Electronics Point Survey: Design Constraints for Electrical Engineers

2 days ago by Sam Holland

Challenges that many EEs face on any project is the determined design constraints. How did our survey of nearly 500 EEs determine the most common design constraints? And which of these caused the most trouble?

When designing prototypes for new projects or innovating existing ones, Electrical Engineers (EEs) are often mandated to design them under certain constraints to ensure a satisfactory quality of the final product.

 

What is a Design Constraint?

A design constraint is a limitation to the requirements or conditions under which a design should be implemented. In engineering product design, constraints affect everything from the size to the features, functionality to the performance of the final product. These constraints are largely dependent on the available technology, time, and budget.

 

The Electronics Point Survey

Electronics Point recently conducted a survey for nearly 500 engineers within our community to explore the most important and common design constraints for their projects.

The survey bordered on the following:

  • The most difficult design constraint to meet.
  • The type of components that cause the most difficulty in meeting these constraints.
  • The percentage of projects that miss deadlines due to difficulty in meeting these constraints.
  • The availability of small-footprint components to keep up with the demand for more compact designs.
  • The easiest design constraint to meet.

We’ll be elaborating on these design constraints and how they affect EE projects.

Image courtesy of Pixabay. 

The Most Difficult Design Constraint

The survey, carried out by EETech Media & Marketing, asked EEs which of these design constraints they considered the toughest to meet:

  • Size
  • Cost
  • Power
  • Performance

Here are the results from the survey:

Cost (44.67% of respondents)

Design cost was the biggest constraint according to the vast majority of EEs. The fact remains that despite having a dedicated budget in place to cater for engineering design efforts, engineers often grapple with variables that affect the overall cost of the project.

Usually, project budgeting is done at the beginning of the project. However, the budget is often based on ideal conditions and some variables could change. For example, a critical component failure or a modification to the original design may necessitate the use of more or different components. Therefore, costs at the beginning and end of a project can vary considerably, affecting the duration of the project and time-to-market (TTM). Delivering the project within budget is critical, yet apparently the most difficult constraint for engineers.

Performance (25.61% of respondents)

Over 25% of engineers surveyed indicated that performance was the most difficult constraint for their designs. The performance of a design is largely dependent on component selection and configuration. 

Designing an optimal engineering solution involves creating a design that is not only cost-effective but well within the performance constraints. Consequently, the success or failure of a design depends on how it performs during the testing phase in relation to expectations.

Size (19.47% of respondents)

About 19% of the engineers surveyed selected size as the most difficult design constraint. This seems plausible as the demand for the global engineering community to design and build increasingly compact solutions grows.

A good example is an electronic project with component-dense circuit configurations which allow complex systems to be built on a minimal footprint (the surface area). This ties up nicely with the famous Moore’s law, which states that the number of transistors (or overall processing capacity) of an IC is doubled every two years.

In such projects, EEs need to come up with designs that utilise small-sized components without compromising performance or reliability.   

Power (10.25% of respondents)

Around 10% of the surveyed group indicated that power was the most challenging design constraint to meet. Low-power consumption is the hallmark of modern engineering design.

More than ever, engineers are expected to utilise sophisticated technologies and components to design products with power-efficiency, without compromising on performance or reliability.  

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Components that Cause the Most Difficulty in Meeting Size Constraints

According to the survey, the following components caused the most difficulty in meeting size constraints:

Integrated Circuits (ICs) (28.42% of respondents)

In terms of designing within stipulated size constraints, ICs are the most difficult components to work with according to 28% of the engineers who took the survey.

As we noted earlier, there is a growing demand for the global engineering community to design and build increasingly compact solutions. For example, in electronic designs where engineers need to integrate a large number of ICs in a system, it might be challenging to keep the overall design footprint small.

Passives (17.89% of respondents)

Passive components are circuit elements that do not generate energy themselves, but only store it or dissipate it, e.g. resistors, capacitors, transistors, and ICs.

Passive devices are the fundamental “building blocks” of electric circuits and no design is feasible without utilising a number of them. However, designing low-profile systems using passives might pose a challenge for EEs due to the size of their packages.

Connectors (20.00% of respondents)

Connectors are electromechanical devices used to create continuity between various circuits or link components within a circuit. They are utilised in both electrical and electronic designs in some form. Some examples include copper wires for transmitting electric current or coaxial cabling for transmitting signals.

