RS sees democratisation of electronics design
Over the past year or so, the world of electronics has undergone a period of massive democratisation – never before has electronics design and technology been as accessible or affordable to a mass audience as it is now, writes Glenn Jarrett, global head of product marketing, RS Components.
Low-cost development platforms such as the Arduino, and particularly the Raspberry Pi, have started to open up the world of technology to an audience that was previously uninterested, inexpert, or simply could not afford to experiment with electronic design.
Also, we are beginning to see rapid expansion of the open-source hardware movement, which is not entirely dissimilar to the open-source software revolution that began in the 1990s – Linux being the most prominent example – which is now used in most of the servers that power the Internet.
These movements are of course largely underpinned by the Internet, enabling the sharing of hardware and software developments, ideas and innovations via engineering design communities such as DesignSpark.
Another major contribution to this increased accessibility is the availability of free-to-download electronic and mechanical design software, in conjunction with component models and low-cost 3D printers. And distribution has certainly played a leading role here.
When RS launched its free schematic-entry and board-layout DesignSpark PCB software tool a little more than three years ago, the idea of a distributor being a credible source of electronics design tools was a new one. And it was greeted across the industry with a mix of optimism, curiosity and a degree of scepticism.
But as engineers first became aware of the tool, then downloaded and started to use it, quickly they recognized the considerable time- and cost-saving benefits it could offer for their design projects.
Fast-forward to 2013 and the word has spread. The more than 200,000 engineers around the world that have now downloaded the software are living proof that we have earned their trust as a provider of reliable online tools. This has been reinforced by another significant milestone: the download figures of the ModelSource component library, which hit the 100,000 mark in November, just one year after it was introduced.
2013 has also been a big year for 3D design: the emergence of 3D printers on to the mass market has grabbed the attention of engineering teams keen to achieve quick turnaround on prototypes with the genuine promise of cutting weeks or even months from the design cycle.
One of the industry’s most innovative 3D printing technologies has been developed here in the UK: RepRapPro has created a low-cost and open-source self-replicating 3D printer that can print most of its own components. The company has recently joined forces with RS to bring to market its new Ormerod 3D printing kit.
This collaboration quickly followed the launch of the free and highly intuitive DesignSpark Mechanical 3D modelling tool and it has been received with unprecedented enthusiasm by the engineering community, reaching 100,000 downloads less than two months after its unveiling. This immediate appeal of the tool has had a significant knock-on effect on the RS 3D CAD model programme, which has seen the number of model downloads soar past half a million over recent weeks.
The increasing accessibility of technology to all – whether it is low-cost development platforms, free easy-to-use design software or the ability to employ 3D printers to rapidly prototype or even manufacture products at extremely low-cost – is something that is only going to develop further in 2014.