An insight from a Graduate Engineer

An insight from a Graduate Engineer

Edson Da'Silva - Graduate Engineer, Communication Systems

By: Edson Da’Silva
Graduate Engineer, Communication Systems

31st May 2017

Home » PCB

I’m Edson Da’Silva and I’m a graduate engineer here at Plextek. I joined the company in September 2016 and it’s been a fantastic start to working life. I’ve met so many great people and I’ve been working on a good number of interesting projects, which have been beyond what I ever expected to do. So here is my view of a working day as a graduate at Plextek.

As with every engineer, my day starts with coffee (it appears we can’t function without it), then once the caffeine has kicked in I prioritise my day’s work; due to the demands of a consultancy, prioritisation changes day to day so it’s important to refocus this daily.

An insight from a Graduate Engineer - Edson Da'SilvaOn a normal week, I can be doing anything from assisting clients with technical enquiries, to co-writing project proposals and typing up any relevant documents. I’m involved in many aspects of Plextek’s client service, which I really enjoy; however, a majority of my work is hardware design and testing. Occasionally, I get involved with software design and mechanical prototyping as well. It’s great to get involved in so many aspects, as I get to experience other areas of product development, which I ordinarily wouldn’t be exposed to.

The starting point for most hardware designs is a simulation. This might include testing and simulating the frequency response of a circuit. As for the circuit design, I am responsible for putting together the schematic diagram of the circuit, which gets passed over to the PCB team for the layout and manufacturing.

Depending on the nature of the project, I occasionally get involved with some aspects of mechanical prototyping. For example, the project may have a PCB that will be exposed to extreme weather conditions and will require a protective enclosure for it. My role would be to conduct some testing of materials in the lab and pull a concept together for testing purposes. Once we have proven that the concept is suitable and the whole system works well in the enclosure, I work with the mechanical design team to fully implement it into the product so that it is ready for manufacture.

Sometimes software is required to test the functionality of a hardware design, and I occasionally get to write it myself, which enables me to gain further experience and grow my skillset. While I haven’t done much software design yet, packages, such as “Visual Studios”, are very powerful and flexible, allowing for small test programmes as well as large software packages to be built using the same tools.

At any given moment, the projects I work on can focus on a wide variety of different tasks. On a busy day, I can be working on up to three completely different projects. Whilst that can be challenging at times, since joining Plextek, I have improved my ability to effectively distribute my time between projects. I also enjoy switching between projects and tasks, as it gives me some time to pull away from a problem and come back to it later with a different approach.

An insight from a Graduate Engineer - EdsonAn integral part of being a Graduate Engineer at Plextek is the internal engineering training program. The in-house training scheme incorporates teachings from Plextek’s most experienced members and practical tasks that look to provide training across all areas of the business. So in between project work and other tasks, I try to get on with some of those activities too.

Because the work can be so varied, it is not uncommon for me to come across a piece of technology I am not familiar with. In my mind, it’s all part of the learning curve and I often do my own research when I get home so I can learn a little more about the subject area. An important aspect of being an Electronics Engineer is to continuously progress and learn as technology evolves.

What I enjoy most about being a Graduate Engineer at Plextek is that since joining, every single project I have worked on has been fascinating. The variety of the work, and the challenge of climbing a new learning curve with every new project, makes every day an exciting prospective. A big part of being a graduate engineer is the creative way in which you tackle a hardware, software or mechanical problem. I will often work as part of a team, so we can bounce ideas off each other and come up with inventive ways to solve a problem or design a prototype for example, and although it can be challenging at times, it is always a rewarding experience.


Keep an eye on our careers page for Graduate Career opportunities

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I’m Edson Da’Silva and I’m a graduate engineer here at Plextek. I joined the company in September 2016 and it’s been a fantastic start to working life. I’ve met so many great people and I’ve been working on a good number of interesting projects, which have been beyond what I ever expected to do. So here is my view of a working day as a graduate at Plextek.

As with every engineer, my day starts with coffee (it appears we can’t function without it), then once the caffeine has kicked in I prioritise my day’s work; due to the demands of a consultancy, prioritisation changes day to day so it’s important to refocus this daily.

An insight from a Graduate Engineer - Edson Da'SilvaOn a normal week, I can be doing anything from assisting clients with technical enquiries, to co-writing project proposals and typing up any relevant documents. I’m involved in many aspects of Plextek’s client service, which I really enjoy; however, a majority of my work is hardware design and testing. Occasionally, I get involved with software design and mechanical prototyping as well. It’s great to get involved in so many aspect,s as I get to experience other areas of product development, which I ordinarily wouldn’t be exposed to.

The starting point for most hardware designs is a simulation. This might include testing and simulating the frequency response of a circuit. As for the circuit design, I am responsible for putting together the schematic diagram of the circuit, which gets passed over to the PCB team for the layout and manufacturing.

Depending on the nature of the project, I occasionally get involved with some aspects of mechanical prototyping. For example, the project may have a PCB that will be exposed to extreme weather conditions and will require a protective enclosure for it. My role would be to conduct some testing of materials in the lab and pull a concept together for testing purposes. Once we have proven that the concept is suitable and the whole system works well in the enclosure, I work with the mechanical design team to fully implement it into the product so that it is ready for manufacture.