When designing a product, taking the size of connectors into consideration is crucial when low-profile size is a requirement for the final product.

Human-Machine Interfaces (HMIs) (33.68% of respondents)

About 33% of engineers chose HMIs as the most challenging component for meeting project size constraints. A human-machine interface or HMI is an interface that connects a human being to the control system of a device or machine.

HMI integration poses a challenge for projects with component-dense configurations while requiring a small footprint.

Image courtesy of Pixabay. 

Components that Cause the Most Difficulty Meeting Cost Constraints

According to results from the survey, the following components caused the most difficulty for meeting cost constraints:

  • ICs (42.66% of respondents)
  • HMIs (39.45% of respondents)
  • Connectors (11.01% of respondents)
  • Passives (6.88% of respondents)

 

Components that Cause the Most Difficulty Meeting Power Constraints

According to results from the survey, the following components caused the most difficulty in meeting power constraints:

  • ICs (48.00% of respondents)
  • Passives (22.00% of respondents)
  • Connectors (16.00% of respondents)
  • HMIs (14.00% of respondents)

 

Components that Cause the Most Difficulty Meeting Performance Constraints

According to results from the survey, the following components caused the most difficulty in meeting performance constraints:

  • ICs (43.20% of respondents)
  • Passives (15.20% of respondents)
  • Connectors (9.60% of respondents)
  • HMIs (32.00% respondents)

 

Percentage of Projects that Miss Deadlines Due to Difficulty Meeting Size Constraints

Missed project deadlines could occur for a plethora of reasons, one of those reasons being when the proposed design does not fall within size constraints, e.g. length, breadth, and volume. When this happens, the approval/supervisory team might send the design back to the R&D team for modifications.

Here are the results from the survey:

  • > 50% (5.26% of respondents)
  • 25% - 50% (11.58% of respondents)
  • 10% - 25% (51.58% of respondents)
  • < 10% (31.58% of respondents)

 

Percentage of Projects that Miss Deadlines Due to Difficulty Meeting Cost Constraints

Project cost will always be a critical component for completing engineering projects within projected timeframes. If there is a paucity of funds at any point during the project design, it could delay its implementation, effectively increasing project duration and TTM.

Here are the results from the survey:

  • > 50% (8.26% of respondents)
  • 25% - 50% (24.77% of respondents)
  • 10% - 25% (39.45% of respondents)
  • < 10% (27.52% of respondents)

 

Percentage of Projects that Miss Deadlines Due to Difficulty Meeting Power Constraints

Power is a critical issue in all EE project designs. It is imperative to set power constraints for each design to ensure optimum efficiency and reliability for the final product.

Here are the results from the survey:

  • > 50% (10.00% of respondents)
  • 25% - 50% (12.00% of respondents)
  • 10% - 25% (52.00% of respondents)
  • < 10% (26.00 % of respondents)

 

Percentage of Projects that Miss Deadlines Due to Difficulty Meeting Performance Constraints

As part of the quality assurance/control procedures in engineering companies, each project design is analysed extensively and is tested for performance within acceptable limits before the product gets to the market. If stipulated performance constraints are not met, the design will be sent back to the design/R&D team for modifications.

Here are the results from the survey:

  • > 50% (8.80% of respondents)
  • 25% - 50% (15.20% of respondents)
  • 10% - 25% (51.20% of respondents)
  • < 10% (24.80% of respondents)

Image courtesy of Pixabay. 

The Availability of Small-Footprint Components to Keep Up with the Demand for More Compact Designs

Another survey question asked engineers if their suppliers had been able to shrink component sizes to keep up with the demand for low-profile designs. The vast majority indicated yes (71.72%), while the others (28.28%) replied in the negative. 

 

The Easiest Design Constraint to Meet

The final question posed queried which design constraint is considered the easiest to meet. The majority of engineers chose power (39.34%). Others were performance (24.39%), size (19.88%), and cost (16.39%).

 

Conclusion

The survey results above outline some of the most important constraints that EEs work with while developing their designs. It’s ultimately up to these engineers to find a good balance between size, cost, power, performance, and reliability of components to successfully deliver projects within stipulated budgets and timeframes.

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