The Tao of Rugged Embedded System Design
No magic, just experience, and a talented team
Despite what you might hear, there is no magic involved in the design of rugged embedded systems; as with any engineering-related activity, it is firmly rooted in Physics.
There are plenty of weapons in an engineer's arsenal to support a successful design including computation fluid dynamics for simulating thermal design, finite element analysis for mechanical design, circuit simulation, 3D electromagnetic simulation and logic simulation for electronic design.
Of course, you need knowledgeable and experienced engineers to wield these powerful weapons in the battle against the triple-headed monster of time, cost and complexity. Unfortunately being a good design engineer is not enough in an era of complex requirements and labyrinthine regulatory, industry and military standards. Experience counts for a lot, being able to understand the implications of regulatory requirements and how to pass them during qualification testing is non-trivial and may not be obvious. It isn’t just the engineers that need experience to be successful but also Project Management staff, on which the success of any program will hinge.
Ultimately, the work isn’t done when the application-ready rugged embedded system is delivered. Being able to manufacture production systems to agreed quality standards is in itself non-trivial, involving supply and vendor management at the front end, manufacturing in the middle and production test at end with quality management present throughout. Additionally, supply management involves the added complexity in recent years of counterfeit components entering the supply chain with the potential to cause failures in fielded products.
Once a rugged embedded system is in production it may need to continue being produced for 10 years, 20 years or even longer, in addition to needing the capability to perform repairs. Managing component lifecycles, obsolescence and availability (including long term storage) is a key part of supporting rugged embedded systems.
Whilst none of these parts is magical by itself, putting them all together creates something greater than the sum of the parts. Curtiss-Wright can help you ensure the success of your rugged embedded system program.
Paul Garnett is the System Architect in the UK Systems Engineering team at Curtiss-Wright. His 30 year career in electronics has encompassed design and architecture of SBCs, fault-tolerant computers, rugged embedded systems for MIL/Aero, high speed data acquisition and FPGA signal processing. Paul is a graduate of Imperial College, London with a Master's degree in Computer Science. He holds 73 US patents.