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Articles from 2006 In September

Designing Intelligent Power Supplies

Environmental compliance officer and team, part 1

With the continual parade of new environmental laws stretching from California to Asia, analysts say companies need a high-level leader to manage compliance –

the environmental compliance officer. As an alternative, companies can outsource this task to a consulting firm, sometime a product lifecycle management company – but analysts warn that while tasks can be outsourced, accountability cannot. Environmental compliance is likely to require high-level corporate management for decades to come.

The march of new environmental laws shows no end in sight. From RoHS, we go to REACH, then to EuP and on to versions of RoHS coming down from China, Korea, California and other U.S. state legislatures. All of these laws require a hard look at how products are manufactured and what they contain. These are not simple regulations. They require detailed study in order for a manufacturer to determine how a product must be changed in order to comply.

Some large companies such as Texas Instruments Inc. in Dallas, Texas and Dow Chemical Co. in Midland, Mich. have entire compliance teams devoted to making sure the company complies with environmental legislation globally. “In recent years we’ve seen a trend toward using an environmental compliance officer,” explains Colin Masson, analyst at AMR Research Inc. in Boston, Mass. “With environmental compliance, there is a whole series of activities that have to be taken into account whether you’re building a new plant or a new product.”

Masson notes the details related to environmental compliance are similar in scope whether the company is complying with waste disposal, component selection for design and manufacturing or accounting practices. “They elements of compliance are common whether you’re talking about SOX (Sarbanes Oxley) or environmental compliance,” says Masson. “Somebody in the organization needs to look at all of the compliance elements, including record keeping.”

Some companies are turning to consultants or product lifecycle management (PLM) companies for expertise in compliance. For one thing, manufacturers find it may be easier to place the required expertise outside the company rather than trying to grow it and keep it up to date internally. “The factor of whether to use a consultant has to do with the complexity of the regulation,” says Masson. “Up until now, you have employees who grew up with compliance and each new regulation expanded their knowledge. But many of those people are coming up for retirement. So you have the problem of brain drain.”

When going outside the enterprise, many companies turn to PLM companies, but Masson warns that many elements of compliance fall outside the natural boundaries of PLM. “PLM and environmental compliance are different. Environmental compliance factors into your physical plant, and PLM doesn’t,” says Masson. “Compliance involves how you actually manufacture the product and whether the product is safe. Those issues may come up in a PLM discussion, but it’s not part of PLM.”

Masson notes that some companies are building an internal compliance team that still relies on outside support in the form of software as a service. “There are a number of newer offerings in the software space for environmental compliance,” says Masson. “There is a business process outsourcing model where you buy access to a software system that provides a team of experts who can shoulder a lot of responsibility for generating reports or complying with regulations.”

He notes however, that companies can outsource some of the compliance tasks, but they cannot outsource accountability, so there still have to be some internal officer and team to monitor corporate accountability. Part two of this article looks at the bottom line and competitive impact of environmental compliance.

Two New Webcasts on Power Supplies, and Simulations Available Today!

September 27, 2006

Dear Reader:
Please join us for these educational E2E (engineer to engineer) Webcasts, as application engineers describe in-depth how to simplify and save time throughout the design process. Watch real-life demos, access a library of downloadable resources and submit your questions to our experts.
Thank You,
The Design News Team
Event Details:

Designing Intelligent Power Supplies
Sponsored by Microchip
Date: Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Time: 2:00 pm ET / 11:00 am PT
Duration: 40 minutes

With the increasing use of digital control, there are more ways than ever to design power supplies. The potentially confusing choices confront the engineer designing or using a power supply with this added functionality. Understanding the four levels of microcontroller integration possible in a design, and the features and functions possible with each level can simplify the decision process.

In this webcast, we will:
Explore the impact of each level on the analog design.
How each level shifts issues associated with control and reliability.
From the traditional hardware design, to the microcontroller and software side of the design.