Sometimes software is required to test the functionality of a hardware design, and I occasionally get to write it myself, which enables me to gain further experience and grow my skillset. While I haven’t done much software design yet, packages, such as “Visual Studios”, are very powerful and flexible, allowing for small test programmes as well as large software packages to be built using the same tools.

At any given moment, the projects I work on can focus on a wide variety of different tasks. On a busy day, I can be working on up to three completely different projects. Whilst that can be challenging at times, since joining Plextek, I have improved my ability to effectively distribute my time between projects. I also enjoy switching between projects and tasks, as it gives me some time to pull away from a problem and come back to it later with a different approach.

An insight from a Graduate Engineer - EdsonAn integral part of being a Graduate Engineer at Plextek is the internal engineering training program. The in-house training scheme incorporates teachings from Plextek’s most experienced members and practical tasks that look to provide training across all areas of the business. So in between project work and other tasks, I try to get on with some of those activities too.

Because the work can be so varied, it is not uncommon for me to come across a piece of technology I am not familiar with. In my mind, it’s all part of the learning curve and I often do my own research when I get home so I can learn a little more about the subject area. An important aspect of being an Electronics Engineer is to continuously progress and learn as technology evolves.

What I enjoy most about being a Graduate Engineer at Plextek is that since joining, every single project I have worked on has been fascinating. The variety of the work, and the challenge of climbing a new learning curve with every new project, makes every day an exciting prospective. A big part of being a graduate engineer is the creative way in which you tackle a hardware, software or mechanical problem. I will often work as part of a team, so we can bounce ideas off each other and come up with inventive ways to solve a problem or design a prototype for example, and although it can be challenging at times, it is always a rewarding experience.


Keep an eye on our careers page for Graduate Career opportunities

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An insight from a PCB Design Apprentice

An insight from a PCB Design Apprentice

Elliot Langran - PCB Design Apprentice

By: Elliot Langran
PCB Design Apprentice

26th April 2017

Home » PCB

Hello, I’m Elliot Langran and I am the PCB Design Apprentice here at Plextek, I started in September and here is an insight from my perspective of life as an apprentice.

I generally get into the office between 9 – 9:30 am, being a young person, I’m extremely grateful for our flexible working hours. It does mean staying later than most, but at least I can claim I’m running the show later in the day, if only for an hour or so. I start the day catching up with the team and of course grabbing a cup of tea to get me kick-started. The first thing I do is get everything set up including the Computer Aided Design (CAD) tools, and PADS layout, the Printed Circuit Board (PCB) design software. I’d be lost without these.

PCBDesign4-500Being a PCB Design Apprentice is really varied and my average day can be spent doing a range of different things, generally speaking, no two tasks are the same. When I started my apprenticeship, I luckily wasn’t expected to know how to design a 12 layered PCB.

However, excitingly, I am now on my way to gaining the relevant skills. This makes a 12 layered PCB less of a daunting idea as each day I am developing and learning.

One thing that has become apparent to me is that each PCB designer has their own style as each designer lays out their board differently (it’s nice to know that I will develop a PCB signature). Understanding and being exposed to a range of layout options and developing multiple skill sets is vital for me in crafting my own style further.

PCBDesign1-500What I enjoy about the job is the creativity and it’s one of the first principles that I was taught here: never copy anybody else’s design, and develop your own style and way of working instead. This is helped by the constant support and guidance from my mentors. They are always advising and guiding me on where improvements can be made and are key people in my development as an apprentice.

I’ve been learning a lot by looking at the other designers’ work from time to time and noting their style of approaching layouts for example. They can work on as many as 16 layers of PCB board, it’s quite crazy actually. I am currently able to work up to 4 layers and the tracking gets more complicated each time you go up a layer pair. This is made even more challenging if you have less board space to work on.

I also spend some of my time working on mechanical drawings, which really brings extended variety to my work day! These drawings are needed often during projects, especially for cable assemblies.

PCBSo there is a lot of variety in my job; PCB design, schematics and sometimes mechanical drawings, not to mention college work as well. My line manager and mentor are always really supportive of my college work and both think it is important to get done whenever there is a quiet moment. This has been vital to my success in my apprenticeship studies and is greatly appreciated.

The organisation is always showing great enthusiasm towards the apprenticeship scheme and my personal development. This has been recognised by my college, Cambridge Regional College, at this year’s Apprenticeship Awards as we won “Engineering Employer of the Year Award”. I look forward to developing here during my apprenticeship and the adventures and interesting projects that await me.

Hello, I’m Elliot Langran and I am the PCB Design Apprentice here at Plextek, I started in September and here is an insight from my perspective of life as an apprentice.

I generally get into the office between 9 – 9:30 am, being a young person, I’m extremely grateful for our flexible working hours. It does mean staying later than most, but at least I can claim I’m running the show later in the day, if only for an hour or so. I start the day catching up with the team and of course grabbing a cup of tea to get me kick-started. I first get everything set up including the Computer Aided Design (CAD) tools, and PADS layout, the Printed Circuit Board (PCB) design software. I’d be lost without these.

