Case Study: Leading Edge Instrumentation
Scitec Instruments, Redruth. This is a small specialist instrumentation company whose products are often used in research applications. The volumes are small and the resources of the company, whilst technically deep are in keeping with other small companies. Scitec and Hawkshead have a have a mutual respect and are geographically close.
Scitec was approached by a client in Germany who wanted to purchase multiple sets of their equipment with light sensors and amplifiers. An amplifier was available from another German manufacturer but it was expensive and not ideal. The challenge was to produce an amplifier of comparable or better specification which was more suited to the application.
Scitec asked Hawkshead to produce the amplifier and the circuit board design. The board design is a critical part of a circuit of performance as high as this. Various IC manufacturers' products were investigated. Although the component parts were able to suggest such levels of performance, we were advised that realising the potential was far from straightforward in the real world. Given the commercial constraints the project had a high degree of technical risk.
The issues were reported back to the client in Germany, with an accompanying proposal. The proposal offered a stage prior to the normal design path. This stage would produce the essence of the amplifier at an artificially low but non-refundable cost. If the levels of performance achieved were too low the contract for the amplifiers would be set aside. If the desired performance was achieved then the fees for the second stage would include recovery of the undercharged work.
Hawkshead's scheme of a topology that was not suggested by the IC vendors was selected as the optimum. The client accepted the proposal as being commercially fair in the face of technical risk. The potential pay off was a full design win and product manufacture for Scitec and a more cost effective integrated product for the client. This is a classic win-win situation.
The first model worked as well as could be wished for and so the second stage was initiated. At this point the client advised that given the range switching requirements relays were no longer suitable and some form of solid state device would be needed. This added further complication to the design and required yet more consideration both to topology and board layout.
Ultimately the product emerged, meeting the most stringent criteria and exceeding the performance elsewhere. A screening can was used around the critical input stage and power supplies to this stage equally succeeded in their contribution to the total performance.