc.
  4. Ok now we have a document that has requirements and summarizes how the major blocks of the system will be made we can select components and create a schematic
    1. Once the schematic is done update the document with information on the major components used and discuss the review the schematic with at least one other person, this is where that document comes in really handy again so that the person that reviews it can get up to speed fast and help you with things that might have been missed.
  5. Time to make some hardware, layout the PCB, for the first revision add test points to as many nets as possible. Its normal for us to go through more than one revision of a board or system so for the very first one lets make testing and modifications as easy as possible. It doesnt need to comply with the 8cm x 8cm stack size at first, just lay it out with lots of room and test points, make sure communication buses and power nets are accessable.
  6. When the layout is complete get it reviewed by someone and start going through the gerber generation/PCB release process
  7. We can then build the first revision of the board and see if it works, basically its time to develop code and debug
    1. if it all works success!, if the big board is ok then its time to be happy and add another big section to your resume
    2. if it is a system that needs to have specific dimensions or space constraints its time to remove all the test points from the system and reduce the board size to its requirements
    3. if the system doesnt work try and see if we can fix it with “botch” wires (basically we start cutting traces and soldering wires from test points/traces to other parts to fix schematic or layout problems), once we have determined an appropriate fix then we can update the schematics and layout and make the second revision

This is basically the exact same for our mechanical projects just the schematics are replaced by 3D models, and the layout with mechanical manufacturing drawings.

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