Introduction: Starting a Microprocessor/electronic Project

Picture of Starting a Microprocessor/electronic Project

At certain times of the year Instructables gets asked "what project can I do", " how can I do..." mostly by school or college students.

In many cases if the questioner were to approach their project in a logical and systematic manner  then most of these questions would answer themselves

That's what professional engineers do. they work systematically through the project to achieve a satisfactory end.

This instructable contains the essential parts of one of the many student handbooks I prepared for my students for use in their exam year.

Some parts have been edited because they apply to the UK exam system and the user should insert their relevant exam criteria in there.

Please bear in mind that this was aimed at the UK school Design and Technology system BUT the methodology and information can - and should be - applied to any project that is less than trivial even work at home if of a suitable scale.

The principles can, and should be, applied in all industry small and large because they are well established good practices.

This work is all my own although the ideas are drawn from established systems in industry, exam appropriate information applies to the UK AQA exam board 2009 - This should still be current although the form is easily changed.

For Teachers and School students following this is a proven way to get good results - It still requires students to do the work.

You are more than welcome to use this information to your advantage. Please credit this instructable.

Step 1: Introduction

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The aim of this hand book is to guide you through the process of designing and making in a way that will ensure you meet all of the requirements of the exam board.

This is a step by step approach and none of the steps should be missed out.

Success is a product of the effort you put in. The majority of students fail because they:
Miss out sections of the project
Do not meet the required deadlines
Produce poor quality, rushed or incomplete work.
Waste time in class when they should be working
Fail to complete work at home for Homework or during holidays.

Your project counts for 60% of the marks and the exam for 40%

How to use this book.
This book can only help you organise your coursework if you a) understand what you are trying to achieve and b) follow the guide in this book.

The deadlines.
The exam board say that the GCSE coursework should take 40 hours of work. This covers the design work in the folder and making your product(s). the making should take more time than the designing.

40 hours is approximately 43 lessons at 55 mins per lesson., at 3 lessons per week this is some 14.5 weeks, or roughly a term.

NOTE: this is the lesson time allocated and does not include any extra time you use at home for homework or during the holidays.

If you start at the May half term you should be able to finish just after the Oct half term in year 11. This will then include 2 half term holidays and the summer holidays in which you can be working on your folder work. If we allow to Christmas in year 11 then you will have an extra 7 weeks to perfect your work.

You will only achieve this if you are organised and work to the deadlines.

On the other hand you will most certainly not achieve this if you do not do any work outside the classroom.

Step 2: How to Get Good Grades

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1. manage your time
A suitable allocation of the time is detailed here. It is recommended that you make a more detailed version of the time plan showing the individual tasks required to complete each section.

2 Understand the exam board requirements.
Know what the exam board expects you to produce and what they will give you marks for - this isn't a secret and your teacher will have this information. In the UK ALL exam boards make the specification for each exam publicly available on their web site.

3 Manage your project
Project management is all about:
a) Knowing what you have to do
b) When it need to be done
c) That it is finished

Use table 2 to tick off each part as you finish it - NOTE: Finished means you have done it to the exam standards.

Step 3: How to Get Good Grades

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A note here to teachers - It is a waste of time expecting students to achieve if they don't clearly know what criteria they are trying to meet. Tell them - Make them write it down and explain what it means

The following criteria come from the UK AQA exam board grade criteria:

How to get good grades

Grade A

When designing and making products, and acquiring and applying knowledge, skills and understanding, candidates seek out and use information to help their detailed design thinking, and recognise the needs of a variety of client groups. They are discriminating in their selection and use of information sources to support their work and they use a wide range of strategies to develop appropriate ideas, responding to information they have identified.
Candidates investigate form, function and production processes and communicate ideas using a variety of appropriate media. They recognise the different needs of a range of users when developing fully realistic designs. When planning, they make sound decisions on materials and techniques based on their understanding of the physical properties and working characteristics of materials. They work from formal plans that make the best use of time and resources; work with a range of tools, equipment, materials and components to a high degree of precision and make products that are reliable and robust and that fully meet the quality requirements given in the design proposal.
Candidates identify conflicting demands on their design, explain how their ideas address these demands and use this analysis to produce proposals. They identify a broad range of criteria for evaluating and testing their products, clearly relating their findings to the purpose for which the products were designed and the appropriate use of resources, and fully evaluate their use of information sources

