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You Want To Be A Consultant? Rule #2: Watch Your Back

Note: On hundreds of projects I have found the great majority of customers to be highly professional and a pleasure to work with. This post addresses the few exceptions that are encountered from time to time. -EW

Several years ago I was hired by an electronics firm to determine the root cause of a circuit problem that was holding up production. I spoke to the young engineer who had created the design, analyzed his circuit, reviewed the test data, and concluded that he had made a design error. (For what it’s worth, most of my troubleshooting investigations have determined that the root cause of circuit problems is insufficient design margin, which is why I always recommend that every circuit be validated with a good WCA.) I provided a solution and that was that. Or so I thought.

I later received a tip from a colleague that the young engineer I had worked with had generated a memo that stated that my conclusions were wrong, and that he had found the “true cause” of the problem. Apparently the engineer felt threatened by the fact that he had designed a circuit with a problem that he could not identify, and decided to lie about the facts behind my back. Based on the tip, I provided a follow-up memo that corrected his inaccuracies. This caused the young engineer some serious embarrassment, but I think he earned it.

I felt bad nonetheless, because the first rule of a consultant is, in my opinion, to be sure that the client’s team perceives you as non-threatening. The consultant is not there to act superior, or to gloat, or to point out the perceived faults of the team. (Hint: such consultants create more damage than they’re worth; fire them.) The consultant’s job is simply to lend a hand.

Furthermore, there is no reason for the consultant to feel superior. Yes, the consultant must have design expertise and problem-solving skills, but more valuable is the fact that the consultant provides an outside and objective viewpoint, unpolluted by the daily hassles (sometimes political) that impede the team. In many cases the team is very close to finding the problem, but they are unable to do so because they are behind schedule, overworked, tired, and distracted by the varied and hectic demands of the typical engineering workplace. This is why it makes good sense to hire a consultant: it’s just not possible for a team to be completely objective about their own efforts, particularly when they’re under a lot of pressure.

Yet, despite the tactful and low-key assistance of a modest consultant, there will still be those cases where the defensiveness of some individuals cannot be disarmed. Untruthful memos, passive-aggressive unhelpfulness, “I thought of it before the consultant did” posturing, and other immature behavior will sometimes be encountered. If you want to be a consultant, then you will need to deal with such unpleasantness forthrightly but tactfully. It’s just part of the job.

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Want To Learn Proper Worst Case Analysis Basics? See Our Latest Article at How2Power.com

A new Design Master article,  “Use Worst-Case Analysis Tool To Efficiently Validate Your Designs,” is now available in the latest issue of How2Power.com.

Is Your Circuit Simulator Just A Pretty Face? Five Reasons Why Simulations Are Not Sufficient For Design Validation

Jerry Twomey recently pointed out some pitfalls with math-based circuit analysis (“Academic Simplifications Produce Meaningless Equations,” 13 June 2012, Electronic Design.com.)

I agree with the general sentiments of Mr. Twomey, but would like to point out that there is a simple solution to avoiding the pitfalls he mentions: develop equations from component data sheets, not from academic simplifications. This is straightforward and will be discussed further in a future post.

Also, it should be noted that simulations are not some miracle cure-all elixir. Indeed, simulators are also math-based creatures: SPICE and its cousins simply grind out numerical solutions to the multitude of hidden equations that are buried beneath their pretty graphical interfaces.

So what’s the problem with simulators? A lot. For example,

1. Because simulator math is hidden behind the user interface, simulators don’t promote engineering analysis (thinking). To the contrary, they promote lazy tweak-and-tune tinkering.

2. Because simulator component models are typically very complex, the interactions between important variables are usually obscure, if not downright unfathomable. Obscurity does not promote engineering understanding.

3. Simulator results typically do not provide insight into important sensitivities. For example, can your simulator tell you how sensitive your power supply’s thermal stability is to the Rds(on) of the switching Mosfet, including the effects of thermal feedback?

