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RF is not 'black magic' – It's Synthesis, Optimization, Analysis and Realization.
Making … Progress
It has been about three months since this progress report (of sorts)… so maybe it is time for an update.
Machining Precision Fixtures
You may recall the story about Rudy’s Big Idea (and parts two, three & four) and how I got started making my own prototypes. This effort has continued and expanded quite a lot. It might seem ridiculous for a highly educated professional to be turning cranks on a sixty-five year old milling machine, but there are certain subtle benefits—
- If the ‘machinist’ has an idea what the prototype is supposed to do (s)he can often do the job just a little better and just a little faster. Making the first one of something is sort of like playing from sheet music in this regard.
- It is nice to have a second pair of eyes take a look at the design. If that pair of eyes belongs to someone who is both an experienced designer and the prototype builder, so much the better.
- Medium to large companies tend to have their own prototype shops but not the little guy, the entrepreneur.
- Medium to large companies, in this economy, do not have excess capacity for onesy-twosy’s. At the same time, they need to innovate in order to survive.
- Once you’ve made one, and it works, you often need to develop a process for making more. Who better to develop the process than an experienced engineer/maker?
So, this passionate little act of desperation is turning into a pretty purposeful enterprise.
I did not expect it when I started on this path, but the world is full of “lone rangers” in little companies who get inspiration to try a new (to them) idea. Take, for example the patch array shown here. A fellow who had no microwave/RF design experience and no way to measure the interim results of his prototype wanted to get a “reality check” on his design. This was an extremely low-budget “moon shot” of an idea for this little company. You might even call it a “passionate little act of desperation…”
I am not exactly sure how he found me, so I’ll just chalk it up as one of those things. And it turned out that I had been through much of his unknown journey before. We had a couple of skype calls and I sent him a little memo outlining some of the gotchas and some of the things not to sweat at all. And this lone ranger rode a little more confidently off into the sunset. I hope we’ll meet again.
Unauthorized Tech Support
This one was also totally unexpected. Somebody gets a big idea for a product that does some little important job and then reports the data remotely, sort of like taking a blood pressure cuff and hooking it to the guts of a cell phone. Usually the person is a competent practitioner, someone who is experienced at engineering a system out of components available commercially, e.g. from DigiKey. They order their parts, build their prototype enclosure, debug the prototype and start the certification process when… BAM! They run into unforeseen problems.
Usually at this point in the process the company is too invested in the gizmo for wholesale modifications. Also usually, the designer (who is a competent practitioner, remember) has followed the reference designs and application notes provided by the component vendors pretty closely. The natural thing to do at this point is to reach out to the vendors for some tech support, and this is usually what these fellows do. The answer they get back is something like, “Well, you’ll have to move this component to the other end of the board,” or “Well, you’ll have to make the housing a little longer/wider/taller.”
Oh for crying out loud! Why not just start over? Why not give up?
Well some do, perhaps, but fortunately some don’t. A (growing) few are showing up here for what I like to call “Unauthorized Customer Service.” We don’t change the BoM in major ways; instead we figure out little tweaks and things to get that design to work.
Sure, I’d like to be in there at the beginning and get a bigger piece of the design pie on my own plate, but it is what it is, and it’s growing. Why walk away?
Finally there’s this issue of branding, also totally unexpected. It turns out that companies tend to shy away from contractors named, “Joe Somebody.” So, at minimum, I am told, I have to form either a corporation or a limited liability company (LLC). I toyed with “Antenna Guru” but it just didn’t produce many hits when I tried it out. My initials are “mwi” which look somewhat like a meander line if you tweak them a little. So the big question is, “What do I call this thing?” Should it be something like “Micro Wave Inventions, LLC” or is it better to call it what it is, “Mark W. Ingalls, LLC?”
Man, what-do-you-call it?