There are multiple facets to the electronics engineering design process. Whether it is a computer or some other electronic device, none of these facets can be ignored.
Hardware design is a component of CPU design, and is basically its own branch of electronic engineering. This branch deals with the physical elements of the CPU or device being put together. Electronics engineers design hardware components such as semiconductors, circuits, diodes, circuit boards and transistors, to name a scant few.
Typically, electronics engineers design hardware for larger systems and the embedded systems within them. These inner systems are dedicated to singular tasks using small processing cores. Most CPUs and complex electronic devices today are the result of efficient embedded systems within a larger architecture. Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) are used to support all of these electronic functions through conductive pathways.
Issuing commands to the device is the software. Software design is the programmed data or instructions the computer follows. If the hardware and embedded systems are the tangible elements, the software is the intangible, but invaluable lifeblood directing these physical elements.
Both the hardware and software of a device can be reverse engineered to analyze the device’s design and function. Reverse engineering is a valuable tool for making programing or structural improvements, or for duplicating a unit when no other information on the system is available.
Before sending a complete system into production, a thorough inspection of all components is performed. DFM, the acronym for “design for manufacturability” and “DFT, “design for testing” are two methods used to ensure variation flaws and human errors are minimized. Therefore, a DFX (“design for x”) analysis includes both elements; testing during production and testing for manufacturability after production.
During design and production, testing is the framework electronics engineers operate within. Even after a product is complete it is constantly being improved upon and redesigned. New design analysis must put new ideas through multiple levels of testing before they enter prototype production. This process is important for all product parts, including the enclosure design.
If the enclosure is metal, a common material choice for electronics is carbon steel. When powder-coated, this metal has a long life indoors. More rugged applications (such as for field use) require stainless steel. This metal resists corrosion and withstands rougher handling. Plastic enclosures can also be designed for more rugged use, but are typically the choice for indoor applications.
Regardless of how well tested and manufactured a product is, a structural analysis may reveal flaws or outdated code after some time. Technology updates due to electronic parts obsolescence are common, and engineers attempt to plan for them by using electronic parts obsolescence forecasting algorithms.
Another factor in the design and redesign of electronics components is compliance with regulations for hazardous substances in electronics components (RoHS). Many components need to have a RoHS conversion to convert leaded parts which could break down and be hazardous to consumers or the environment.
All of these factors must be considered in a production cost analysis before, during and after the manufacturing process. If the numbers do not work, the engineering team goes back to work to make the product or manufacturing process more efficient. This often involves collaboration with mechanical engineering design teams who help by streamlining certain automated processes and inspection procedures. Once one product is finished, the process starts all over again.