4. A simulation “run” is not an analysis, but is instead a virtual prototype test. Yes, it’s better to check out crappy designs with a simulator rather than wasting time and money on building and testing crappy hardware. So simulators have their place, particularly when checking out initial design concepts. Eventually, however, hardware testing is required to verify that the simulator models were correct. And you will still need to do a worst case math analysis to determine performance limits, and to confirm that desired performance will be maintained in the presence of tolerances and aging.

  • Proper Design Validation = Testing/Simulations + Analysis.

5. Simulators don’t really do worst case analysis. Yes, you can use a simulator to implement a bunch of Monte Carlo runs, but valid results requires (a) identification of all of the important parameters (such as Rds(on)), (b) assignment of the appropriate distributions to those parameters (such distributions are typically not available), and (c) the generation of enough runs to catch errors out in the tails of the overall resultant distribution (and how many runs should you do? Hmmm…).

  • Monte Carlo is not a crystal ball. It only shows you the production performance you will get if all of your assumptions were correct, and if you did enough runs.
  • The knowledge required to determine the number of runs requires an exhaustive study of the circuit’s parameters, distributions, and interrelationships (not practical), or a knowledge of the limits of performance.
  • But if you know the limits of performance, then why do you need a Monte Carlo analysis? You don’t. You can skip it altogether and go directly to a math-based Worst Case Analysis.

For further insights into math-based Worst Case Analysis versus simulations, please see “Design MasterTM: A Straightforward No-Nonsense Approach to Design Validation.”

-Ed Walker

Bulletin: Design Master Analyzer Now Available

The Design Master™ Analyzer (DMA) is a simple fill-in-the-blanks quick and easy worst case analysis tool. DMA is based on expert templates, allowing powerful results to be quickly generated by less experienced engineers.

DMA is designed to be more easily used by iPad and other compact devices.

The Design Master Analyzer is targeted at specific applications with a very simple and easy-to-use format. If you’re an engineering director or project manager, simply provide copies of specific DMA applications to your staff for quick and efficient “fill in the blanks” analyses and receive design validation in minutes rather than weeks.

Although DMA files are useable as provided and are securely locked, a Professional Edition “master” owner can edit or create DMA templates. The DMA engine can also be used to convert any existing Design Master file into a DMA fill-in-the-blanks format. Please inquire for pricing for the DMA engine.

To order please click here.

Bulletin: Design Master Cloud Version Now Available

The Cloud version of the Design Mastertm Professional Edition is now available:

  • Use Design Master whenever you need it from wherever you are, on almost any platform including PCs, Macs, iPads, etc.
  • Order only the number of days you need.
  • The latest version is always available online; no upgrades are ever required.

For more information or to order, please click here.

Used worldwide, our Design Master™ software provides a fully integrated set of analysis tools, including worst case solutions to design equations, probability estimates of any out-of-spec conditions, sensitivities, and optimized values for design centering.

4th Qtr 2011

(c) 2011 Design/Analysis Consultants, Inc.
Newsletter content may be copied in whole or part if attribution
to DACI and any referenced source is prominently displayed with the copied material

This Issue: NEWS BITE: Rising Sun Gets Snagged On Mountain And Breaks Apart! / DESIGN MASTER TIP: Minimizing Calculation Time / ANALYSIS: Why Do A Worst Case Analysis? / TECH TIP: Nice Overview of Considerations for External Components for Switching Regulators / MORE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: Wind Power Kills Endangered Species / ANALYSIS QUIZ: Adjustable 3-Terminal Regulator Output Tolerance

NEWS BITE: Rising Sun Gets Snagged On Mountain And Breaks Apart!
Motorists cautioned to avoid area due to high temperatures.

First planet with two suns reported found
15 Sep 2011, NASA and World Science

DESIGN MASTER™ TIP: Minimizing Calculation Time

Do an initial run and check sensitivities. Thereafter set the variables to their respective worst case values to reduce calc time until the design is finalized. Then set the variables back to their full range for a final calculation to obtain probabilities for risk assessment.

