We work with clients in a wide variety of industries whose needs for electronic enclosures vary dramatically. One client may need a rugged tag enclosure that will be placed on a miner’s helmet and bashed into rock ceilings, while another may want an aesthetically pleasing device to be carried around a museum. Our mechanical engineers are able to achieve these drastically different design parameters through the use of injection-molded plastic.
We spend quite a bit of time working with our clients to determine how a product will be used and what it should look like. A handheld device, used by a human, will look and feel very different than a box mounted to a machine. Defining how a product will be used allows our team to create a shape and select materials that will work well for the application.
A key element of defining how the product will be used is determining the environment it will be used in. Environmental factors play a huge role in product design. Devices that operate outdoors in the sun and rain have very different requirements than devices that remain indoors. Researching and selecting appropriate materials is necessary to prevent products from getting brittle when exposed to cold, or melting in excessive heat. Additionally, the electrical design can often produce heat internally requiring venting in the enclosure that will allow heat to escape or a fan to actively exchange air. Injection molding allows us to both choose appropriate materials and provide mechanical features, such as venting, that meet the needs of the environment.
“There are so many factors that go into the process. We can’t just make a design as strong, pretty, or environmentally rugged as possible. Finding a balance of all of those elements is key.”
There are many other factors that go into the design of a product enclosure. The overall aesthetics of the product come into play if it will be publicly viewed by a large number of customers. Oftentimes, keeping the internal electronic components safe influences the outer appearance. We have to ensure that the electrical components and memory cards are well-supported. If LEDs are used to communicate information, we have to ensure that the light is visible. If there are requirements for a watertight device, we face the challenge of sealing power and other connections from water damage. There are so many factors that go into the process. We can’t just make a design as strong, pretty, or environmentally rugged as possible. Finding a balance of all of those elements is key.
We take the use case and environmental elements into consideration as we brainstorm and sketch out ideas into a design concept. That concept is then rendered using CAD software where we begin to form the final shape of the product. The process requires constant communication with the electrical engineers to ensure we meet their requirements for board mounting and spacing. It also requires frequent communications with clients and users to ensure we meet requirements. The design is iterated and improved as the ability to visualize the design can expose issues that are difficult, or impossible, to conceptualize.
We often go through multiple iterations before creating a 3D printed version. Printing gives us the best look at how the parts will perform. Even after we have created the initial 3D prototype, we continue to iterate and refine the product until it meets the design requirements.
Injection-molded plastics are a cost-effective way to meet the requirements (shape and size, mounting, materials, etc) of a design. Clients can create a shape that would be very expensive to create using other technologies often building thousands of pieces for pennies. Injection molding is a valuable and efficient option with a high degree of repeatability that produces a more reliable product than 3D printing or CNC machining.
When you’re an intern at Ciholas, you are treated just like our full-time engineers. You learn the tools that will be useful on a regular basis as a full-time employee. The main difference is the projects that you will work on.
As an intern, you will be assigned bite-size projects that are usually achievable in the three-month summer session. Regardless of the project, interns are held to the same standards for quality of work. To help achieve Ciholas’ standards, each intern is given a mentor to help them adjust to the tools and culture of Ciholas and a project manager who is actually in charge of the overall goals of their project. Sometimes interns work on client projects, but oftentimes the work is for internal projects that help to enlarge Ciholas’ own intellectual property, such as development within our CUWB system.
Being an intern first is a great jumpstart both for the intern and for Ciholas. The intern gets real experience in what it is like to be an engineer and Ciholas gets to conduct a three-month interview that allows us to determine whether or not the intern would fit well full-time.
“An internship at Ciholas really gives you the experience you need to write high-quality code. It allows you to thrive and pushes you to think deeper and find your own solutions to each new challenge.”
– Matt Gleason, former intern. Matt was hired as a full-time software engineer in May 2020
“The college experience can be very different in that you are cramming a lot of work into a short amount of time,” said Gleason. “With my internship project, I was working with thousands of lines of existing code and needed to add a thousand more. My mentor and team helped me push myself to give 100% towards the project and ensured that everything I did was done correctly.”
When transitioning from an internship to full-time employment, you should anticipate having additional company-wide responsibilities and being a part of more mission-critical tasks that are centered around bigger projects. You will also have multiple ongoing projects that you will be working on simultaneously. At first, it may be intimidating, but as you dive in you will realize that your internship has really prepared you for that first big project. You’ll eventually walk into meetings with confidence and as you grow further in your position you’ll have the opportunity to mentor incoming interns!