PCBDesign4-500Being a PCB Design Apprentice is really varied and my average day can be spent doing a range of different things, generally speaking, no two tasks are the same. When I started my apprenticeship, I luckily wasn’t expected to know how to design a 12 layered PCB.

However, excitingly, I am now on my way to gaining the relevant skills. This makes a 12 layered PCB less of a daunting idea as each day I am developing and learning.

One thing that has become apparent to me is that each PCB designer has their own style as each designer lays out their board differently (it’s nice to know that I will develop a PCB signature). Understanding and being exposed to a range of layout options and developing multiple skill sets is vital for me in crafting my own style further.

PCBDesign1-500What I enjoy about the job is the creativity and it’s one of the first principles that I was taught here: never copy anybody else’s design, and develop your own style and way of working instead. This is helped by the constant support and guidance from my mentors. They are always advising and guiding me on where improvements can be made and are key people in my development as an apprentice.

I’ve been learning a lot by looking at the other designers’ work from time to time and noting their style of approaching layouts for example. They can work on as many as 16 layers of PCB board, it’s quite crazy actually. I am currently able to work up to 4 layers and the tracking gets more complicated each time you go up a layer pair. This is made even more challenging if you have less board space to work on.

I also spend some of my time working on mechanical drawings, which really brings extended variety to my work day! These drawings are needed often during projects, especially for cable assemblies.

PCBSo there is a lot of variety in my job; PCB design, schematics and sometimes mechanical drawings, not to mention college work as well. My line manager and mentor are always really supportive of my college work and both think it is important to get done whenever there is a quiet moment. This has been vital to my success in my apprenticeship studies and is greatly appreciated.

The organisation is always showing great enthusiasm towards the apprenticeship scheme and my personal development. This has been recognised by my college, Cambridge Regional College, at this year’s Apprenticeship Awards as we won “Engineering Employer of the Year Award”. I look forward to developing here during my apprenticeship and the adventures and interesting projects that await me.

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50 Years in Engineering

Fifty Years in Engineering

Stewart Da'Silva - Senior Designer, Product Design

By: Stewart Da’Silva
Senior Designer, Product Design

22nd February 2017

Home » PCB

pcb_layouttoolsIn 1966 whilst serving my apprenticeship as a mechanical design draughtsman, I was assisting a senior draughtsman on a design that required a simple power supply. This product was going to be manufactured in medium volume and he suggested that maybe I would like to investigate the possibility of using a Printed Circuit Board to connect it up instead of using wire to make the connections. This was my first introduction to PCBs.

He had really set me a challenge as no-one in my company had used one before. Anyway, suffice to say that that very first layout of mine was constructed using an ink pen, rule and compass using Indian black ink on white Bristol board. To increase accuracy of the finished PCB, it was drawn 4:1 scale. As is probably obvious to the reader, mistakes whilst drawing the PCB usually necessitated starting from scratch again. The next stage was arranging for an industrial photographer to generate a 1:1 positive film from the 4:1 artwork that could be used by a printed circuit board manufacturer to fabricate the PCB.

I finished my apprenticeship in 1968 and not long afterwards started work as a mechanical designer in a ’Contract Office.’ This was essentially a design house offering design capabilities to companies that did not have the necessary skills or had to outsource projects due to a high volume of work.

taped-artwork_black-tapeIt was here that I learnt the basis of PCB design. Things had moved on, although designs were still only single or double sided. Instead of ink on Bristol board, the initial design was drawn, again at a scale of either 2:1 or 4:1, on a stable semi-transparent plastic film that was placed over a similar transparent film with a 0.1inch matrix printed on it that was fixed to an A0 drawing board. This grid was used as a guide for the PCB layout.

If the PCB design was double sided, the usual convention used was blue pencil for the component side and red pencil for the solder side. Once completed and checked this pencil layout was flipped over and secured over another grid that was in turn attached to the surface of an A0 size light box. A translucent film was positioned over.

lightbox1Using pre-cut adhesive backed-tapes and pads of various sizes and following the red colour of the layout that was under this sheet as a guide, the solder side of the PCB took form as the designer built up the artwork. When the solder side artwork was complete it was removed from the light box together with the pencil layout. The artwork was flipped over and secured once again to the light box, another plastic sheet was placed over this and again, using the pre-cut pads, the designer aligned these with the pads on the completed solder side artwork. Once all the pads were positioned, the solder side artwork was removed and this ‘pads only’ component side was again placed over the now turned over pencil layout and the blue colour followed to tape up the component side. The two sides of the finished and checked artworks were then sent to an industrial photographer who generated a 1:1 artwork from the originals.

red-blue-artworkThe next step that the industry took was to use only one piece of stable plastic sheet instead of two. The pre-cut black pads were still used but instead of black tapes, transparent blue and red tapes were used and were placed on opposite sides of the sheet. The industrial photographer would then attach filters such that only the red or the blue traces appeared as black when he created the 1:1 artworks. This may seem a small step but it did mean that alignment of both sides of the PCB artworks was guaranteed as exactly the same pads were used.

Read part 2 of Stuart’s blog here.

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