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EETE APRIL 2013

3D views cut costly iterations and ease assembly in robotics design By Daniel Burnier Over the last two years, the use of the latest 3D design technology has greatly improved the electronic developments in the Miniature Mobile Robots Group (MOBOTS) at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL Switzerland). The group’s main activity is system design for miniature autonomous mobile robots. This field includes a large spectrum of disciplines, spanning from Artificial Intelligence to mechatronics, from navigation techniques to digital electronics, from sensors to actuators technologies. Thanks to using leading-edge electronic design tools with a high level of integration, MOBOTS won the “Most Innovative Technology” award at last year’s “Robot Film Festival” in New York. The needs for electronic development at EPFL are extremely varied and cut across all levels of complexity, from the development of simple boards (e.g. sensor interface) to the design of highly complex PCBs located in a similarly complex environment. With projects ranging from introductory courses to highlevel research, and users ranging from first year students to PhD students, researchers and technical staff, it is also important to have access to design tools and technologies that are state-ofthe art while quick to learn. EPFL is using Altium Designer to streamline the development of more and more complex electronic boards and to integrate those into mechatronic systems, such as the miniature robots developed by the MOBOTS team, with less pain. The team often found that the CADs were poorly operated and that too often, users were working in compartmentalization with little or poor interaction between the pure electronic design and the mechanical integration into the final applications. This meant that often several iterations of an electronic board were necessary to meet the expected requirements because too many details had been neglected throughout the development process. This is completely unnecessary, as the 3D view in Altium ASSEMBLY & PACKAGING Fig. 1: From left to right – 1 a very simplified version of the card connector only – 2 a simplified version of the card connector with its counterpart – 3 a detailed version of the card connector only- 4 a detailed version of the card connector with its counterpart – 5 a detailed version of the card connector with its counterpart, with the latter showing up as transparent. Designer gives a virtually real representation of both the PCB and its mechanical environment during the entire development phase. This enables the designer to take important details into account before product tape out, thereby allowing him to transform an idea into a successful product. Virtual reality The use of Altium Designer allows better visualization of the 3D reality if the component is well defined. The following example shows different representations of a 12-pin MicroMatch connector in SMD version for the top row and through-version to the bottom – see figure 1. The representation can range from the most simplified drawing to semi-transparent parts showing underneath PCB tracks. In figure 1, only the detailed versions 3 to 5 give a clear representation, both with regards to the type of connector and to ensure that the counterpart is present or not. This is essential for the complete management of the environment, especially if there is something close by. The detailed SMD version, for example, allows the developer to place components very closely to each other, as shown in the example of figure 2, where R5 and C6 are partially under the connector. Planning Daniel Burnier is Engineer at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL Switzerland) - www.epfl.ch Fig. 2: A detailed SMD component view allows developers to place components very closely to each other. 40 Electronic Engineering Times Europe April 2013 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE APRIL 2013
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