Getting Connected with Automation Research Group
When it comes to engineering projects, sometimes the oldest ideas find new life in the most unexpected circumstances.
Before the advent of the internet, transmitting large data packets back and forth was exceptionally challenging. Without internet technology, electrical engineers tried to find ways to transmit data at low speeds using existing power lines and large buildings. Their efforts mainly served government agencies, with the occasional large corporate client.
Today, we transmit data in seconds, but with these advancements have come new challenges, especially security concerns. High-speed internet has a price—and for some, having a private network tethered to a building just makes more sense. These security concerns made the idea of using power lines versus WiFi or broadband internet connections, more appealing—especially to governments and cities that need to keep data secure at all times.
Automation Research Group, a Philadelphia-based engineering and design company, has revisited the idea of using power lines as an alternative to WiFi, developing a similar system for the consumer market for the first time ever. Without routers and wireless technology, data may be transmitted slower, but it is far more secure. Potential data thieves would need specialized equipment as well as access to each building to steal data.
In addition to this ambitious project, Automation Research Group manufactures hardware devices, including controllers, smart thermometers and wheelchairs, Bluetooth data loggers, high-speed microarray printers and more for clients across a wide range of industries.
Founder Madhu Annapragada has been using Altium for many years, from the Protel 99 days and was an early adopter of Altium Designer. Altium Designer, in particular, has been instrumental in coalescing client requests—including ones sketched out on cocktail napkins.
With the addition of Altium Concord Pro, an end-to-end content management, collaboration and component sourcing tool and Altium 365, the world’s first cloud platform for PCB design and realization, Automation Research Group are streamlining client work, freeing up more time to work on their power line project.
Enhancing Workflow without Compromise
With three partners, two on the East Coast and one in Silicon Valley, bringing the team together hasn’t been easy for Annapragada, let alone having the ability to find component parts for their custom-designed PCBs.
As Annapragada details, “Before we started using Altium 365, parts management was all in a local database. I had to email my databases in their entirety to my partners, along with STEP files. We didn’t have any way to manage parts or determine if they were outdated.”
With the addition of Altium Concord Pro on Altium 365, the team is unified from start to finish. “Altium 365 is a real game-changer,” Annapragada explains, “Having a single unified library has been essential to my business. With Altium Concord Pro in the cloud, it’s been seamless. Things I wish I could do for years, like sharing, getting real-time part information or accessing my library are now possible.”
The process improvements have been immense for Annapragada and his team. As he elaborates, “Having these two tools has saved about 30% of my time, and reduced overall errors by 50% or more. I don’t have to worry about part availability or having a common part library; I can see if parts are out of date and acquire replacements instantly. And just having everyone on the same page has been fantastic.”
Cloud Convenience without the Cloud Feel As someone familiar with the limitations of internet connectivity, Annapragada is particularly sensitive to working with cloud-based platforms, appreciating their convenience while being acutely aware of their limitations.
“Altium 365 is like what the iPhone was to the cell phone industry—it generates excitement,” he explains. But Annapragada wasn’t entirely sold on the idea, having worked with multiple cloud-based tools previously.
Using Altium 365 has been refreshingly easy for Annapragada, from how easy it was to set up without the need for routers to the user experience. As he elaborates, “Altium 365 doesn’t make you feel like you’re connected to the cloud. You’re still working in a desktop environment with Altium Designer, so the workflow isn’t broken, and there’s nothing new to learn. Everything you need is just right there, and it works.”
Automation Research Group’s customers are just as enthusiastic as the team. “Working with our customers is much easier. We used to wait until a project was completed and then send customers their project files. Now, we just add customers as team members to an Altium 365 workspace, so they can see as the project progresses. They see the boards taking shape, and they can make comments; they get to look over our shoulders now, so they love it.”
Streamlining everyday operations has freed up Annapragada and his team to work on their power line project. The entire project is being worked on inside Altium 365, empowering effortless co-design and cross-country collaboration.
As the project progresses, Automation Research Group will continue to balance their client work, with the continued help of Altium.