ANALYSIS: Why Do A Worst Case Analysis?

 
TECH TIP: Nice Overview of Considerations for External Components for Switching Regulators
See “Power System Performance Requires The Right Actives And Passives” by Tim Watkins, 8 Sep 2011 Electronic Design

MORE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: Wind Power Kills Endangered Species

In the Bay Area, when activists in the 1980s demanded a cleaner planet, the state responded with the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area. The state-approved wind farm, built with federal tax credits, kills 4,700 birds annually, including 1,300 raptors, among them 70 golden eagles…

“There’s a big, big hypocrisy here,” Sue Hammer of Tehachapi Wildlife Rehab in Kern County said. “If I shoot an eagle, it’s a $10,000 fine and/or a vacation of one to five years in a federal pen of my choice.”

From “Energy in America: Dead Birds Unintended Consequence of Wind Power Development” by William La Jeunesse, 16 Aug 2011, FoxNews.com

ANALYSIS QUIZ: Adjustable 3-Terminal Regulator Output Tolerance

An LM317T regulator with 36V input is set for 24V nominal output, using 1/8W 1% 100ppm thick film resistors (10K and 549 ohms). The regulator must deliver 1A and operate from 0 to 50 C for 10,000 hours.


Q: What will be the approximate worst case output tolerance? (Answer will be posted in the next newsletter.)

3rd Qtr 2011

(c) 2011 Design/Analysis Consultants, Inc.
Newsletter content may be copied in whole or part if attribution
to DACI and any referenced source is prominently displayed with the copied material

This Issue: NEWS BITE: Mutant Singing Cantaloup Wins Karaoke Contest! / MORE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: Hands-Free Faucets / DESIGN MASTER TIP: AC Rectifier Worst Case Analysis Made Easy / ART MEETS ENGINEERING: The Invisible Man / STATISTICAL DESIGN PITFALLS: Monte Carlo Is Not Worst Case Analysis

NEWS BITE: Mutant Singing Cantaloup Wins Karaoke Contest!

Freaky Robot Mouth Learns to Sing,”
Evan Ackerman, 13 July 2011, IEEE Spectrum

MORE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: Hands-Free Faucets Harbor More Germs Than Standard Faucets

Details here.

DESIGN MASTER TIP: AC Rectifier Circuit Worst Case Analysis Made Easy

In our previous Newsletter we provided a pretty good estimate for the ripple current for the bulk capacitor in an AC rectifier circuit. But what if you have a large volume product and you need a full worst case analysis to ensure high reliability, but one that is not overly pessimistic so that you can minimize cost? Design Master can help you achieve that optimum balance.

As readers are aware, we’ve started to release some DMeXpert “fill in the blank” WCA templates to make the design engineer’s life a bit easier. One of these is our AC Bridge Rectifier Analysis (ACBR1 $19) which allows the designer to determine all of the worst case component stresses within a minute or two. The analysis includes the effects of source impedance Rs (such as transformer secondary winding ohms), which if present can be used to reduce capacitor ripple current requirements, hence reduce capacitor cost.

As those who have studied AC rectifier circuits are aware, this seemingly simple circuit has resisted for decades all of the attempts to generate a single-formula solution, until recently, which we’ve included in ACBR1. Based on Keng Wu’s article, “Analyzing Full-Wave Rectifiers With Capacitor Filters” (1 Jan 2010, Power Electronics Technology), Wu’s formula allows a straightforward circuit solution, greatly reducing computational time. So with ACBR1 you can just fill in the blanks, click Calculate, and let Design Master do the rest.

ART MEETS ENGINEERING: The Invisible Man

Engineers who work for the military are sometimes required to design clothing, equipment, or even entire shelters to be “invisible” to various detection means. Chinese artist Liu Bolin has a gift for applying such camouflage in a non-technological way, as seen below. Hint: If you can’t spot Liu, look for his shoes first.

