The Celtic Engineer is a weekly newsletter produced by Celtic Engineering Solutions. We hope you enjoy it. If you have any suggestions for topics, would like to give feedback or want your email added to the distribution list please send an email to[email protected].
Who is my customer?
The first time I heard this question (several decades ago) I thought my supervisor had lost his mind. It the people who pay us to make something for them. He smiled and told me I was partially correct. But those are really the company’s customers. Who are my customers? As an engineer one of the most important things I do is not design things, but creating documentation. That is my product. I can design the best widget in the world, but if I make lousy documentation, it will probably not become a great product.
What is the documentation?I produce four kinds of documents all the time. First, design documents. The design document is a description of the design. It tells what the thing does and explains its limitations. It lists out the file structure of the design. I divide the project into folders: CAM files; Datasheets; Outjobs; Schematics; PCB; Local Libraries. I use Altium when doing electrical design and PCB layout. This document shows how I have organized that project into folders and what files can be found in them.
Second, I produce PCB’s from my designs. When I am done, I create a fabrication document that explains to the PCB Fabrication House how I want the board built. What thickness, color and materials to use. Do I want it scored or do I want it routed? What kind of finish should the pads have? I show the various folders: DRC; Gerbers; NC Drill; Protel Netlist; Single Point Net.
Third, the Assembly Drawing. The assembly drawing tells the Board Stuffing House how to put the parts on the PCB. The parts may be placed by hand or they may be placed by machine. The assembly house has to purchase the parts so they need a BOM. I make special notes about unique requirements in the document and I list out the folders and files: BOM; Panel Gerbers; Pick and Place files.
Fourth, Firmware documentation. Firmware documentation takes on two aspects. The firmware document describes the project; its purpose and function. It explains how the firmware fulfils the project goals. It explains the security procedures used to protect against errors. It also lists out the files that make up the project and the way the individuals parts or libraries are linked together. This is the 40,000-foot view of the firmware. The second aspect of firmware documentation is the nitty gritty what does this code do? This is handled by the comments within the code. I try to put ample comments about what the code is doing, how it is doing something and what I expect to happen at a given point.
Back to customers
Now that we know what the documentation is, you may have realized that I did not actually answer the question of who my customers are, really. They may be the company’s customers. They may be me in six months’ time, or six years’ time. More likely they are the consumers of the documents I described above. The Board House, the Assembly House. There are also many hidden customers. In production, things don’t always go smoothly. Then there are technicians and other engineers who will need my documentation to understand a problem, fix a problem or improve a product or process.
A company would not launch a new product without doing market research. Neither should you. Your documentation is your product. Make sure you talk to your target audience to make sure that it is the best product it can be. Also, realize that it may be used in ways you had not anticipated. Talking to the people who consume your product is a great way to make a better product. Does that sound embarrassing? Demeaning? Would you stoop so low as to ask someone to critique your work? Sometimes we have to climb down off our high horse and talk to the commoners. I say this tongue in cheek, but I have met many engineers who really thought they were better than others because they were the engineer. I have little time for such arrogance. Those people are the ones who hold a company back from becoming all it can become. Being a good engineer means doing something well. Make it faster, cheaper more powerful. More reliable! To design that better product, we must produce better documentation because others will be using our product to actually make the things we have imagined.
This newsletter is sponsored by Celtic Engineering Solutions LLC, a design engineering firm based out of West Jordan, Utah, which can be found on the web at:www.celticengineeringsolutions.com. You can find the newsletter on the company blog, LinkedIn or by subscribing. Send your emails to The Celtic Engineer at: [email protected].