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Flowcode 7 & DesignSpark: Do more, use Flowcode

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This summer, an exciting new softwarehas been launched by UK based technology company, Matrix TSL.

Here, we tell you more about what to expect from Flowcode 7; the software that allows you to develop complex electronic systems to deploy on microcontrollers from Arduino, PIC (8bit, 16bit and 32bit), AVR and ARM.

It is three years since Flowcode 6 was launched, back in September 2013. At the time, it was seen as the most advanced, system design software the Matrix development team had ever delivered.

Back then, Matrix set out to launch a variety of new and exciting features within the software, which would hopefully assist in the growth of many more users using Flowcode as their tool of choice for programming microcontrollers and electronic systems.

This summer, Flowcode 7 will be launched into an ever-changing and rapidly developing market with some really exciting new features.

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The new interface of Flowcode makes it easy for users to develop complex programs for microcontrollers including PIC and Arduino. Flowcode saves engineers time by allowing them to write code, without the need for textual languages such as C.

Why choose Flowcode?

  1. Easy-to-use and saves time: Graphical programming makes Flowcode the software of choice for thousands of engineers worldwide to create complex electronic system designs quickly, regardless of previous programming experience.
  2. Test and debugging: Flowcode’s ability to test and debug your designs to ensure accuracy, makes it a useful tool to ensure your product to market process is as efficient as possible.
  3. Mechanical engineers: Electromechanical designs are made possible by Flowcode’s compatibility with 3D CAD packages such as DesignSpark Mechanical. Users can develop electronic designs for mechanical products simply and effectively.
  4. Microcontroller flexibility: With more microcontroller choices on the market than ever before, Flowcode’s ability to work with 8bit PIC, 16bit PIC, 32bit PIC, AVR/Arduino and ARM target devices means it’s simple to switch between microcontrollers mid-way through your designs.
  5. It’s FREE: Flowcode 7 is available to download from DesignSpark free of charge. This gives the user access to a number of useful components, a range of target devices from 8bit to 32bit PIC MCU’s, Arduino’s, ARM devices and more. For professional and more advanced versions of Flowcode, users will be able to purchase from RS online.

    The free version will crucially also include a number of pre-set template for Microchip development boards. These boards will be graphically featured and all configuration settings will be set, meaning users can start development using such boards in no time.

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An example of the PICkit 3 low-pin demo board from Microchip (DM164130-9). Available from RS, this will be one of a number of pre-set Microchip development boards available in the free version of Flowcode 7.

The journey so far

With well-established routes in education, with Flowcode 6 it was decided that the continuous merger of a variety of strands of engineering including mechanical, test, and electronics would drive a number of the new features that were introduced.

For example, the trend to study both electronics and mechanics together in education implied that Flowcode should appeal more to mechanical engineers, just as much as it already did to electronic engineers. As a result, the 3D system panel and 3D simulation was introduced into Flowcode 6 to great effect.

One of the biggest growth markets recently has been the number of electronic and test engineers using Flowcode to test and debug their program designs. With this in mind, a new technology known as Ghost was introduced which provides a real time log of the status of all the pins on the microcontroller whilst a Flowcode program is running on the device on board specific Matrix hardware.

Also with the introduction of Flowcode 6, came an expanded component library to include many new electronic and simulation components. Users could now design their own electronic components and add them to their library.

So, where next?

Since 2013, these trends have continued, but we have seen some major developments in the way microcontrollers are used both by education and professionals around the World.

The 3D importing of models into Flowcode 7 is one specific area that has seen vast improvement. Using packages such as DesignSpark Mechanical users can quickly and easily develop 3D models and assemblies, then export the files and open them in Flowcode. Following this, characterising the electromechanical elements of the design is straightforward too, by making motors move, actuators and servos work etc.

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Here we can see a car seat, designed in DesignSpark Mechanical and imported into Flowcode. Users then characterise the motors and actuators on the seat using a microcontroller and Flowcode. This can be done in simulation or using real hardware.

Debugging has also been taken to another level. A new and improved data recorder alongside a brand new 4-channel oscilloscope with triggering will be launched in Flowcode. What’s more, this will make Ghost technology on Matrix’s E-blocks range of hardware easier and quicker than ever before. This will revolutionise the capabilities of both those who are learning and those developing products.