Randy Frank,
Contributing Editor,
Design News

Keith Curtis,
Principal Applications Engineer, Microchip Technology Incorporated

Integrating Measurements and Simulations throughout the Circuit Design Process
Sponsored by National Instruments
Date: Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Time: 11:00 am ET / 8:00 am PT
Duration: 40 minutes
Shrinking product development cycles and increasing circuit complexity are requiring engineers to rethink how they design their electronic circuits. To meet these challenges, design engineers have turned to using measurements and simulations throughout the design process. By combining these, design engineers not only save time and money through fewer prototypes but also improve quality because they can integrate real-life measurements into the simulation process.

In this session, learn:
How you can use measurements and simulations to help at the board level.
Select your next electric component.
Improve the circuit verification process.

Randy Frank,
Contributing Editor,
Design News

Matthew Friedman,
Product Manager, National Instruments

Shauna Rae,
Product Manager, National Instruments

Designing Intelligent Power Supplies

Moderator - Randy Frank

Presenter - Keith Curtis

Integrating Measurements and Simulations throughout the Circuit Design Process

Moderator - Randy Frank

Presenters - Matthew Friedman & Shauna Rae

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Details on exemptions, details on whisker risk

Details on exemptions, details on whisker risk

Two recent reports offer detailed information on different areas of RoHS regulations. The first is the report from the Oko Institute, a group that offers technical consultation to the European Union. The 148-page report details the winners, losers and draws in formal requests for exemptions for RoHS regulations. In total, 88 requests for exemption were evaluated. 27 were recommended to be granted, 37 were recommended to be refused, and 17 were withdrawn by the applicant. Six more were tossed out for lack to time for evaluation or inapplicability.

In another interesting report, the Center for Advanced Life Cycle Engineering (CALCE), released a report entitled “Assessing the Risk Posed by Tin Whiskers,” which was presented at the SMTA Capitol Vendor Show earlier this month. The report offers details on the risks of using pure tin as an alternative to leaded solder and coatings. As part of the report, CALCE surveyed component suppliers and found that nearly two thirds of lead-free component suppliers use pure tin solders and coatings rather than tin in combination with other alloys such as nickel. Pure tin is known to have greater risk of producing whiskers than tin in combination with other metals.

Gadget Freak E-Newsletter: Ken Put an End to Expensive

Ford to Deliver Hydrogen-Powered Shuttle

Ford to Deliver Hydrogen-Powered Shuttle

Ford Motor Co. of Dearborn, MI will deliver the auto industry's first dedicated hydrogen, internal combustion, engine-powered vehicles to commercial customers this fall. The E-450 is a shuttle bus containing hydrogen-fueled V-10 engines that were tested to the same production standards as other Ford engines.

The shuttle buses with the supercharged 6.8l V-10 engine will first go to customers in Florida. Later they will ship throughout North America.

Hydrogen-fueled engines have numerous advantages, including high-efficiency, all-weather capability and near-zero emissions of regulated pollutants and greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. They can also be hybridized for further gains in fuel efficiency. Ford is also conducting research into next-generation hydrogen engines that will include features such as direct injection to enhance power and fuel economy.

The hydrogen engine is part of Ford's strategy to build multiple alternative-fuel-powered vehicles such as hybrids, clean diesels, bio-diesels and ethanol-powered engines.

Ford's hydrogen internal combustion engine, which is featured in the company's new hydrogen-powered shuttle bus.

Engine, Transmission Controls Push Forward

Engine, Transmission Controls Push Forward

The powertrain, the first application for microcontrollers in cars, has jumped on the makeover bandwagon popularized on numerous TV shows. Electronic controls have been fine tuned so much over the past few decades that observers have said that it wouldn't evolve much, partially because automakers don't like to change critical engine or transmission components.

But automotive engineers have redoubled their efforts to conserve fuel and improve performance. They're devising new techniques for conventional engines while also pushing new technologies such as hybrids and fuel cells, which by itself adds competition to spark further developments for gasoline engines.

Innovation for emerging hybrid and fuel cell controls is expected, but the wide focus on new techniques for conventional engines is surprising many. "A lot of people thought the powertrain market was just going to grow with car volumes, but there's a dramatic increase with newer engine concepts like variable valve timing and other applications that require significantly more electronic content," says Peter Schulmeyer, director of strategy and marketing for Freescale.

