Any product developed today for the energy industry has to be environmentally efficient – all the more so, when it is a smart energy meter. So when meter maker Landis+Gyr started work on a new design, initially for British Gas, smart development and manufacturing was essential.
The ecoMeter – also known, for its shape, as the Pebble – was developed by Landis+Gyr with the industrial and software design teams from PA Consulting. The wireless meter, which communicates over the mobile phone network, was designed with chips that use as little energy as possible. But the device also had to be efficient to make, and easy to recycle.
Almost all the initial design and prototyping was done on computer-based systems. And as the Pebble is an electronic device, this was done in parallel with software and user interface development.
“Mechanical” Cad was used to model material selection, plastic part weight, moulding machine cycle time, and the efficiency of assembly process. “Electronic design” Cad ensured that the Pebble used as few parts as possible, and those parts were integrated in a way that minimised their power consumption.
The use of technology allowed Landis+Gyr to bring in external expertise to develop the ecoMeter, but also to speed up development time, and time to market. The PA team was able to assemble components rapidly and also make any changes quickly. This applied both to the physical design, and to the software, which, for a device intended for home use, is just as critical.
The use of electronic design tools also made it easier for designers to liaise with the outsourced manufacturing contractors, and to ensure environmental compliance throughout the production stage. The manufacturer was also able to interrogate the electronic design files and produce mould tools, without the need to travel to Europe.
And with fewer expensive, and often resource-hungry, physical prototypes, the Pebble took seven months to take from design, through to testing, and on its pre-launch phase. This would have been impossible without electronic design, admits Joe Andrews, product manager at Landis+Gyr.
“Our products are designed to engender energy efficiency. So it is important for them to be manufactured and delivered in as efficient manner as possible,” he says. “By using electronic design modelling, every aspect of a product’s design, from plastic part weight to self consumption, could be examined with efficiency in mind.”
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