At Ciholas, we have extensive experience in RF Antenna Development which allows us to easily determine what types of antennas we need for specific applications. Throughout the years, we have designed and tested almost all of the antennas that we have used, especially for our UWB products.
Choosing the correct antenna depends on the application. In most cases, the best antenna is one that efficiently radiates the most energy in every direction, while remaining cost-effective and compact in size. One key point is how well the antenna performs in each direction. We have designed and built our own antenna positioner, which allows us to position the antenna in every orientation and measure the overall performance. Another important aspect is overall efficiency, which is generally measured through distance.
“Our extensive expertise and experience in RF antenna development really sets us apart and allows us to provide our clients with efficient, high-quality designs that fit their specific needs.”
The majority of what we do is very specific and involves numerous variables that we have to consider, such as size or battery life. Our expertise lies in our ability to adapt our devices to fit each application and understand which aspects of antenna design are important for achieving the best performance.
Our DWTAG is a great example of our ability to get the best performance from a small device. We do a lot of out of the box thinking and put a lot of effort into finding the right antenna, design, and orientation. Time is also invested in researching materials and discovering new ways to push the boundaries of what we can do to exceed the expectations we have set.
The majority of the antennas that we have done throughout the years have been either in the 2.4 GHz ISM band or the UWB region. Both of these antennas require an understanding of the requirements of the application and the user; however, in the 2.4 GHz space, there are a lot more components available off the shelf due to smartphones requiring 2.4 GHz performance. These types of antennas are more straightforward and commonly understood.
We have also done a large amount of antenna design within UWB as well. This new market has been emerging over the past few years and is starting to become more common. With an increase in commercial development, we have found ourselves at the forefront of the market. Our extensive expertise and experience in RF antenna development really sets us apart and allows us to provide our clients with efficient, high-quality designs to fit their specific needs.
The Ciholas CUWB system is designed to allow users across a variety of industries to take advantage of high performance real-time location. Our system provides users with robust, configurable, and scalable location data to fit the needs of their application. Whether an application demands a small number of anchors with extremely high locate rates (up to 6000 locates per second), or a large number of anchors spread across an extremely large area, we have the right tools and capabilities.
“We make a robust system that our clients in all industries can count on.
Our users are able to configure features of the CUWB system for their specific needs. Configurable options include access to a variety of sensors with the tag including: 9-axis motion sensing (accelerometer, gyro, and magnetometer), pressure sensing, as well as temperature and humidity. This entire suite of sensors is available to our users out of the box, allowing them to leverage the data for their application.
Another aspect of our system is a feature we call “user data.” Often we find that users have their own devices that they would like to track around a given area. Our DWTAG provides a USB port users can plug into allowing data to be sent back and forth between their devices and our network. The USB connection can also be used to deliver position data to the connected device allowing the tracked device to have awareness of its location.
Historically, Ciholas has been a contract engineering invention firm. We invent things for people. Clients may have other things that they need to do outside ofUWB that we can help them with, such as custom electronics, high tech devices, cloud servers, IOT, and web server integration. We can provide full engineering breadth all the way from the raw physics of the signal to the application layer in cloud.
The robustness, experience, and deployment level of our technology allows us to view and develop our technology that isn’t toy-like. We have worked in a variety of industries, creating safety equipment underground, working in robotics for land-based vehicles, and creating ethernet switches for objects that are floating in space. We make robust systems that our clients in all industries can count on.
What is firmware, and why is firmware development important at Ciholas?
Basically firmware is software that is written to run on hardware. It’s the code that makes the low-level hardware do the things it does; like turning on an LED, read a sensor, or send a transmission. Most electronic devices that we use on a daily basis have a small microcontroller to operate the hardware and that microcontroller runs the code, or firmware, necessary to make the device operate.
Pretty much everything we develop at Ciholas has a brain, or a small microcontroller. It is critical that we have a strong firmware development team at Ciholas in order to not just make the hardware work, but make it not fail.
Do all devices require a processor with firmware?
While it is possible to create complex devices purely in hardware, it is often more cost-effective to include a processor in the design, enabling features and flexibility. There is an integral relationship between hardware and firmware. We write firmware for nearly every project we do, and our team understands how to use firmware to achieve efficiency, lower cost, and increase longevity.
Is the firmware the same on all devices or does it change based on the design?
The firmware changes based on processor selection and the requirements of the design. When working with embedded electronics the selection of the processor isn’t always based on the latest and best tech. It depends on available peripherals, low power capabilities, overall cost, and many other factors.
