Designing Electronics That Work

[Hunter Scott] who has graced these pages a fair few times, has been working on electronics startups for the past ten years or so, and has picked up a fair bit of experience with designing and building hardware. Those of us in this business seem to learn the same lessons, quite often the hard way; we call it experience. Wouldn’t it be nice to get up that learning curve a little quicker, get our hardware out there working sooner with less pain, due to not falling into the same old traps those before us already know about? The problem with the less experienced engineer is not their lack of talent, how quickly they can learn, nor how much work they can get done in a day, but simply that they don’t know what they don’t know. There’s no shame in that, it’s just a fact of life. [Hunter] presents for us, the Guide to Designing Electronics that Work.

The book starts at the beginning. The beginning of the engineering process that is; requirements capturing, specifications, test planning and schedule prediction. This part is hard to do right, and this is where the real experience shows. The next section moves onto component selection and prototyping advice, with some great practical advice to sidestep some annoying production issues. Next there’s the obvious section on schematic and layout with plenty of handy tips to help you to that all important final layout. Do not underestimate how hard this latter part is, there is plenty of difficulty in getting a good performing, minimal sized layout, especially if RF applications are involved.

The last few sections cover costing, fabrication and testing. These are difficult topics to learn, if up till now all you’ve done is build prototypes and one-offs. These are the areas where many a kickstarter engineer has fallen flat.

Designing Electronics That Work doesn’t profess to be totally complete, nor have the answer to everything, but as the basis for deeper learning and getting the young engineer on their way to a manufacturable product, it is a very good starting point in our opinion.

The book has been around a little while, and the latest version is available for download right now, on a pay what-you-want basis, so give it a read and you might learn a thing or two, we’re pretty confident it won’t be time wasted!

36 thoughts on “Designing Electronics That Work

    1. I’ve seen and heard worse from people that should know, and this is a pretty common way of defining it, though it leaves out that for a binary mixture, it is the lowest solidus temp for any ratio of the components a very important feature in many applications. The wording could be better, but may in part be due to the editing of hte quote. The eutectic alloy will melt at a single temperature, rather than at a range as various phases melt and undergo phase transitions. In solders, non-eutectic melt/solidification is often said to have a slushy state as the eutectic phase will be liquid while other phases remain solid between the eutectic temp and the solidus.

    2. I don’t require anyone know everything, not even my teachers. I try not to have standards for others that I can’t meet myself. All anyone has to know to teach me something is more than me. I’ll figure out where the overlap is and compensate for that on my own.

  1. I tried to get a free copy, I failed.

    So, first it asks if i mistyped my email. Duh, I didn’t, I know my provider is, not!
    Then, it miserably fails to do anything more, as I do have a pair of ad blockers.
    Why the hell would you need to get stripe/google/amazon/etc. involved in a 0 transaction? Just gimme the pdf dude!

  2. No matter how fancy soldering iron you have if you don’t set it to the correct temperature, it won’t help you.

    Most people leave the temperature of the soldering station to the max temperature setting and ruins lots of soldering tips. They think it is like their stove max setting = maximum power, but that’s not the case. The soldering iron will try to get to the temperature set point and can control the power to get there.

    1. Soldering tips are cheap. A year or two ago, I got a cheap Hakko clone iron from Ali Express (about $25) with a set of tips (about 50 cents each), and all the tips are still working great, even occasionally leaving the iron at max temp overnight.

      I like using high temperature, because it’s faster, and also allows a fine tip to do bigger jobs.

    2. Most consumer grade soldering irons that have thermostat control aren’t accurate at all. If you set them at the proper temperature, they won’t melt anything at all and you just end up with a mess. They also tend to have poor thermal connection from the heating element to the tip: once you touch the board the temperature begins to drop instantly.

    1. Checkout doesn’t send you a PDF, checkout gives you a tokenized link that opens a bespoke PDF reader for the book (and sends the link by E-mail). The reader (and checkout) probably won’t work outside of the browser it was designed for, it works on Chromium but not Firefox.

      I’m skimming it now, if it looks good I’ll get a physical copy. The online PDF reader is nice and all, but I won’t spend money for a book where other people control my access.

      1. Huh. No PDF download? I don’t really blame the author, who surely put a lot of work into this, and I’m not going to stamp my foot and yell. Obviously the author doesn’t owe me anything. But locking up the PDF in the cloud and preventing a direct PDF download seems to contradict what they said about wanting it to be free and to reach the widest possible audience: “I debated whether to charge for the digital version or not, and ultimately decided not to. I want this book to be a resource for everyone and to reach as many people as possible.”

        I would definitely consider buying the printed book if I could view a sample chapter or couple of sample pages first. The web site looks nicely done, but there’s no example of what the actual book content looks like.

  3. no problem downloading while useing a twitchy browser that
    breaks everything by default,same for email(proton),had to allow java,cookies, and DOM storage for session
    all while making toast on the woodstove(olive bread)
    more time typing this,rural cell data only,than downloading.

  4. I tried using that soldering iron, but the barrel of the tip is too fat for my taste. It gets in the way when you want to rework a board with other components on it.

    Precise temperature control is overrated. I’d rather have the option to turn a knob and set it myself.

    1. It’s less about the precise control and more about the heat up rate. With metcal (brand name) soldering irons you can give it 100% power all the time and the tip itself regulates the temperature by being more/less magnetic resulting in a MUCH shorter heat up time compared to resistive/adjustable irons.

      The downside is they’re hella expensive and you can’t control the temperature past what is done in the metallurgy.

      1. Other irons, using PID control, can heat up quickly too by throwing 100% power at it. The only disadvantage is that the temperature sensor is in the barrel instead of the tip, so you get a gradient. You can compensate for the gradient by cranking up the temperature.

        In the end, I prefer adjustable temperature over fixed, but more precise regulation.

        1. One plus for a self-regulating tip like with Metcals is that you can see when the power output stabilizes, which tells you when the pad you’re touching has reached thermal equilibrium with the tip and the solder won’t wick any further. You don’t need to waste time counting seconds and cooking the board needlessly if it’s already done as far as it will go.

  5. Ignore what I said earlier, I managed to get past being stuck at “processing” and the PDF download button is right there. It’s not locked in the cloud or hidden in any way. It’s a big jolly Download button right at the top of the page.

    I skimmed through the book and it looks pretty good! This would have been a fantastic resource for me when I was first starting out, and still looks very helpful now, even though much of the content isn’t new to me anymore. The sections on PCB layout, cost engineering, and assembly look most valuable to me, since my knowledge there is definitely incomplete and mostly self-taught.

    The only minor criticism I have is that most of the book is a wall of text. There aren’t very many diagrams or tables or sidebars or even section headings to break things up, and it will go for 3 or 4 pages at a time of dense paragraphs of pure text. Maybe my attention span isn’t what it used to be, but I find this a little bit hard to digest.

    After checking out the free download, I went back and downloaded a second time while sending some money to the author. This is a quality piece of work, without anything else very similar that I’m aware of. I’ll spend some time reading through the whole thing more thoroughly in the coming weeks.

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