From “The Invisible Man: Dragon Series,” Vurdlak, 28 June 2011, http://www.moillusions.com

Some more fascinating photos here and here.

STATISTICAL DESIGN PITFALLS: Monte Carlo Is Not Worst Case Analysis

A lot of folks like to let a simulator crank out “worst case” results, using Monte Carlo statistical methods. But as we’ve explained previously (“Design Master vs Extreme Value, RSS, Monte Carlo, & Simulation,” and “Design Master vs Monte Carlo“), this can be not only time consuming, but risky. For example, Monte Carlo can easily miss small but significant errors (see example below). In addition, if the Monte Carlo runs are improperly implemented (such as including temperature or other dynamic variables) you will likely obtain wildly inaccurate results.

The Design Master Advantage

Instead of statistical sampling, Design Master uses a top-down approach to achieve safer and more cost-effective results, by (a) detecting the extreme limits of performance, and then (b) using a proprietary probability algorithm to estimate how often those results will exceed the specification limits.

EXAMPLE

Design Master results at 2 samples/variable versus
Monte Carlo at 10,000 samples/variable, for the gain of an 8-variable filter

As can be seen, the Monte Carlo analysis detected a minimum of 8.42 versus the actual minimum of 7.86, a 7% error, and a maximum of 16.0 versus the actual maximum of 18.8, a 15% error.

Metal Oxide Varistor (MOV) DMX Analysis File Released

Metal Oxide Varistor (MOV) DMX Worst Case Analysis File
MOV1 $12.50

(DMX files are available free to Design Master™ Professional Edition users who purchased or upgraded DM not more than one year prior to the DMX file release date.)

The MOV analysis determines whether a Metal Oxide Varistor transient voltage suppressor will (a) survive a specified surge voltage or current, (b) clamp the surge below a specified voltage limit, (c) not clamp the normal operating voltage, and (d) survive a specified number of surges. MOVS are typically rated with 8x20us current waveforms, and (just to be confusing) 10x1000us energy waveforms. MOVs also have a lifetime (number of allowable surges) that depends on peak current, pulse width, and temperature. To complicate things further, MOV clamping voltages are a nonlinear function of surge current. To help make the design engineer’s job a little easier, this analysis contains adjustment formulas for all of these factors. Also provides standard surge waveform requirements and helpful hints.

DMeXpert™ (DMX) files guide the user with pop-up instructions, component selection lists, standard part values, important formulas, and a variety of other tips that are activated when entering a Formula cell. It’s like having a design/analysis expert at your side.

4th Qtr 2010

(C) 2010 Design/Analysis Consultants, Inc.
Newsletter content may be copied in whole or part if attribution
to DACI and any referenced source is prominently displayed with the copied material

This Issue: NEWS BITE: Reporters Scramble To Adapt To Cameramen Layoffs During Economic Downturn! / DM V8 And DMX Released / REVIEW: The Social Network: Entertaining But Not True / NEWS BULLETS: Unintended Consequences (Reusable Grocery Bags) / RECREATION: Having Fun With Fantasy Football

NEWS BITE: Reporters Scramble To Adapt To Cameramen Layoffs During Economic Downturn!


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Teleactor Annamarie Ho. Photo: Bart Nagel
Q&A: Ken Goldberg Discusses Telerobots, Androids, and Heidegger,” by Erico Guizzo, IEEE Spectrum, 1 Oct 2010

DESIGN MASTER: DM V8 with DMeXpert™ (DMX) Released

DMX provides expertly-designed “fill in the blanks” templates for thorough and efficient worst case analysis. Click here for details. If you purchased Design Master on or after October 4 2009, you can obtain an update at no charge; please contact us for download instructions (new install required for V8).