New technologies such as cylinder deactivation are seeing adoption as engine controllers increase their functionality. But there's also a strong focus on fine-tuning technologies such as variable valve timing, which has been around for decades but is continuing to expand from luxury vehicles into the mainstream and pickups.

Fuel injection has also been around for years, but it's also seeing significant improvement. Siemens VDO is touting a system that uses piezo-actuated direct injection to conserve fuel. "Compared with a conventional port injection, Piezo Direct Injection helps reduce fuel consumption by 20 percent, depending on the total level of system integration," says Mike Crane, Siemens VDO's director of powertrain gasoline systems. The injectors, management system, software and fuel pump are all changed to bring this improvement, he adds.

Injectors are also a focus in the push to make diesel engines more popular in the U.S. while reducing emissions to meet tighter regulations in Europe. Delphi Diesel Systems is offering a common rail system that offers five injections, which helps control emissions.

The more injections there are, the more tightly they must be monitored. "Tolerances are very tight, if the amount of fuel injected is too high, fuel consumption goes up, and if it's too low, noise increases," said Detlev Schoeppe, engineering director for Delphi, based in Kokomo, IN.

Transmission Transition

While smaller vehicles made in Japan shift to continuously variable transmission, the high torque used in many American-designed vehicles make that impractical. But that doesn't mean change isn't coming.

Some observers predict that the drive for fuel economy will prompt U.S. carmakers to shift to six-speed automatic transmissions, which offer from 3 to 8 percent better mileage than four speeds. That means transmissions will need more than the four to six solenoids used to help control fluid flow so the clutches work properly.

"In six speeds, you need one PWM and as many as seven constant current of variable force solenoids," says Joe Funyak, global product marketing manager of transmission ICs at Infineon Technologies AG of San Jose, CA. The chipmaker is marketing controllers that manage these solenoids with accuracy of around 2 percent, far better than the 5 percent accuracy now in broad use.

Another aspect of this new focus on powertrains is networking. Today's vehicles have a growing number of CAN networks, prompting engineers to look at techniques that let them consolidate networks. As faster, more capable networks enter the vehicle, engineers are expected to do more to link powertrains and other synergistic applications to gain even more benefits.

Currently, most such efforts focus around FlexRay, which is now starting to see use in applications that require more bandwidth than the ubiquitous CAN bus offers. FlexRay provides their determinism and fault tolerance needed for mission critical applications like drive by wire technologies and powertrains. The knowledge base created by using FlexRay in safety and other areas will help provide openings for the technology, while this usage will also help build the volumes needed to lower costs. Freescale already offers a controller and other companies like austriamicrosystems of Unterpremstaetten, Austria, which next month will unveil its AS8221 high-speed transceiver, are entering the market as interest from automakers grows.

Hybrid Growth

While linking braking, engine and transmission systems together is still emerging in gasoline-powered vehicles, the clean slate offered by hybrid vehicles let them take the lead in this emerging technology. Integration is integral in battery management.

"In hybrids, you're integrating braking and the powertrain," says Larry Burns, GM's vice president of R&D and Strategic Planning. Batteries are charged by braking, he adds.

Hybrid sales are a small fraction of the auto market, but many electronic system and component suppliers are racing to develop techniques that reduce the $3,000-$5,000 cost premium that comes with the many added parts needed to trim fuel consumption. Batteries are the single largest pricing component, so they're getting plenty of focus. IGBTs are also under intense scrutiny. "IGBT modules are large and expensive," says Bob Schumacher, advanced product development and business strategy, Delphi Electronics & Safety division. The company is now offering a module that employs flip chip technologies, providing significant size and cost reductions compared to conventional wire-bonding techniques.

Toyota, which owns a large percentage of the U.S. hybrid market, is pushing the technology to further extend its dominance and set the stage for the next predicted changeover in energy sources. "Hybridization is not only a significant improvement for internal combustion engine power systems, it's also a critical enabler for fuel cell systems," says Dave Hermance, executive engineer for Toyota Advanced Technology Vehicles.

