At Ignys we work to bring great ideas to life and no project is ever the same. In fact, we are regularly surprised by just how inventive and cutting edge the products are that inventors and product managers ask us to help them with.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, of our capabilities or the sectors that need electronics design or software engineering skills, however it gives you a real flavour of the projects we work on. We will keep adding sectors to this article over time.Develop a Product
We work on connected hubs, working on cost reduction (value engineering), and hardware security. We help remove attack surfaces, making sure things that are not needed like serial ports and JTAG ports are hidden away, buried, or tied up after the initial prototypes are developed. This helps prevent someone with bad intentions from using these ports to do something illegal, risky or otherwise reputation affecting.
We’ve supported with EMC improvements (electromagnetic compatibility) and designed items that can help test sensing applications easily.
For example, a client was sensing thermal changes to infer an unwanted event. Manually recreating these signature events would require a large test rig and gave inconsistent performance. So we created a raspberry pi hat to spoof the temperature profile readings and allow the client’s data scientists to have repeatable and modifiable set of inputs to refine their analysis algorithms.
An interesting example around EMC was a product which passed compliance but whose performance was severely limited by self-generated noise in the 2.4GHz band. This resulted in the communication range of their Zigbee network being severely reduced. Making minor changes to their electronics design and major change to their printed circuit board layout reduced the interference by over 10dB and resulted in a significant improvement in Zigbee performance.
Ignys are a Raspberry Pi design partner
We have supported with lots of compliance testing including setting up devices, taking products to chambers and liaising with test houses. This makes sure everyone is clear what needs to be done so tests could be run efficiently.
Pre-covid we attended in-person whereas during covid it was set up with good instructions and left to run.
For home-based devices form factor is often important, which needs to be sleek and look incredible, as they are often on show around the house, so all the hardware inside is quite tight and needs to fit in a small area. Close collaboration with enclosure designers to split designs across different printed circuit boards and careful profiling of the pcbs makes a big difference to the end aesthetics.
For IoT devices these need to have a great battery life with focus on power consumption in the electronics and software design and implementations. We have invested in equipment that allows us to profile device power consumption and then optimise the power usage. Many IoT devices, especially hubs, contain multiple radios and antennas. There need careful consideration and prototyping to minimise coupling and pattern skewing between them. Antenna matching is important to ensure the energy used for communication is efficiently transferred into the antenna and not wasted as reflected power.
Smart tech is a cover-all term and relates to products within many different types. However, you can read more about a value engineering project we carried out for a smart home technology company and the results in our case study here.
Heating and ventilation
This sector also involves smart home tech to some degree. We have worked on systems that support large social housing installations and systems which communicate directly with domestic boilers. Much of this is temperature sensing and controlling pumps and valves in a reliable and safe way.
We also look at considerations for install. You need to make sure it’s easy to install and ensure it is hard for the installer to accidently break it. FMEA (failure mode effects analysis) is useful here to identify how things may go wrong and design defensively against it happening. It may not be commercially viable to protect against all events, this is where balance and pragmatism comes in.
Healthcare and Hygiene
We have worked on LED (light-emitting diode) and PIR (passive infrared sensor) control for hospital robots whereby they are spraying equipment and cleaning areas. Essentially, with the pandemic, cleanliness has become even more important. Of course, there is still other virus controls in place in these areas. The presence of any harmful bacteria needs considering which is not always Covid-19 related. Hospitals rely on a clean, controlled environment to prevent outbreaks or avoidable harm from occurring.
Features on these robots often involve detecting if people are in the area before they commence with their actions, and we’ve completed the electronics designs for these sorts of projects too.
Radio and Wireless Communications
This is specialism for us. We help with the electronics design elements using WiFi, Zigbee and Bluetooth as well as Sub-GHz ISM bands. ISM stands for industrial, scientific and medical, these don’t require a licence to use but because of this they can be congested. There also can be differences around the world –ISM bands aren’t global. For example the UK and Europe use 868MHz, and North America uses 915MHz. This can mean you need different hardware variants in each location and have to approve them separately to ETSI and FCC requirements. Adding a radio to products in Europe brings added compliance requirements from RE-D (radio equipment directive) for CE marking or Radio Equipment Regulations 2017 for UKCA marking.
Products here can be for various applications including home automation, fire systems, general system monitoring, alarms, condition monitoring and more.
Often when you have a radio device you have a battery life to consider. Therefore, low power and radio comms go hand in hand as you usually install this where there isn’t access to a mains system.
