A chat given to the Blackmore Vale Business Group

I have had two main clients, both ex employers. I gave a chat about the largest project. This is taking on work from another contract designer who has been overloaded so was not able to complete the contract himself. The details of the end use are vague as the end client does not want to be identified for commercial reasons.
The original task was to design a radio board around a transceiver chip that had already been chosen. Normally if I were taking on a project like this directly it would start with a quick survey of what is on the market at that time. The world of semiconductor manufacturing is constantly changing, so although I start the search with chip manufacturers I have used before, or have picked up through the trade press, a web search is still needed to check for any new start-ups that might be making something useful. Other components are selected based on my long experience of who produces the best quality parts at a reasonable price and on ease of availability. Design calculations are usually done on a spreadsheet often reusing work I have done before or adding to the collection of formulas from manufacturers application notes or technical literature. Then I can create the first version of the schematic. A specialist software tool is used for this with as well as creating the schematic, it also derives a parts list, often referred to as the Bill Of Materials or BOM, and a netlist. The latter is important in checking the PCB design matches the schematic connectivity.
Its at this point that I usually do the first circuit simulations. The simulation will include additional elements to model the likely effects of the PCB layout. The additional elements are based on rule-of-thumb worked out over my years in the business. Using the simulations, component values can be adjusted to optimise performance. When the results are satisfactory I start the PCB design. The design is done using specialist software (a type a vector drawing package) that is associated with the schematic software. Although there are software packages that automate the PCB design these are not suitable for radio work. After the PCB layout design is complete the tracking can be simulated and the results used to refine the rule of thumb entries in the first simulation. More circuit optimisation may be necessary at this point.
With PCB and Schematic design complete a package of information can be generated for contract manufacturers to use to make the prototypes. I prefer the approach of contracting out the whole component purchase, PCB purchase, and assembly process to one contract manufacturer. In the past this would have been done in house with hand assembly of the boards, but modern components are just too small for this and need robotic placement and soldering.
Testing of the prototypes was held up by software not being available as the customer was too busy with other projects to write it. I therefore bid for the work and won a useful extra contract. The software task revealed problems with chip versions, which had to be resolved by changing the chips on the prototypes to the latest version. The chip manufacturer was most unhelpful, as he would not reveal what the differences in the versions were. The simulation work paid off and the deign needed only a couple of minor tweaks before being ready for delivery.
The customer wanted to do some range tasting so another useful contract was won to box up two of the prototypes and modify my test software to make it suitable for range testing.
In all a useful start for my business and useful software skills picked up along the way.