Another challenge is to keep IGBT's cool. Some hybrids employ a separate radiator for them. Infineon is focusing on eliminating that. "We have a junction temperature of 175 degrees C, so we can utilize the engine's coolant," says Sayeed Ahmed, Hybrid Drives marketing manager at Infineon.

Hybrid challenges extend far beyond electronic technologies, even drawing attention from insurance companies like State Farm. Noting that there are already more than 328,000 hybrid vehicles in the United States, the insurer recently established the Auto Design and Extrication Forum. Among its goals are to protect firemen and other first responders of the unique challenges presented by high voltage technologies in hybrids.

Hydraulic Hybrid

While batteries are presently the preferred alternative power source, heavy duty vehicle developers are exploring the use of hydraulics for power. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) teamed up with the U.S. Army, UPS, International Truck and Engine Corp. and Eaton Corp., altering a UPS truck so it uses hydraulic energy to launch the truck, providing substantial fuel savings over conventional driving. "Stored energy basically turns the hydraulic pump into a motor," said Ken Rasmussen, Eaton's global engineering manager.

The hydraulic hybrid diesel urban delivery vehicle stores energy in a hydraulic accumulator, building pressure during braking. Initial tests in the spring showed a 60 to 70 percent improvement in fuel economy and more than a 40 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions compared to a conventional UPS vehicle.

However, there are still issues that must be resolved. A key one is that accumulators develop very high pressure, raising safety concerns if hoses or other components break.

For more on hybrid powertrains, join our online Motion Control Forum

Engine, Transmission Controls Push Forward

Staid powertrains undergo a surprising makeover as automakers focus on fuel conservation

Portable Heart Monitor

Recom Managed Systems' Incorporated Model 100

To record a clinical quality electrocardiograph (ECG) signal in the presence of noise generated by ambient environment and the patient's body movements, this ambulatory patient heart monitor uses patented signal processing technology. The Model 100 uses Texas Instruments' MSP430F149 ultra-low power microcontroller for data acquisition and pre-processing and achieves up to 48 hours of real-time heart monitoring during patients' everyday activities. Optimized for ultra-low power, the MCU's core and peripherals significantly extend the battery life on the portable monitor. Learn more about Texas Instruments' MSP430 microcontrollers.

Resourcefulness, or Why Good Engineers (and Good Cooks) Use the Best Available Components

Q. Which (amplifier/switch/converter) is best in a (mobile phone/strain gauge/medical ultrasound system)?

A. Whichever is most efficient and cost-effective, no matter what it was originally designed for. When choosing an IC, ask what it does, and how well it will work, not whether it was designed for the type of system you are building.

While at the butcher's last week to buy ground beef for spaghetti bolognaise, I noticed some cheap stewing venison. So I purchased some, minced it, and made a delicious "spaghetti alla salsa di cervo." Later that week "chile con venado" was equally successful.

As engineers we must use the best available resources to design our systems. The word engineer is derived from the Latin "ingenium," which means ingenious, i.e. resourceful. Bolognaise and chili recipes specify beef, but venison has less fat and improves the flavor.

It is unwise to avoid an IC because its data sheet does not specify a particular application. Recently, we conducted research to find out why some companies that bought a lot of our analog switches for handsets did not buy one particular type which was more ideally suited in both performance and price. The switches that were selling listed "handsets" among possible applications, but the data sheet of the better suited switch did not, so it was not considered. This is not good engineering.

Asking fundamental questions helps us to choose components (ingredients) which, though not intended or specified for our application, are actually well-suited to it.

For example, a useful component that can be easily overlooked is the AD8210. Described as a "current shunt monitor" its data sheet lists its applications as "current sensing" followed by six automotive current sensing tasks. Potential users can be forgiven for assuming that the AD8210 is simply an automotive current sensor. In fact, the AD8210 is an in-amp with a CMR from 0 to +65V when operated with a single +5V supply. Developed for automotive high-side current measurement, it is valuable wherever a small signal with a high positive common-mode voltage and reasonably low source impedance must be measured. It has been used successfully in industrial instrumentation, avionics, battery chargers and innumerable other applications, but only by engineers who see past the description on its data sheet.

To learn more about in-amps and reading data sheets, go to: