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Design at Card or Board Level

Whether itís a simple interface board mounted in a metal box, or a complex scientific instrument built to exacting international standards, the first design normally sets the topology; subsequently built upon. If the device is intended for higher volume or mass production then a second design iteration may include a higher degree of integration. For example, an FPGA implementation may make sense when trialing a volume product, with a later translation of the design into its ASIC counterpart. Whatever the case, Chelsfield is usually able to offer a design solution (or solutions).

In all cases though, we first ensure we fully understand your requirements. Once the task is understood, we must satisfy ourselves that what is required is possible using available technology and this may involve us in some preliminary research. If the project is technically feasible and we agree to move towards a contract then an outline specification will be drafted. Against this, we will usually be able to provide a tentative budget costing for the design stage. We do not charge you for any of this work.

If you wish to proceed then we will consider a preliminary detail design and generate a detailed draft specification for the design. This work is chargeable; we may agree a flat rate or set a cost to you against stated deliverables. You will need to have approved the initial specification that forms part of the initial contract. 

You may decide to contract us for the whole, or just part of, the project which may involve a deliverable prototype. If the project is intended for high volume production we might engage, or recommend, specialists in manufacturing to assist in further design refinement of pre-production or production prototypes.

Otherwise we will propose a design for whatever mechanical assemblies are required to be procured via sub-contract manufacture. If this work is intensive, we'll levy an agreed surcharge on the sub-contract price of around 15%, this generally pays for management oversight of the specialist contactor. 

What technology ?

In many cases a new from-scratch design, including complete cased controllers or instruments etc., will require firmware that will need to be programmed. Evermore sophisticated and readily available programmable ICís may be generally placed into three groups.

FPGAs and DSP- type devices
Generic CPUs: CISC, RISC or ARM- processors
ASIC and ASIC hybrids

What if the Technology is Lacking

For any particular project or design task, if we donít think that a design is possible using currently available technology we may, on somewhat rare occasions, recommend you contract us in an initial research role. 

However we will generally only accept this type of commission if we deem that there is a reasonable chance of a positive outcome or in other words, if the results of the research are likely to lead to a design solution. To be as cost-effective as possible we may elect to contract-out the whole, or part of, the investigation to one of the universities or other organisations that are known to us.      

 

 

 

FPGAs and DSP-type Devices

Field programmable gate arrays often form the back bone of many control or signal processing schemes and whilst these may be  functionally fixed, they are able to retain some flexibility. Historically, the technologies and techniques that handled analogue signals were quite distinct from digital components, circuits and methods. 

Nowadays the distinction is less well defined because, with a few exceptions, much of the capture - process - convert process will be on-chip. Sometimes though, this can still get a bit tricky at the front-end, for example, if the signal-to-noise ratio increases to a point where the signal is swamped or otherwise masked.  

 

Generic CPUs:  CISC, RISC or ARM Processors

Selected for systems that require generally higher processing power (or more flexibility) when connected to the outside world or that need to support some kind of O/S for external machine or human GUI. These processors, including common microcontroller families, are fully capable of functionally emulating designs built around application specific chips or gate arrays but nowhere near as efficiently. 

This is due to their increased micro-architecture overhead. That is they tend to be slower and so have signal bandwidth limitations. Board or design schemas that also require HF or complex signal capture and processing generally employ a VLSI multichip approach.

ASIC and ASIC Hybrids

A hybrid is an ASIC that can incorporate fast on-chip acquisition and conversion, specific logic handling or processing and which can also include a generic CPU core processor and memory including firmware. 

This project route offers very high performance possibilities and a virtually limitless set of configurations.  However, nowadays for most initial sub-system designs, especially where no volume production is intended, it remains uneconomic due to the high capital cost and somewhat longer lead times. If however the project is destined for volume production then an ASIC based design should be considered.

 

 
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