Another feature which will be introduced for Flowcode 7 is code profiling (see image below). This features shows when icons have been ‘hit’ during a simulation run, highlighting sections of code that may be deemed redundant and other parts which are executed more often and may need optimising to improve program efficiency.

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Faster compilation

One of the key features of Flowcode 7is the speed that Flowcode compiles designs to the popular PIC target devices including the 8, 16 and 32 bit chips. Working with Microchip, the XC compilers have been included in the upcoming version, improving the speed at which PIC devices compile by more than ten times compared to previous version of Flowcode.

More for professional engineers

Since the launch of Flowcode 6, the number of professional users has increased rapidly, with thousands of professional engineers now using Flowcode at their place of work and in their homes. With this in mind, version 7 supports 32 bit PIC target devices for the first time.

There will be two types of paid-for Flowcode licences introduced on top of the free version, which will be available to purchase through RS online from this summer.

Flowcode 7 standard edition

The standard edition of Flowcode 7 is designed to give basic ‘home’ users the ability to develop complex electronic systems easily and builds on the free version, giving users the full capability to develop as many routines and sub-routines as they require whilst also giving the option to compile to all of the chips supported by Flowcode and use an extended range of components.

This version of Flowcode is available in five separate target device options; 8bit PIC, 16bitPIC, 32bit PIC, AVR/Arduino and ARM.

Flowcode 7 professional edition

Whilst giving the same capabilities as the standard edition of Flowcode 7, the professional edition also (crucially) gives the user ‘commercial’ rights to use Flowcode in industrial environments and in commercial enterprises.

What’s more, users are also given further, advanced features of Flowcode including advanced communications, digital signal processing and mechatronics components.

Again, this version of Flowcode is available in five separate target device options; 8bit PIC, 16bit PIC, 32bit PIC, AVR/Arduino and ARM.

Supporting you all the way

One of the key new offerings in Flowcode 7 will be a welcome increase in help, support and guidance. Whilst Matrix will continue to offer the ever-helpful forums which are manned by Matrix engineers and experts, Flowcode 7 will also introduce offline help files for users. What’s more, the Flowcode wiki site will be given a full update to reflect Flowcode 7 developments and also give users access to free online courses on Flowcode, which will give them the ability to make a start with their developments and designs and conduct some test programs and examples. A getting started guide will also give those completely new to Flowcode a head-start on using the environment.

Looking good

Something which was pinpointed from the start of Flowcode 7 development, was the need to enter the modern era of software development and look towards a new look, feel and user interface for Flowcode. Having canvassed the views of a number of existing Flowcode users and taking into account the way other software delivers an easily-navigable user-friendly experience, Flowcode 7 presents a fresh looking user interface that will hopefully give you; more development space, improved graphics, better support for touchscreen devices, simplicity (via beginner and expert modes) and a cleaner C code output.

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Flowcode's new user interface is slick and modern. Users are able to customise their flowcharts easily, to spot specific areas of code and are aided by a powerful 3D enginer which is compatible with DesignSpark Mechanical.

Icons can now be customised in colour too, giving much more control over the look of the programs users create.  This can happen globally through the adoption of various “schemes”, or icons can be individually coloured to make important parts of your code stand out.

Flowcode is FREE

Whilst Flowcode will still give professional and educational users everything they require from an advanced graphical programming IDE, there is also have something new and exciting for a new user, or someone who just wants to test the power of Flowcode.

A completely free version of Flowcode will be available to download from DesignSpark. The free version will be restricted – in terms of components available, target devices to which users can compile code and the ability to use the software in a commercial and on a multi-user basis (for education) – but it will give users a fantastic opportunity to get a good feel for what’s possible, whilst creating some useful and interesting projects at the same time. Keep in touch with DesignSpark for some exciting, further announcements in the weeks ahead.

As you can see, there’s lots to be excited about with Flowcode 7. The same core functionalities of the software will remain, whilst a focus will be put on and improved look and feel, plus the ability to do more with Flowcode for mechanical and test engineers and also improving usability beyond any other previous version.

A simulation only free version of Flowcode 7 can be downloaded by clicking here. Standard and professional licences of Flowcode can be purchased by visiting RS Online (click here) today.

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1 Jun 2016, 10:26