With iVolve Chief Technology Officer, David Eagles.
Whether scrawled on the back of a napkin, mended together on the garage floor, or designed using the latest 3D modelling software, every product starts with an idea. Bringing that idea to a fully functioning, marketable prototype takes a lot of effort, iterations and time.
The word ‘prototype’ often conjures images of a coded, fully functioning version of an interface but in reality, no first design will ever get everything right. iVolve’s Chief Technology Officer, David Eagles and the engineering team have recently gone through the prototyping process when creating the Bus Access Module (BM2).
From an Idea to a Prototype
The BM2 was created with the very basic requirement to implement a device that could connect to specific machine interfaces for hardware platforms that did not have the physical interface. The prototyping process was able to begin after the practicality of BM2 had been established.
‘Once we knew what functionality the device needed to provide and confirmed the viability of the product, we researched the various components we could use to achieve that. Evaluation kits were sourced from the various component suppliers as part of the proof of concept and initial development platform, and the design for the initial prototype hardware platform was commenced,’ said David.
The early stages of the process involved a working proof of concept and a hardware design that is informed by reference material supplied by component providers. Once all the components had been selected and the schematic had been completed, David and the team were able to estimate the potential size of the circuit boardand the shape and style of enclosure it would fit in. After that process was completed, the design and layout on the printed circuit board (PCB) was manufactured, components are soldered to the PCB, connectors were fitted and product branding and decals were applied.
When creating such complex hardware and software it is inevitable that some problems arise. The biggest challenge when prototyping the BM2 was achieving the right balance of cost, size and reliability. Because the BM2 is powered directly from a vehicle, it required a lot of sophisticated protection circuity to ensure it operated smoothly regardless of voltage spikes and transients present on vehicle.
‘This comes at the cost of both higher component pricing and larger size, but we also had a goal of keeping the device to the size of a matchbox so it could be easily installed in any vehicles,’ said David.
The mining environment provides its own set of challenges for the iVolve engineers. The harsh conditions found on site mean that devices need to be incredibly durable to endure extreme heat, irregular movement and dust.
‘Very high vibration on some machines, wide operating temperatures, dust (especially iron ore and coal, which are highly conductive) are some of the unique requirements for devices designed for the mining environment. The BM2 is designed to go inside the cabin, so these factors are reduced, but dust can still buildup and cause a short circuit on the PCB if it's not properly protected. Similarly, vibration on some machines is severe enough to shear steel bolts, so the design of the BM2 enclosure and PCB is very important - minimising weight, using low profile components, providing dampening, etc. all help to ensure the product is as reliable as possible.’
The BM2 will be released in the new year. Stay tuned.
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