Grade C

When designing and making products, and acquiring and applying knowledge, skills and understanding, candidates use a wide range of appropriate sources of information and strategies to develop ideas, responding to information they have identified. They investigate form, function and production processes and communicate ideas,
using appropriate media.
Candidates recognise the needs of users and develop realistic designs. They produce plans that make use of time and resources to carry out the main stages of making products. They work with a range of tools, materials, equipment, components and processes, taking account of their characteristics, and organise their work so that they can carry out processes accurately and consistently, and use tools, equipment, materials and components with precision. Candidates adapt their methods of manufacture to changing circumstances, providing a sound explanation for any change from the initial specification. They select appropriate techniques to test and evaluate how their products would perform when used and modify their products in the light of ongoing evaluation to improve their performance. They evaluate their use of information sources.
.
Factors leading to higher grades include

Projects that stretch the candidate in terms of overall difficulty (concept, skills, techniques)
The design development of the product is clearly shown and reasons arc given for decisions made
Clear, dimensioned views, using CAD, are offered to aid manufacture
Less time is spent on the folder than the making
Quality of manufacture and finish is appropriate and of high quality
Awareness of CAM is shown in parts of the project
CAM is used to aid manufacture, if appropriate
Consideration is given to commercial market needs and a system is suggested to produce the product in numbers.
Projects are reviewed and tested throughout the making process (project diary)

Assessment Criteria

You should seek out and fill in the relevant assessment criteria for your exam board - It isn't difficult to find.

Step 4: Finding a Suitable Project.

Picture of Finding a Suitable Project.

The briefs for the project  should be chosen by the students and must be agreed by the teacher.

The list below covers some areas you might think about.

Railway crossing
Robot arm
Line following robot
Walking robot
Car park barrier
Light level monitor
Industrial system
Conveyor
Shape or size sorter
Colour sorter
Height/thickness measurement
Art installation
Techno games entry
Green house control
Security
Entry control system – smart card
Micro mouse
Mechanical Digger
Lift
Plotter
Joy stick controlled arm
Search and rescue
Mine detection
Lifting bridge
Display
Disabled assistance – Filling cup / bath – Warning, guiding.
Remote arm.

Your project begins with a project brief - A statement of the problem you are trying to solve.

typical examples follow:

A typical brief could be one of the following:

Pupils in Nursery or Primary Schools use play as a means of learning.  Such activity often involves using educational toys. Design and make a suitable learning toy for a child, that uses some form of safe control  system.

Picking up small objects which are inaccessible, or are located in a  hostile environment, can be difficult. Design and make a remote arm  or a gripper device for a particular situation. The product will be  batch produced. 

A local pet shop wishes to sell a range of devices that will  automatically feed small-cage pets (such as rabbits, gerbils, mice etc)  when their owners are away for the weekend. Design and build a  prototype device that could satisfy this need. The product will be  batch produced. 

Monitoring and recording weather conditions are part of many  schools™ Geography practical work. Design and build a device which  could satisfy this need.

Partially-sighted and blind people find many cooking activities  difficult. You have been asked to design and build a set of kitchen  scales that could be used by such people, and can be produced in  quantity.

Geography students need to measure the flow rate of a local river at  different depths across its width. You have been asked to design and  build a flow meter that could be used on a field trip. 

A small electronics firm wishes to develop a range of portable alarm  systems for particular groups of people. Design and make a prototype  suitable for development by the company. 

Your local model boat club wants you to design and make a wave tank  that can be used to evaluate different hull designs. This product will  be marketed and sold nationally

The manager of a local “super store” has asked you to design a  promotional display for the entrance to the store that can be used to  promote a product of your choice. The display needs to be interactive, so it will operate when someone enters the store or stands in front of the display. You have been asked to design and make a working model of this, to show how it will work. 

Your local primary school has asked you to design and make a  working model of a pedestrian crossing with traffic lights, so it can be  used to teach young children how to use the lights to cross the road  safely. The ergonomics of this problem could be considered as part of the project. 

The dining room at a local school becomes over-crowded because there is no system to control when pupils enter or leave. Design a control system that can monitor numbers of pupils as they enter and  leave the dining room and will indicate which year group should enter  next. You should consider health and safety issues and a manual over- ride, so lunchtime supervisors can take control if necessary. 

Identify a location where an internal door needs to be locked. Design a lock system for the door that can be opened and closed without the need for people to carry a key with them. The system will be marketed nationally. 

Many young children have access to a computer at home. Design an educational or interactive toy that can be connected to the computer.

When cycling some riders, especially young children, find it difficult to  understand how they should use the gears. Design and make a device that could be fitted to a bicycle that could help indicate when the rider should change gear. This device is to be sold in quantity. 

