Smart Systems and Design Training
You may or may not be aware that DesignSpark has a University Program called RS University, and one of its functions is running training workshops for everyone to learn how to use DesignSpark CAD tools. Emilio Mistretta is one of the tutors you may find if you happen to enrol on one of the DesignSpark CAD software training workshops, here, in his own words, he tells us a little about himself and what it’s like being both a student and a teacher.
‘My name is Emilio Mistretta, and I am a trainer for the DesignSpark team, I lead teaching DesignSpark Mechanical workshops and assist in teaching DesignSpark PCB at several different universities and industry based locations. I have always been intrigued and captivated by the latest technologies on the market since a young age and as my knowledge of the field developed I ventured into computer software design and programming; this fascination led to me studying and ultimately obtaining an undergraduate degree in Computer Technology and Networks.
At present, I am undertaking a PhD in Smart Systems at the University of Hertfordshire. My research focus involves the collection and processing of sensor data to develop a dynamic device free indoor localisation system for people in buildings. This work utilises the DesignSpark tools as there is a need for developing custom PCB’s to house a microcontroller as well as a wireless transmission module. DesignSpark Mechanical is used for the design of 3D printed enclosures for sensor modules.
Finding the Tools
With the rise in the number of Internet of Things (IoT) based projects at the University of Hertfordshire, there was a need for PCB development to create custom hardware to suit our client and industry requirements. At first, I found this to be a challenge as I did not study solely to be an electrical engineer resulting in more advanced tools being more difficult to grasp. I first came across DesignSpark PCB and Mechanical through a workshop held by the RS DesignSpark team at the University of Hertfordshire in 2014. This then kick-started my use of the software and in a matter of weeks the first prototypes were being created for industry, as well as sharing my knowledge of the tools with my peers.
Raspberry Pi Project
An example of using the DesignSpark software directly in a project has been demonstrated with a smart home simulation development interface. This began with designing a PCB with multiple sensors onboard and LED’s to simulate each bedroom in a house. This PCB slotted into the I/O pins of a Raspberry Pi which enabled it to be programmed and the status of a house changed over the internet, for example turning lights off remotely or setting an alarm. A realistic 3D house model was created using DesignSpark Mechanical to replicate a small house but with considerations taken for the correct clearances needed for ports on the Raspberry Pi. This project was carried out to teach students how they can control a smart home over the internet using an app which they can create.
Having learned the DesignSpark tools through a workshop myself I knew first hand just how beneficial such workshops can be. Being given the opportunity to become a DesignSpark trainer has been a great experience for myself, through this role I have the opportunity to travel to different universities and meet a variety of audiences who clearly show a passion for wanting to learn and to help them achieve this is very rewarding for myself.
Meeting the Students
As a DesignSpark trainer every workshop presents a diverse audience with different experiences and expertise in electronics or CAD design, this usually could create a problem running a workshop, however not with DesignSpark. Every participant is able to take part and by the end of the day be competent enough with using the software to create their own desired designs. This is in principle down to the ease of use that the software provides, as primarily a DesignSpark Mechanical trainer I get to see first-hand the reactions of participants when using the software and it is always positive; Most features are simply, drag and drop and in a matter of minutes a shape can be designed which can then be 3D printed.
Designing in 3D
Participants are often surprised towards the end of workshops with the detail and enhancements that can be made to their 3D designs. When I announce that in today’s workshop we will be making a 3D enclosure, the general idea amongst groups is to just create a box which can fit a PCB into, but it’s not that simple. Often it is taught how screws and threads can be made as well as creating curves and how to precisely measure dimensions within the software, for example when creating peripheral port cut-outs. Adding details to designs is generally what participants enjoy the most as it is possible to add very intricate detail and make models look aesthetically very impressive, however, there are limitations to how models can be printed using a 3D printer.
DesignSpark PCB is a great tool that captivates workshop participants, the first task of the day after familiarisation with the tool usually begins with creating custom components which is always found to be enjoyable and easy to achieve; it is often not until after a range of custom components have been created (which range from diodes to 60 pin microprocessors) that I inform the workshop that there is a vast library of components that already reside in ECAD part wizard and a wizard for creating custom components quickly. This is very important as some components need to be custom created and there have been some audiences that have different preferences about how to create components and use the software, this is why we teach many different methods with the aim of providing participants with the best chance of grasping different parts of the software in a solitary workshop.
And in the future?
I believe the DesignSpark package of software is a fantastic set of tools for engineers and also non-engineers, it is free to purchase, easy to use and has a great online community, full of users and experts ready for discussions and to provide advice and help with the tools.
My future aspirations are to continue to share my knowledge of the DesignSpark software and reach out to as many people as possible through the continuation of workshops. It would also be great to teach more advanced features to allow participants to realise the full potential of the software.‘
A few words from DesignSpark
If you are struggling with grasping the concept of the DesignSpark CAD tools, or you have a background in 2D AutoCAD or another similar program of days gone by and you require some freshening up, book yourself on a training course when they become available. DesignSpark and RS University would like to thank Emilio for all his efforts in helping to run these very busy training courses, and helping to make DesignSpark CAD software accessible to all, keep up the good work!