Developing a new kitchen appliance based on today’s electronic and electrical requirements is a substantial challenge. Designing the printed circuit board (PCB), choosing the proper electronic components, and selecting the right power supply unit (PSU) are, among other things, critical tasks for meeting the high standards of the Canadian Standard Association (CSA) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
When such critical tasks are being completed during a crisis like COVID, which has impacted the availability of electronic parts, engineers must face significant constraints. As some components are now impossible to find or have enormous delays, appropriate replacements must be found quickly in order for production to continue.
Here are the challenges that awaited Creaform Engineering’s electrical and electronics design team when developing the Tero product—the revolutionary alternative to composting.
The first stages of electronic design were initially entrusted to another company. However, because the Creaform Engineering team was already working on the mechanical engineering and finite element analysis (FEA), the electrical and electronics engineers were then called upon to collaborate on the project. The first tasks assigned to them were to choose critical components and document the process that would lead to obtaining certifications.
Once the design of the circuit schematic was completed, it was also necessary to create the PCB layout—i.e., position the various components on the PCB in a variety of topologies to meet performance requirements, environmental conditions, planned budgets, operating specifications, and other space and design constraints in agreement with an overall timeline.
At this point, Creaform’s expert team was entrusted with the electrical and electronic design. This way, Tero could be sure that the majority of the knowledge was under one roof, making it possible to have a variety of services offered by experienced consultants, all available through one single firm.
Tero benefitted from Creaform’s vast experience. After all, their team had already designed and engineered many solutions in various industries. They knew how to deal with the challenges that generally arise during product development and to handle difficulties like component shortages due to the pandemic, which added an additional layer of constraints.
Commitment to a Tight Schedule
Quickly, Creaform Engineering had to tackle the first prototypes and assemble them in order to give testers the ability to use the device for a month and give their perspective on hits and misses.
During their crowdfunding campaign, Tero had committed to providing their first backers with beta test units. However, the timeline to honor that commitment was very tight. For Creaform Engineering, it was all hands on deck; everyone worked in unison to produce and deliver the promised first units.
Scarcity of Electronic Components
COVID’s impact on component availability interfered with the development of the Tero product. Some preselected components from the original design, which were fully available at the time of their selection, became nonexistent or had protracted lead times of 50 to 60 weeks. Of course, this time frame was totally unacceptable for a production due to start ASAP.
Therefore, the electrical and electronic design team reviewed the PCB in order to eliminate unavailable parts and replace them with more accessible components. It was also necessary to secure the purchase of new parts quickly because Tero was not the only company experiencing this global shortage of electronic components.
Skyrocketing Cost of Parts
COVID continued to shake up the electronic industry by inflating the costs of components. Based on the rule of supply and demand, the price of some parts escalated in just a few weeks. For instance, the chosen PSU, which had met the device’s requirements and the client’s preferences, had now doubled in price. Once again, the engineers rolled up their sleeves and looked if there was a better available option that could meet the certification standards.
Proven and Certified Safety
Developing a small kitchen appliance from scratch is an ambitious task due to the established standards with which it must comply. First and foremost, the device must be entirely safe for the users; it must under no circumstances be a source of fire or electrocution, and it must be designed to prevent the users from burning or trapping their fingers. Moreover, it must undergo EMC / EMI testing to ensure that it does not cause harmful interference and can accept interference without causing undesired operations in working conditions. The Creaform Engineering team rigorously documented all operations to meet the precise UL and CSA standards.
Ingenuity of the New Connected Version
The new Tero Plus is a connected version that provides users with a complete mobile experience, offering the possibility of starting and controlling the device remotely, tracking the transformation cycle in real time, and knowing when the cycle is complete, the fertilizer is ready, and the filter is due to be changed. In addition, users can see how much waste and greenhouse gases (GHG) were diverted thanks to their efforts, and they can measure their environmental impact.
On the other hand, offering a connected version had an impact on the microcontroller. It was not as simple as adding a Bluetooth and Wi-Fi chip. After analysis, the decision was made to add a second microcontroller to manage the wireless part, whether via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, and keep the initial microcontroller for the basic functions.
Synergy between Mechanical and Electrical Engineering
Because all engineering disciplines came together under one roof, the mechanical and electrical development of the Tero product progressed simultaneously. Each critical component, such as the PSU, motor, and fan, was discussed with the engineers, and all electromechanical criteria were examined to determine the most suitable parts for both fields of expertise. Their consultation and agreement were also important for the positioning and orientation of the components inside the device. In short, this cohesion was essential to designing a device that would function properly, and that the manufacturer could assemble and produce easily.
The Next Steps
Creaform Engineering is still working with Tero as the startup builds its own team in order to take over parts of the project and be in control of their product. Nevertheless, engineers and entrepreneurs are still in contact regularly to discuss the latest news and upcoming ideas.
The Tero product, which is designed and manufactured in Quebec by a young independent startup led by two female entrepreneurs, is an inspiring success and a source of pride for Creaform Engineering.
In the meantime, the Creaform Engineering team is hard at work helping companies grappling with component supply issues by finding new replacement parts so that their production can resume quickly.