Manufacturing companies must carry out extensive tests on products, to ensure they work reliably before they are sold. Identify a suitable product and design and make a test rig that could be used to ensure it will work correctly over an extended period of time. 

Identify a situation where a stable environment is important. Design and make a model control system to show how this environment can  be stabilised. Ventilation, temperature, brightness and air humidity are all important in this type of system. 

When using any form of training equipment in a gym it is important to monitor your performance, record the number of “reps” or inform the  user when they have completed the required number of  “reps”  Identify one exercise or piece of equipment. Design and make a device that will help the athletes in their training. 

Musicians need to turn the pages of musical scores during a performance. They cannot always do this as they use both hands playing their instrument. Design and make a device that will overcome this problem. It will be marketed nationally. 

Many companies use a computerised storage and identification system  in their warehouses. Design and make a model to show how a system like this would work. 

A local transport museum has asked you to design and make a model of a canal lock system to inform visitors how this works. They will display this in the museum entrance 

Local table tennis players have asked you to design and make a device that will serve balls to them so they can practice playing without an  opponent. Some form of random delivery needs to be considered in the design of the device. If successful, it will be marketed nationally. 

A local courier service has asked you to look at the problem of sorting parcels of different weights. They want you to design and make a working model of a system that could automatically sort a range of  parcels by their weight.

Step 5: The Brief

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The brief is a statement of the problem you are trying to solve. In the best case everything you need to consider that is part of the problem will be written in the brief. In reality you usually need to get some clarification of what is required.

If you are making your project for a real client this is easy as you can ask them questions. If you do not have a real client then either your teacher must help you or you need to make some assumptions yourself, either way the brief should say exactly what the problem is.

Analysing the brief.

This is best done with a web diagram:
a) You need to start to think about what the brief is asking
b) What sort of project might solve it.
c) What materials might be used
d) What mechanisms might be used
e) What style is involved
f) What construction techniques you might use
g) What functions are required
h) Where the product will be used
i) Who might use the product
j) What sort of finish is required

These thoughts will help you decide what you need to research in order to make your design.

Step 6: Your Research

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Once the problem has been analysed you should start your research. This is often the hardest part as finding information that is useful can be quite difficult and it is easy to collect a lot of information much of which is no use to your project.

Research Plan.

You should make a table showing the areas you intend to research, where to get the information and when it is needed, also add a tick box to tick off when it is done.

All research should be limited to what is specifically connected with your project.

Where to get it:

Internet
Books
Magazines
CD ROMs
News papers
Surveys
Questionnaires
Interviews

Collect information on:
a) Existing products in the area you are considering
b) Materials you can see have been use to make these products or you are fairly sure you will be using.
c) Style examples if appropriate.
d) Construction techniques

All of the pictures you have collected should be analysed and notes made about what they show and what is going to apply to your project.

All surveys & questionnaires should be analysed using ICT (spreadsheet and charts).

At the end of the research summarise what you have found out. This information will be used to write your specification.

Doing your research.
If at the end of any time you spend on research you have nothing put into your folder you have wasted that time. Only research that show evidence will gain any marks.

You should collect:
Pictures showing existing products
Pictures showing the environment your product will be used in
Pictures of materials
Examples of construction techniques, pictures or drawings
Information about materials – put these in a table
Information about styles – pictures
Information about suitable finishes – in a table
Data from questionnaires etc. – graphs and charts. Use ICT


Present your research in different ways

You might use Annotated sketches: Tables of data: Graphs: Listsl;

At the end of the research analyse your findings - Pick out what is relevant and useful,  explain why you think you will need that information.



Step 7: Ideas

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You need to start to think about how you can resolve the brief (or problem your trying to solve) There may be several options and you should think through and explore them to see which one is the best for you.

You should aim to produce between 10 to 15 different ideas that will all satisfy the requirements of the specification.

Fill each design page with ideas or details of the ideas. Use a variety of ways to get your ideas over, Isometric and orthographic drawing, annotate all drawings to explain what they mean but do not have more words than drawings on the paper.

Try to produce ideas that are clearly workable. Try to show that they are 3D objects. Try to show how they work and what they do. Always show the thickness and depth of the ideas simple line drawings are probably not enough.

Use your research – it should be clear that you are looking at your research as a source of inspiration.
Look around you all the time and try to find things that can inspire ideas.

The shape of a vacuum cleaner can become a futuristic car body. The design of a toy can be modified to make a kitchen timer. Etc.

Do not throw away marks by editing out ideas that you feel are not as good as others. Keep all of your work and select the best from it later.

All of your ideas should be evaluated in notes as you go along.

