Tips to COVID 19-proof design projects

May 01, 2020 //By Dunstan Power
product design
It’s fair to say that – due to the COVID-19 pandemic – the world of work will never quite be the same again. We’ve been in lockdown for a few weeks now and a number of challenges have cropped up, some specific to technical teams.

There are plenty of resources for video conferencing solutions, time management etc, but we thought we would cover solutions more unique to the electronics development sector. So as an electronics design house or in-house electronics team, how can you rise to the trials of remote working and successfully push through projects in a potentially hostile economic climate for the next few months?

Here are the challenges as a team we’ve overcome so far…

Framework

There are several factors to check - CAD tool licenses, ESD protection, test equipment access to name a few - to ensure your electronics product design team can deliver to customers what they need and when they need it.

Electronics design resource

In terms of electronics design engineers – you need to be confident that they’re able to continue working on your project in their own homes.  Questions to ask include:

  • What access to tools is necessary for the job? E.g.:

-              soldering equipment

-              spectrum analysers, Multimeters, PSUs, oscilloscopes

-              test equipment

  • How suitable is their working environment?

Electronics and firmware engineers typically need more space than average workers, due to target hardware and test equipment being plugged into their desktop or laptop PCs. Some of our design consultants have repurposed rooms, for instance. 

Also consider ergonomics as this could be a long-term situation. Some staff have taken desk chairs home.

  • How are engineers able to maintain electrical safety?

Safety of others in the household of the electronics design engineer is equally important, particularly when working with any equipment that is mains powered, generates high voltages or heat. In general, prototype devices should not be left powered and unattended in a domestic environment, though this sometimes cannot be helped during testing, however bear in mind that even the most benign looking board can be a fire hazard if not treated correctly.

  • How will privacy and security of data be addressed?

Many projects involve working with sensitive data and this needs to be taken care of at home the same as it would be a work.

  • Are products under development being protected?

In particular, is ESD protection in place? At ByteSnap we provided earthing mats for the engineers working on unenclosed PCBs at home.

  • Do staff have access to a “bare-bones” shared office?

If they’re still able to access their regular place of work, maintaining social distancing, this can be very helpful in sustaining project momentum. 

You would expect these visits to be limited to members of the design team who absolutely need to use the workplace. Typically, those people will be dealing with either large pieces of equipment or hardware-related issues requiring test gear.

However, even here, with a bit of imagination the need to visit the office can be reduced. For instance, on one project our engineers developed a work-around by using Arduinos to cycle power to boards and web cams to monitor the status of LEDs and displays on the PCBs.  This has reduced significantly the number of people in the barebones office.


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