Tutorials & Articles

WHY DESIGNING A PROTOTYPE THE “LONG” WAY COSTS LESS                                                                         May 2016

By: Joseph Lopez

Time and money are the determinants on what route the creation of an embedded prototype project takes.  There are two general approaches in creating a prototype to get the embedded project up and running: the “quick” way and the “long” way.

The quick way is when time is of essence and a prototype needs to be developed quickly so that it can be mass produced. This approach does not allow much embedded design. In this shorter time-frame scenario, the parts (i.e. microcontrollers or microprocessors), that can do the job, are quickly chosen. Usually, the parts will cost more, because the parts will have additional resources and features that are not needed.

The long way enables the design of the system. This means that the parts “fits” (this is where the engineering comes in) the requirement and specification for the prototype with some margin. This includes determining if peripherals are needed, and what type of peripherals are needed (USB, I2C, SPI, etc.). The proper micro-controller or microprocessor are looked into as well as their cost, physical size, memory, and speed. Most importantly, the design is tailored to the clients interests. Common questions are: How much memory or RAM is needed? What architecture will work? What are the power constraints? How fast does the user need that data? Generally speaking, opting for the longer way will ensure that the parts cost less, because the system is developed in a way where it will have the exact resources and features for the project.

To give an example, the quick” approach may have a microprocessor that costs $3 versus a $1 microprocessor in the “long” approach. One might think that this is only a $2 difference. However, if a quantity of 100,000 units is to be manufactured, the actual difference will be $200,000. Similarly, if 1 million units will be manufactured, the difference in costs will be $2 million!  The “long” approach may cost more in the beginning, but it will definitely pay off in the end.



Microsoft Excel vs. Microsoft Access: Which to Use?                                                                                 February 2015
By: Karen Melgar

We can interface MS Excel or MS Access to automated testing or software. Companies often prefer one over the other, however the purpose of the data will determine which tool to use, more on this below.   -J. Lopez

Answering the question of which data processing program you should use, really comes down to some key points about both Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Access. They both have pros and cons and there are questions you can ask to determine which you should use. The key difference between them is that Excel is a spreadsheet and Access is a database. In other words, Excel is for “flat data,” as Microsoft calls it, it’s a list, a sequence of numbers perhaps, and Access is for what they call “relational data,” that’s information that is on multiple tables or gets repeated and is related to information on other tables.

The first thing that Microsoft suggests you ask yourself is how you want to organize your data. If, for example, you have a list of customers, their company names, addresses, phone numbers, and emails and you also have information about what they buy and how many times they’ve bought it or will buy it, then Access is the way to organize this data. You can set up several tables (one with contact information, the other with purchase information) and they connect and share (or relate!) the information. If, however, your goal is to keep your data together residing on one table, then Excel is the perfect way to maintain your information. Something as simple as a grocery list could go into Excel because it will never relate to other tables.

At this point, you’ll want to bear in mind that Excel is easier to use for immediate productivity, whereas one of the biggest disadvantages of Access is that it takes more skill to use. Some people feel more comfortable using Excel than Access because it’s easier to pick up. When there are multiple users, Access is handy because it changes information in cells as the users change it, whereas Excel works best if multiple users change cells at separate times.
The next question to ask yourself is, what do you want to do with your data? Do you want to simply store it and find it easily? Or do you want to analyze it and present it? For simple storage of a lot of data, Access is the way to go. Access handles a lot of repeated data and tracks actions and events. It allows you to present data in detail or summary form, regardless of how it’s stored and can store larger amounts of text.

For analyses, calculations, graphs, charts, and data bars, you’ll want to turn to Excel. Excel isn’t good for a lot of data, as too much becomes difficult to maintain and troublesome to edit, especially with formulas that you’ll eventually have to adjust. Excel has a numeric design and can perform sophisticated “what-if models” or cost-benefit analyses for that necessary one-time analysis or for creating a visual way to look at your numbers.

Access will be overkill for this type of one-time analysis but data that will be maintained over time will work harmoniously with this program. Spreadsheets can hit a breaking point with that same data that needs to be maintained. Using both is often a solution to large amounts of information, as the programs compliment each other – what one doesn’t do, the other does. Knowing how you want to organize your data and what you want to do with your data will ultimately determine which program you want to use, MS Excel or MS Access.

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