Think about:

a) Does this design meet the requirements
b) Explain why you have rejected an idea
c) Show where you have used material from your research
d) Say what decisions you have made
e) Say how you could improve on an idea
f) Decide if the idea is appealing and say what you could do to improve this.

List alongside your designs the materials that might be used, are they available, do you know how to use them.

Step 8: Developing Ideas Into Reality

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This is the time to select from your initial ideas the best of them and bring these together into a single design that you will make. They might be the best because:

a) They best meet your requirements
b) Are most liked
c) Look the best
d) Provide a very good solution to the problem
e) You will be able to make them to a good quality standard.

Good design is always a compromise, now you have to turn your ideas into a practical project.

You will need to decide exactly how the project will be constructed. This will mean considering each part of the project and how they fit together.

You will need to decide on sizes for each part.

Modelling
This is often the time to make some models to experiment with how things work or how big they need to be. Any modelling you do should be photographed and included in this section with note explaining what you learned from it.

The final design will be drawn as working drawings. Usually 3 orthographic views of the whole object and of each part so that the correct dimensions can be marked on them. This is a good place to use 2D design CAD.

Decide on the materials required.

Decide on the construction techniques you will use

Make a table showing all materials, what they are for and how much you will need. A costing can be done now as well.

Step 9: Industrial Practices

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Industrial methods of production

You should show that you understand how Industry does things. (even if your not taking an exam this is useful information)

One-off
Also known as job production. This involves designing and making single products usually for a special order. This can also be known as a commission.

For example, a fashion designer might produce a specially-ordered suit for an individual person.

The process is usually labour- intensive and involves limited mechanisation. The products are usually very expensive.

Batch production

Also known as small scale production or low volume production
This is where small quantities of the same product are made. They are usually made to order and there may be some opportunity for the client to select options that meet their needs.

Some mechanisation and jigs may be used to improve accuracy and to speed up production.

Examples of batch production include boat building, specialist sports cars, a range of bread produced by a local baker, and designer fashions.

Mass production

Also known as repetitive flow or volume production
This involves producing large quantities of identical products. It may include mechanised or automated production lines. In many cases, special moulds, dyes and automated production lines may be used to speed up output.

The production of large quantities of the same product reduces costs to the consumer Televisions, computers, high street fashions, tins of baked beans, cola drinks and birthday cards are just a few examples of this enormous range.

You should also think about how each of the following might be relevant to your product in an industrial context, and how each might be undertaken:

Research and development which might include:
  • Market research and the testing of prototypes.
  • Meeting deadlines set by your clients.
  • Different approaches to making which could include sub-contracting or the use of jigs/templates to aid marking out and promote accurate assembly.
  • Independent testing which might include market trials.
  • The use of ICT to provide greater quality and accuracy in designing and making.
  • Environmental issues — use of resources, waste disposal, pollution, recycling.
  • Quality control and assurance.
  • Health and safety issues including risk analysis.

Step 10: Quality Control and Quality Assurance

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Quality Control and Quality Assurance are two terms often confused by people. In the long run some kind of quality structure is essential. testing things and throwing away what doesn't work is wasteful and costly so some method of ensuring that most or all of what you make is going to be OK will save money.

You should identify where you will use quality control and or quality assurance techniques in you work.

Quality control. – This requires that you check each part to make sure it will do what it is supposed to do, e.g. it is the right size, it performs the correct functions, e.g. a motor turns the right way.  If the part fails then some remedial measures need to be taken to fix it. If this is impossible, say the part is too small then it will have to be remade.

This is costly in time and materials.

Quality Assurance – This requires that you use some sort of plan to make sure that all of the parts of the project will be made correctly. This may mean making a jig or template, once this has been proven to be correct it will allow the construction or assembly of the same part many times and each time it will be correct because the jig or template guides what you do. Example. A jig to make sure you drill the holes in the correct place. The used of CAD – CAM, once the file has been produced then many more of that part can be made by the machine and they will all be the same.

This is much better because any costs are minimised by the reductions in errors during construction.

Step 11: Testing and Evaluation

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The development ends in:

a) The production of working drawings of each part with all dimensions marked on them. These should show enough detail such that another person could make the project if required.

(Use Orthographic drawings and if possible an exploded drawing to show where each part fits.)

b) A materials list so that the correct materials can be ordered.

c) A plan for making showing a step by step plan to make your project, this should be detailed and can be illustrated. Details of Quality assurance and quality control should be included. Some idea of time should be included – be realistic.


