Duplex Radio for Emergency Services

The Challenge

Our client is a leading provider of radio systems for mission-critical communications including handheld and vehicle-based products for emergency services, airports and utilities. To help them meet a new EU digital radio standard it asked Plextek to design and develop a new dual mode (digital and analogue) device from the ground up – but able to integrate with its existing software.

Given the challenging usage environment the design called for a rugged & compact design versatile enough to suit a wide-range of professional users. It required stringent waterproofing (IP67), enhanced battery life, GPS and Bluetooth.

The Approach

Working with our industrial designer we produced a concept for the 2-way radio including a colour screen, Push-to-Talk (PTT) capability with full-duplex calls and a keypad – touchscreens are notoriously unreliable with wet gloves! The design required a unique antenna and a very compact electronics package. We overcame technical issues affecting the potential robustness of the device i.e., installing waterproof material behind the keypad to prevent water damage to the microphone/speaker. We designed and developed all the internal electronics and case works and worked with the client’s supply chain, introducing new suppliers and processes as required.

The device was rigorously tested to check stability, certified to a variety of standards including MIL STD 810G, CE & FCC and we subsequently worked with the client’s tooling suppliers and handed over to its manufacturer in Taiwan.

The Outcome

Over 18 months we had developed the world’s first full-duplex DMR radio. The product delivered state-of-the-art digital technology with secure, unsurpassed audio quality and the company was able to manufacture more than 10,000 devices a year. The device continues to be used internationally and remains one of the company’s most popular products with police, public safety and even the mountain rescue!

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High-End Gaming Device

The Challenge

Our customer had a bold idea – a high-end gaming device unlike anything else on the market. It had an ambitious specification and a visual design concept model. However in its current state the model had no functionality and Plextek was asked to design the electronics package. In order to meet their specification we would have to integrate a combination of cutting-edge technologies and market-first functionalities into a single device.

The Approach

We started by analysing the customer’s feature specification to understand engineering implications such as power consumption, antenna design, battery size, user interface and cost. Working closely with an industrial design partner we translated their vision for the concept incorporating these implications into a new design that was visually attractive but also intuitive and to use. The new integrated design impressed the customer so much that we proceeded to develop the industrial design, mechanics, electronics, software and support the manufacturing on their behalf.

During the development we integrated additional features requested by the customer, improving the camera, screen and processors to their new specifications. We arranged regulatory approval for electrical safety and emissions and carried out an audit on the proposed manufacturer in China. Our team designed the manufacturing test equipment and supported the factory to produce the first 1,000 units.

The Outcome

We were proud to have supported the customer through the entire product development, from the visual concept model through development of electronics, software, prototypes, troubleshooting, product approvals and even manufacturing until its successful market launch.

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Developing New Microwave Technology

The Challenge

Plextek was approached by a leading global domestic appliance brand with a new microwave oven concept for cooking different foods together, but at different temperatures. If it could successfully deliver the concept it would be able to cook better quality microwave food more conveniently; and compared to a conventional oven, cook more energy efficiently leading to an improved sustainability footprint. But while the company had expertise in magnetrons it recognised it didn’t have the expertise it would need in solid state RF electronics.

The Approach

Using our expertise in solid state electronics and antenna propagation, we created a proof of principle demonstrator in a very short time with multiple patch antennas. While it was unsightly and bulky it allowed us to quickly run a set of experiments with different foods in different areas of the oven (“what, ice cream AND sausages?”). The experiments dimensionalized the potential technical performance for the concept and proved its feasibility. This rough demonstration was presented to the company’s senior leadership and won go ahead for a formal development.

Over the following 9 months a joint team from the customer, a key component partner and Plextek designed and developed a fully functional unit. In particular Plextek led the development of the control system, antennas, power supply and the cooling mechanism.

The Outcome

During the development we overcame multiple technical challenges resulting in a regular sized “looks-like and works-like” prototype. In the final days of the project we worked with the customer’s development chefs to successfully cook conventionally challenging foods for microwaves such as meatloaf, popcorn and swordfish.

Following another successful demonstration to the company’s senior management, we introduced the concept back into the customer’s core R&D department for development through its internal stage gates.

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Finding Technical Competitive Advantage

The Challenge

A leading consumer products brand was considering how to enter a new digitised category. Recognising it was not an expert in electronics, our client asked us to tear down a range of the existing products in the marketplace to help them understand if any of the incumbents had a technical competitive advantage.

The Approach

We started with a forensic review of instructions, understanding the software functionality (by trial) and interrogating CE/FCC information about the history of the hardware. In order to evaluate the functional performance, we conducted technical tests for each of the products. We then disassembled the products to extract the hardware and created a costed Bill of Materials (BOM) for each. We analysed the PCB construction and the key electronics components, identifying device operating principles, implications for manufacturing, relative design choices and the comparative technical advantages of each device.

The Outcome

We compiled a report of our findings with estimated costs and our conclusions about the relative technical advantage of each product platform. The report was shared directly with the divisional CEO who is feeding the data into their strategy for entering this new market.

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Innovation Design: New technology to transform luxury products

The Challenge

The technology inside consumer electronics often goes unnoticed by the end user. There is an expectation for products to be easily accessible, reliable and energy efficient.

Ignite Exponential has been helping a household brand to redefine their category through the implementation of a new technology that would drive a step-change in consumer experience.

Our customer wanted to understand how a given technology might revolutionise their existing product offering and the new areas where it could play and win with the technology.

The Approach

We first conducted fundamental scientific and technical research to explore how the existing technology might be used in this category for the first time. Using a combination of theoretical analysis and experimentation, we created a proof of concepts to test the technology.

Due to the complexity of the challenge, we needed to ‘pivot’ our entire technical approach at several stages to ensure it delivered on the customers’ vision and met the needs of their consumers.

This agile approach to collaboration was particularly important to our success.

The Outcome

We delivered a ‘works-like’ demonstrator representing an exciting new market opportunity for our customer and proving the possibility of the technology.

Ignite Exponential transformed this breakthrough technology opportunity into a clear proposition with known risks which the customer is now developing into a future product internally.

As well as improving performances and re-defining the category, the approach taken could have the potential to hugely reduce the overall power consumption of their products in the longer term.

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