REVIEW: The Social Network: Entertaining But Not True
“Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s young and intrepid creator, is portrayed as a geek who starts his path to dot com glory after getting dumped by a girl … If it were true it would be a lot more compelling.  Back in 2005 and 2006, shortly after the film is set, I interviewed Zuckerberg on several occasions, and he wasn’t much like the guy on-screen.  In addition to actually having a girlfriend, a fact left conveniently out of the film, he had a lot of thoughtful things to say about the world he was creating online. ”
The Social Network’s Science Fiction,” by David Kushner, IEEE Spectrum, 7 Oct 2010

The Bozo Award is presented to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and the movie’s producers for their lack of integrity, as demonstrated by their willingness to damage reputations through false representations of actual events.

NEWS BULLETS: Unintended Consequences Strike Again

“The CALL7 Investigators tested several reusable bags used by 7NEWS colleagues and another from a woman going into a Denver grocery store. Marchetta took the lab results to Dr. Michelle Barron, the infectious disease expert at the University of Colorado Hospital. ‘Wow. Wow. That is pretty impressive,’ said Barron. Barron examines lab results for a living. ‘Oh my goodness! This is definitely the highest count,’ Barron commented while looking at the bacteria count numbers.”
-“Reusable Grocery Bags Breed Bacteria” By Theresa Marchetta, 28 Sep 2010 Denver News

RECREATION: Having Fun with Statistics and Fantasy Football
Design Master™ is used by engineers to help create highly reliable products, but it has been suggested to us that it can be used for some fun, too, such as fantasy football or other games that use statistics. It might even provide a bit of an edge, because its probability models provide more information than simple statistical averages.

For example, you can define a group of players in the Variables Library, enter the raw stats for each player, and let Design Master generate their “player strength” probability models (Tools/Make A Model From Raw Data).

In the worksheet, you create a simple Team formula that defines the strength of the team, using a weighted sum of all the players —

TeamA = 0.2*Player1 + 0.10*Player2 + 0.15*Player3 + …

— where the weights add to 1.0 (100%).

Then press Calculate to generate the team’s probability model.

Repeat this for a competing TeamB and its players, and then compare the team models:

 

 

TeamA strength = 5 to 10                                                TeamB strength = 4 to 16

There are many ways to make a  comparison, but a simple way would be just to subtract the teams. For example, to determine the probability of TeamA losing to TeamB,

TeamAWin = TeamA – TeamB

where the minimum limit is set to zero (i.e. the case where TeamA is less strong than TeamB).

Probability models help guard against counter-intuitive bets. In this example, it may appear that TeamB (max strength of 16) is superior to TeamA (max strength of 10). But if you look at average strengths, TeamA comes out on top (8 to 7). How should these factors be evaluated?

Press calculate, and the resultant probability distribution indicates that the “weakling” Team A only has about a 12% chance of losing to TeamB:


Furthermore, knowing the actual probability of 12% provides an added edge for intelligent odds-making … all in fun, of course.

Q&A: Ken Goldberg Discusses Telerobots, Androids, and Heidegger

Announcing The Design Master Expert Assistant

DMXAnnouncing the Design Master Expert Assistant with the release of Design MasterTM V8

The DMeXpert™ (DMX) Edition guides the user with pop-up instructions, component selection lists, standard part values, important formulas, and a variety of other tips that are activated when entering a Formula cell. It’s like having a design/analysis expert at your side.

DMX is ideal for the design engineer or project manager who needs quick and efficient “fill in the blanks” design validation in minutes rather than weeks. Based on DACI’s thorough and practical worst case analysis plus (WCA+) methodology, DMX uses expertly designed templates to facilitate analysis of a variety of standard circuits.

In addiDM8tion to its standalone function, DMX is an integral part of the just-released Version 8 of Design Master’s Professional Edition. DMX facilitates efficient organization and selection of circuit and part files, and also provides easy access to an organized array of tutorials and DMeXpert tips.

Circuit templates, part files, and help files can be accessed and edited by using the Professional Edition. This allows an organization’s design experts to use the Professional Edition to create DMX templates tailored to the needs of the company.

For more information, please click here.