Considerations for comms design includes:
- Ease of installation
- Cost of retrofit
- Power Consumption Reduction
- Radio performance
- Selection of appropriate technology (One size does not fit all)
- RFID (Radio-frequency Identification)- RFID is useful for security, gym equipment and access to workplaces for reading tags for example.
- Tags for reading data
There is a trade-off between the amount of data you need to send, the distance which needs to be covered, the time between transmissions and whether any data loss can be accepted. Each bring considerations for usability and for the battery life. Once you know that, you need to square off these competing requirements.
IoT (Internet of Things) is really a term for anything you ultimately connect to the internet. This includes smart home automation hubs and end devices on Zigbee and Bluetooth. The umbrella term includes security and communications like MQTT protocols (Message queuing telemetry transport), which is a lightweight secure way of getting data onto the server by publish/subscribe methods and has low code space and bandwidth needs.
All IoT devices have an IP address, or rather the hub has the IP address and the hub knows where the other devices are, unless you are using a protocol like thread, that then is the true address at the IP level.
The difference between Zigbee and thread is that Zigbee end devices doesn’t have an IP address so you go to the hub, Zigbee is out to the devices whereas with thread you can have a direct IP address related to the device.
Ignys typically work on edge devices or hubs that then communicate with a server or a cloud.
IoT devices usually involve a WiFi or Ethernet connection for LAN connectivity.
Covid has driven some of this but there are other reasons why remote monitoring is so important.
Some ways in which remote monitoring is used:
- Inaccessible areas for security purposes like a server room. A bank vault would be another example.
- Condition monitoring – Where you are capturing data remotely and interfacing with a device to get information about the device, its performance and/or its environment. Office CCTV – During lockdown (so you can check everything is alright without leaving the house) or during out of hours.
- Peace of mind
- Optimisation – If you needed to measure something and turn a valve and you could only do that once a day. This would be less efficient than having a system set up to tweak things on a minute-by-minute basis.
- Battery powered sensing devices looking at temperature, pressure and humidity.
- Power monitoring devices that report into a hub and something gets done about any outlying concerns.
- Improving maintenance – monitoring to proactively reduce maintenance cycles and monitor when data falls outside certain parameters. For remote locations it is very costly to get regular manual checks but not having the data could lead to a decreased performance or breakdowns.
AI (Artificial Intelligence)
For maintenance, you can use AI to perform more advanced data analysis to identify where remote assets need attention or maintenance which for example can reduce truck rolls and improve efficiency by not having to visit in person unless manual intervention is needed. This can increase profitability, productivity as well as reducing the environmental impact. It means you can do a lot more with your limited staff resources by increasing efficiency in this way.
Life safety systems including fire systems
These solutions are usually lower tech and lower risk. These involve a lot of testing with extra design rigor as there is no room for error. These are also third party tested through a notified body and must adhere to strict standards. Self-certification is very unlikely be a viable option here.
These compliance standards move relatively slowly, often only rewritten every ten years. Therefore, the tech used is unlikely to be on the edge of things. These products typically use tried and tested technology.
There are high costs involved in testing so you need to make sure the components for these devices are available for the foreseeable future to make sure you can help people for a long period, as well as ensuring a good Return On Investment (ROI). Design For Availability (DFA) of components is also important. Read more about tackling the global chip shortages.
These systems may include radio communications or wireless communications.
A lot of documentation is involved and the process is longer.
And some quick fire sector snippets…
Companies that are SAAS (Software As A Service). Where the company focus is on software and hardware isn’t done in-house. We’ve done hardware to support SaaS companies.
We apply engineering skills to renewable energy projects and assist on wind energy projects and condition monitoring.
Production test quality control
At the end of designing a product, for some customers, we have put in quality control to programme, test and calibrate devices. This ensures every product that comes off a production line is tested, and good quality is maintained.
We have been involved in a few projects designed to assist people with daily worship.
Part of our core values is ‘innovation with a heart’, and we are delighted to help support companies trying to help people with their mental health. Often these devices use battery so maximising power capabilities is key. We look forward to working on more of these types of products.
A big thank you to all our customers past and present
We are humbled and proud to be a part of so many projects making the world a better place. From products that actively save lives through to amazing devices that make people smile every single day.
We can’t wait to see which projects are just around the corner and what you will dream up next!
Thank you for letting us be a part of your product world.
This blog was co-written by Hannah Ingram, Ignys marketing manager and Richard Fletcher Ignys MD. Meet the team here.
Photo above: Richard and Hannah collect the Midlands Service Provider of the Year (up to £1m) award in June 2021.
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