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Electronics Point Survey: Design Challenges for Electrical Engineers

December 05, 2018 by Sam Holland

Our survey included almost 500 engineers, asking about their experiences with design challenges with their projects. How do power, budget, foot-print, timeline, and other factors influence the final product?

From that “eureka moment” when an electrical engineer first conceives an innovative new design until the final product is delivered by a member of the sales team, a multitude of challenges is constantly being tackled behind the scenes.

Electronics Point recently conducted a survey for nearly 300 engineers to explore what their biggest design challenges are for their projects.

The survey bordered on the following:

  • The most challenging aspects of design
  • The use of modular solutions to address those aspects
  • The most important factor for selecting a modular solution
  • Whether engineers were willing to pay a premium for a modular solution over a discrete solution

This survey will elaborate on these design challenges and how they affect EE designs. We should be able to learn a thing or two from those preferences.

Image courtesy of Pixabay. 

The Most Challenging Aspects of Design

The survey, carried out by EETech Media & Marketing, asked which of these design aspects they considered most challenging:

  • Power
  • Wireless
  • Embedded
  • Sensing

Here’s the breakdown:

Power (34.42% of respondents)

Power was the most challenging aspect of design, according to the majority of EEs who took the survey. Power refers to AC or DC power input/output design for electrical/electronic systems.

In recent times, low-power consumption has been the focus of EE design. More than ever, engineers are expected to utilise sophisticated technologies and components to design products that are power-efficient without compromising performance or reliability.  

Wireless (26.81% of respondents)

Wireless design involves wireless network modelling, planning, simulation, and optimisation for products with a wireless connectivity component. Wireless design can be modelled, simulated, and optimised using software tools. Some examples include MATLAB and iBWave.

Embedded (23.55% of respondents)

Ranking third as the most challenging aspect is embedded design. An embedded system integrates both software and hardware components to perform a specific function while being part of a larger system.

These form an integral part of electronic designs in the modern world. They can be fixed or programmable systems utilising processors, such as microcontrollers, application-specific ICs (ASICs), field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), digital signal processors (DSPs), etc. Some examples of embedded systems are GPS systems, anti-lock braking system (ABS) of automobiles, an AC controller, or even a mobile phone.

Since embedded systems are designed for a single purpose over the useful life of a product, engineers can optimise their size, performance, reliability, power consumption and cost over the project life cycle.

Sensing (15.22% of respondents)

Last, but not least, on the most challenging design aspects was sensing. Sensing design refers to the integration of sensors into electrical/electronic engineering prototypes.

A sensor is a device used to detect a tangible, measurable change in some observable quantity and relay a signal to another device to carry out a specific action based on that output. Currently, there are a plethora of out-of-the-box sensors for many different technology applications based on natural/man-made phenomena, such as light, smoke, fire, gas, proximity, and motion sensors.

Sensor integration involves choosing the most efficient sensors to carry out a specific function. These critical components of electrical devices and machines keep systems safe by preventing failures before they happen.


Image courtesy of Pixabay. 

Use of Modular Solutions to Address Design Challenges

A modular solution is a software-based approach for defining a problem and building an engineering solution around it using a series of components called “modules.”

In simpler terms, a modular solution is a technique used for addressing a problem by breaking it into a number of smaller, manageable modules and working out a comprehensive solution from the sum of the individual solutions.

These were the results from the survey:

  • Power (Yes: 75.79%, No: 24.21%)
  • Wireless (Yes: 79.73, No: 20.27)
  • Embedded (Yes: 83.08%, No: 16.92%)
  • Sensing (Yes: 73.81%, No: 26.19%)

The Most Important Factor When Choosing a Modular Solution

Performance/Pre-Validated Design (44.93% of Respondents)

The vast majority of engineers surveyed indicated that performance/pre-validated design was the most important factor for selecting a modular solution.

It is quite beneficial for EEs to work with solutions that have already been extensively tested. Pre-validated designs drastically shorten design duration and also save time on testing.

Cost (26.09% of Respondents)

Design cost will always be a critical consideration for electrical/electronic engineering projects.

Time-to-Market (11.23% of Respondents)

Time-to-Market (TTM) is a term used to describe the period between the idea phase of a product to when it is available for sale.

According to the survey, 11.23% of the respondents chose TTM as the most important consideration for choosing a modular solution. What this implies is that engineers would readily employ a modular solution if it improves TTM considerably.

TTM begins when the project is first approved and continues through the design, implementation, and testing phases.

The Premium an EE is Willing to Pay for a Modular Solution Over a Discrete Solution

A discrete solution is an approach to design based on the principles of discrete mathematics. Discrete solutions border on core aspects of engineering design, like calculus and logic. They are used extensively in DSP applications (for sampling a large number of signals), information systems, data encryption, and control systems. The survey asked engineers if they were willing to pay a premium on a modular solution over a discrete solution.

These were the results:

  • > 50% (6.16% of respondents)
  • 25% - 50% (17.39% of respondents)
  • 10% - 25% (60.14% of respondents)
  • < 10% (16.30% of respondents)

Conclusive Results

The survey results above outline some of the most significant challenges engineers face while developing their designs. It’s ultimately up to these engineers to find a good balance between size, cost, power, performance, and reliability of components to successfully deliver projects within stipulated budgets and timeframes.

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