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Veeco Digital Acquisition Unit

Industry Leader in Precision Lapping and Grinding Selects Edge Scientific to Design New FPGA Control System For Next Generation System

Veeco manufactures precision grinding systems used for hard drive read head manufacturing.  Their systems  are fascinating machines that are capable of grinding to nanometer precision, allowing industry leading hard drive performance.  In order to achieve this level of precision, their clients embed resistors into the wafers for the read heads, and by reading these embedded resistors at a high rate of speed and at high accuracy and precision, they are able to control the grind and know when to stop.

Challenge

Veeco wanted to upgrade the electronics for their precision grinding system.   Their existing electronics did this very well, but some of the parts were getting hard to find, and they needed an upgrade to newer parts.  Additionally, they wanted to reduce the number of printed circuit boards and cables in the design.

Solution

Edge Scientific was able to provide a robust pairing of printed circuit board technologies that eliminated a complicated cabling system from the old design, using a rigid flex printed circuit board and a traditional rigid circuit board to house the FPGA and USB interface to the control PC.  By incorporating these new technologies:

  • Reliability was greatly increased
  • Field service was simplified
  • Automatic pairing of firmware and software releases
  • Completed the project on time and on budget
  • Created extremely configurable system since all digital control was on an FPGA

Analog Design

Curtis Camus, a local Fort Collins Engineer with a vast experience in analog design, did all of the work for the analog filtering and digitization.  All that was left to do was the FPGA design, schematic drafting in Altium, board layouts, and a reference software development that the customer could use to write their own custom API.  Curtis was amazing to work with, and his designs worked right out of the box.

PC Drivers

For communicating with the PC, we decided to go with an FTDI-based USB interface.  FTDI is a great company that provides WHQL certified drivers for Windows, as well as drivers for Linux in many cases.  We ended up using the FT2232 in FIFO mode to get the highest data throughput.

For the configuring the FPGA, we decided to base the design on the Morphic II reference design from Altera and FTDI.  This allows the PC to open up a connection with the target hardware and configure the device in about 100ms. Since the machine was never going to be hooked up without a PC, there was no reason to have non-volatile firmware on the board.  This ended up being a great solution, as the firmware could be released with new software updates.  No field service visits are required to upgrade any firmware on the machine.

FPGA Selection and Design

Since Edge Scientific uses Altium Designer, there is a lot of flexibility in choosing which FPGA to use.  The same top-level design can be retargeted to a different model or vendor with little effort.  In the end, we went with an Altera Cyclone 4 series, as we could draw from past designs and save the customer money.  The top level design was done as a graphical schematic document, and lower level modules were created in Verilog with corresponding test benches that were verified in Modelsim.

Schematic Capture and Board Layout

Altium has native schematic capture, board layout, as well as FPGA design.  This allowed a seamless design from top level all the way to the tracks on the printed circuit board, making troubleshooting and pin-swapping much easier than if using separate tools.

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