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Michael Barber – Designing better electronics.

Welcome! I am a electrical engineer that provides mechanical design firms and funded startups in the Greater Denver area with custom electronics. I have a track record of turning great ideas into profitable and effective products, and I favor candid communication over intimidating techno-speak.

What makes me different?

Unlike my competitors, you work directly with me; not an army of junior consultants who are learning on the job at your expense.

Hiring a larger consulting company may seem like a good idea (and when I get busy, I’ll often refer clients out to other companies).  I don’t position myself as the cheapest.  In fact, if you compare me to people who provide individual services like strictly board layout, only firmware, or only a system block design, I will appear to be much higher priced.  The value that I bring to my clients is that I manage all these activities for them, and provide them with a finished product that works.  You won’t need to know anything about electronics except what you need them to do.

With over 20 years of experience and hundreds of custom electronics designs under my belt, I can develop your product faster by reducing design cycles.  I know enough to be able to steer the design to build a solid foundation.

Who do I work best with?

If you need someone to grab the bull by the horns and provide massive energy to push your idea forward, I’m your guy.  If you need someone to generate creative solutions and to solve problems, you’ll want to work with me.  If, however, you need someone that requires low-level instruction, management, and then generates a work output that needs extensive review and correction, you’ll find cheaper options elsewhere.

If high-level design decisions are made by committee, we probably won’t be a good fit.  I work best with people or companies that care about the low level details, but don’t want to manage them on a day-to-day basis.  One of the reasons that I started working on my own is because I recognized that if I could clear as many obstacles out of my way up front (specs, design direction, budget, purchasing), I could develop electronics so much faster than being restricted by a command and control structure that is needed by a large and complicated organization.

I’m located in Fort Collins, CO, and I’ve worked with hardware companies in Denver, Longmont, Fort Collins, and Boulder.

What does working with Michael Barber look like?

One of the first touch points we’ll have is a road mapping session.  During this paid engagement, I’ll work to find out who the stakeholders are, what the product specifications will be, and have a back and forth discussion with you to arrive at the best product architecture for your success.  From this, I’ll be able to provide you with a list of formalized requirements, a system diagram, a fixed price quote for the first round of development, and a schedule.  This sets me apart from my competition.  I avoid hourly billing at all costs, as I see it as putting me at odds with you, the client.  I would much rather tell you exactly how much our engagement will cost, and have you know that you won’t pay a dime more than what we agreed on.

Meet Joe.

Let’s look at a past project that I did with a customer that I’ll call Joe.  Joe was in charge of a team of over 20 product development engineers including software, hardware, and mechanical.  Their team was full of highly competent and skilled people, but they wanted to get a jump start on a new project, and their existing electrical team was tied up on a previous project.  They wanted to experiment with bringing in an external electrical engineer to try to keep pace with the mechanical development.

I worked closely with Joe and his senior team to develop a simple spec for what the product would need to do.  In this case, the product had to:

  • Drive four bipolar NEMA 17 stepper motors
  • Illuminate a USB camera using a discrete pulsed current source on the electronics and an off-board LED.
  • Interface to an inexpensive optical bubble detector (and calibrate it electronically).
  • Incorporate a BGA microcontroller that the customer had extensive experience with.
  • Provide several solenoid driver “hit and hold” circuits.
  • Interface to an embedded PC via USB.
  • Allow for reprogramming their microcontroller from the embedded PC over USB.

After getting these high level specs, I provided them with a board-level schematic and rough mechanical outline that would be needed by the electronics.  By being ahead of the mechanical team, we had some flexibility in the form factor, and just made it as small as possible in a manufacturable shape.  This provided the first design touchpoint – schematic review and board outline review.

During this design touchpoint, I introduced Joe to FTDI’s USB interface chips.  FTDI handles the physical interface as well as providing drivers for the software engineers.  This proves invaluable, as most of my customers have products that they want to support for the next 20 years.  FTDI will provide new drivers when a new version of Windows comes out, taking the burden of maintaining WHQL certified drivers off the development team.  This is one of the reasons that my clients enjoy working with me – instead of just designing in the cheapest part, I’m able to go to a more strategic view of the entire project, see future pitfalls, and advise about design choices which will impact development time now and in the future.

Joe had recently decided that instead of one LED, he needed to drive four LEDs with four separate current sources.  Because I work with hierarchical designs, I was able to simply and efficiently update the schematic with three more circuits, duplicate the board placement, and have them review the new schematic and outline.  After generating an exact 3D solidworks model of the board, their mechanical engineer was able to give me a quick thumbs up, and I pushed forward with routing, running the board through a checklist, and preparing output files.  I managed the process of getting the boards fabricated as well as machine placed, then waited about 3-4 weeks to get the hardware.

While waiting for the hardware, I worked with their firmware engineer to describe the high level requirements of the project.  Since I also am well versed in writing embedded firmware, I was able to communicate timing requirements and answer any questions he had without having to pull in additional resources from the client.  When the boards finally arrived in my facility, I was ready to bring them up with the skeleton firmware project.

Turning the boards on was relatively painless.  I used a combination of switching and linear regulators that had worked well for me in the past, and all the power rails came up without issue.  The current source was a newer design, and had some oscillation issues at first.  However, having a full kit of 0805 and 0402 resistors in-house as well as production rework capability, I was able to get the hardware working in days, not weeks.  A few days later, I was able to provide working hardware to the client’s staff firmware engineer for him to get the rest of the peripherals working.  From the start of the project to this point, it had been about 12 weeks.

As the project went on, they were able to pull the project back in-house for their EE’s to take over.  By working with me, their electrical team was able to stay out in front of the mechanical team, and lay a foundation for their software team to build on.

If you like the idea of working with a process like this, you can talk to me by putting your name and email in the form below.  In order to keep costs low, I don’t employ anyone to answer my calls, but instead I use an email automation service that will send you to a brief survey.  After you enter a few details about your upcoming project into the survey, you’ll get another email directing you to a calendar service called Youcanbook.me.  This will create a calendar link that you can directly put on your gmail calendar.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to hearing about your project!

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In my 35+ year career, Michael Barber is the consultant that stands out; he always supplied our requirements in a timely, efficient and technically saavy manner, even with constantly changing targets.

— Ed Schroeder, Engineering Manager, VorTek Instruments

Highly skilled professional in electrical design and embedded logic programming.

— Craig Metzner, VP Engineering, Veeco

Michael Barber served as a primary and key contributor to our Medical Device development project. Customized PCBA, wiring harness and proper embedded code were key to the program. Michael executed on every aspect while we managed the technical risk register through a highly flexible development cycle.

— Jeff Bassler, Owner at Bassler Development, LLC

 

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