If and when you have to change your plans or your design you must note down these changes and record why you have had to make them. Possibly because you:

Underestimate the amount of time needed
Find a different and better way to make some part of the product.
Find that a process you planned to use isn’t available or isn’t working as well as you expected.
You have to use different materials because of availability or because they are better for your purpose.

Testing your product.

The first testing should be to make sure your product meets the requirements of the specification after all this is where you stated what you were going to make and what it would do.

Take each specification point in turn and list them showing what you did to test this point and how well your product meets it.

You might test some parts of your product for durability.

You might ask for the opinions of others

You might be able to approach an expert who can give you an evaluation of your product and design. (such an expert may be a retailer or a designer you know)

All testing should be planned and the results recorded.

The best way to do this is in a table.

Step 12: Evaluating Your Project.

Picture of Evaluating Your Project.

There are all sorts of good reasons to evaluate what you have done.

1. It should enable you to avoid making the same mistake.
2. It should lead to improvement
3. it shows the ability to reflect
4. in the Uk exam system it is a required part of your project.


Writing your evaluation report

You revaluation report is a collection of the thoughts, reflections and judgements you have made during both the designing and making stages of your project In particular, consider how these choices and changes to your work have improved the final outcome and what you have learnt from this experience which will make you a better designer in the future.

You might consider splitting your report into two sections to reflect the two different stages of the process, ie:

1  Evaluating throughout the process of designing and making. This includes evaluating the appropriateness of your starting point, your initial research, design ideas, development, plan of making and the actual making of your product.

2  Testing and evaluating the performance of your final product. For this to be thorough, your project needs to be completed and capable of being tested and evaluated by the client, in the environment for which it was designed.

The process of designing and making

This is not a description or diary of what you did, or how you did It. This part of your report should focus upon those aspects of your designing and making where you had to make choices about your project or reconsider your proposed intentions. If you pull together the comments you have made in response to the evaluation points of this handbook, you will find that you can write a couple of sentences or a paragraph on each of the parts of your project. Use sketches or photographs to support your views and opinions.

Consider the following questions:

Designing
• Explain your reasons for selecting your starting point. If you were to tackle this project again, would you still think it was a suitable choice? If not, what would you do next time around?
• Discuss the most successful and least successful parts of your research. Were there any significant gaps in your research that you discovered as the project developed?
• Was your design specification as detailed as it should have been? What might you have added?
• Did your initial ideas meet your design specification?
• Which ideas did you choose to develop and why?
• What were the views of your client about your initial and developed ideas?
• What were the most important/successful features of your final design?
• What were the least successful features?
• Did your final design fully meet your design specification?
• Did you leave anything out of your design specification?

Making
• Why did you choose the particular materials, ingredients or components for your final product?
• Would you reconsider the materials and processes you used due to problems you encountered whilst making?
• During the making of the project, what parts were you pleased with and why?
• What aspects of your making could be improved and how?
• What new skills did you learn? Did your lack of experience in the application of these skills limit the quality of your work?
• How did you manage the time available for this project? Could you manage your time more efficiently in future projects?
• If you were to repeat the designing and making of this project, what would you do differently second time around?

Evaluating and testing the final product
Here are a set of questions you might ask about your work when you are evaluating and testing the final product.
Write a sentence or paragraph about each of these questions to produce your final report- Use sketches or photographs to support your statements.

Consider the following questions:

• Look critically at your final product- What do you believe to be its strengths and weaknesses? • Does it work as you had intended? If not, why not? To what extent does it meet your proposed intention?
• Is it easy to use?
• Have problems arisen due to constraints around materials or your limited skills and expertise?
• Does the visual appeal of the product match the intended vision of your final design? If not, why not?
• Test out your product in the most appropriate way Gather the opinions of your client(s).
• Does your product meet the needs of your client(s)?
• Is your product cost-effective?
• Are there any environmental concerns?
• How could your product be improved? You could include sketches of your proposed improvements.

Final note about your evaluation report When writing evaluation reports, remember that you are reflecting upon what you have learnt about designing and making as a result of the project.

Your teacher or the examiner does not want to hear “... everything went well” as we all know, this is not what happens in the real world. Your teacher and the examiners are looking for your ability to analyse the project. You need to draw out, in a thoughtful and critical way, those aspects of your work that informed your thinking and prompted changes in direction. It is this flexibility and confidence to make sensible changes in direction as your work evolves which will signal that you are a good designer and also impress the people who mark your work.

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Bio: Retired technology teacher - 2 kids, I have an Hons deg in Design and Technology - 28 years as Computer systems engineer Trained as Electronics engineer in ... More »
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