Changing processors between designs does present challenges to our firmware team. We have a lot of experience porting firmware written for one processor to the next. Our higher-level application pieces are written with layers of abstraction to make them portable. We are always ready to adapt.
I’ve heard you say, “Don’t just make it work, make it not fail,” in reference to firmware. What does this phrase mean to the Ciholas team?
We aim to not only complete the task in front of us, but to approach it from all possible boundary cases and angles to try and break it. We want to be efficient in our testing so that we are confident the final product will not fail. There are going to be things that we don’t foresee, but we use our experience to avoid potential pitfalls.
To increase confidence in our products, we write tests to evaluate our software. Our tests describe what our software should be doing, allowing us to catch behavior changes that take place as we add features. Test driven development can be difficult in firmware, because it is very human driven. Unfortunately, making firmware not fail often comes down to timing and context specific bugs that we cannot develop tests for. These challenges require an experienced engineer to identify and overcome obstacles preemptively.
What experience does Ciholas have with firmware?
Ciholas originally started with a focus on hardware. We provided hardware for multiple companies and we also provided basic software to operate and prove that the hardware worked. Over time we have taken on more full-product software development and provide it as a service that we have offered for almost 15 years now. We have experience writing firmware for designs in multiple industries for things such as safety equipment in coal mining, sports timing and tracking, inventory tracking, health industries, and entertainment.
What is the future of firmware?
Firmware is always changing and evolving. We are consistently seeing cheaper, faster, and smaller processors with more features that weren’t available before. Possibilities open up with more memory and faster speeds. We strive to stay ahead of the game and use all available resources.
There are definitely times when it is easier and more cost effective to use a bigger, faster processor. But, there will always be a need to optimize the firmware to operate efficiently. That is where experienced firmware engineers come in and that is what sets us apart from other companies. While a lot of what we do can be done by others, we take it to the next level with regard to performance and robustness.
Computer vision is an emerging technology that is quickly becoming part of our everyday life. Complex vision systems in use today include robotic manufacturing, license plate readers, facial recognition, and much more. And there are exciting new possibilities headed our way such as self-driving cars, refrigerators that restock themselves and advanced medical diagnostic imaging.
“The number of applications made possible by computer vision seems to grow more and more each day.” says Evan Hallam, Senior Computer Engineer.
In some cases, computer vision may be the only way to solve certain problems, but it can be difficult to integrate into some applications. We can create imaging devices that act as a brain translating images into 1s and 0s. A computer can then utilize this image representation to perform a task. It’s easy to think of computer vision as a single technology that can be dropped into place to solve a complex problem, but the reality is that each application is different.
“By providing capabilities such as locating, tracking, and identifying an object, computer vision enables new categories of products that were not possible or economically feasible before,” says Master Software Engineer Herb Hollinger. “Things like self-driving cars are designed with this application in mind.”
One of Ciholas’ areas of expertise is selecting the right sensor to get the right image at the right speed. Not all vision systems are created equal and each solution has a unique set of requirements. We have developed complex high-speed camera systems for sporting events that require extremely high frame rates, but don’t necessarily require complex AI to interpret images. Those systems are very different than consumer-grade products we have developed with low price points that need AI, but can operate with inexpensive image sensors and low frame rates.
Our experience and expertise in the field of computer vision has allowed us to realize products in a variety of applications. We anticipate this technology will continue to grow and become an even larger part of our everyday life. If you would like more information about our computer vision technology experience, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To us, engineering is a social exercise. “We have to listen to our client’s needs and then carefully explain what we have done for them. If we can’t do either of those things, what we do in the middle doesn’t matter,” says president, Mike Ciholas.
Our engineers work together on projects using their field expertise to maximize our chances of creating or improving a product.
“When we have a team working on a project, it’s usually a mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer, a software engineer, and a project manager. The easy and agile interactions between our engineers help us to solve problems,” Ciholas says.
Our team recognizes that, sometimes, an electrical problem can be solved with a mechanical solution or a software problem can be solved electrically. Often software solutions can solve both problems in mechanical and electrical areas.
“The most interesting situation to me is that when a group gets together they come up with ideas that individually they wouldn’t come up with. But the fact that a person asks a question, stimulates another idea in another person’s mind, and because of this we see the transfer of ideas happening. This sometimes unintentionally and unconsciously creates new solutions and new perspectives,” Ciholas says.
To us, leadership plays an important role in the development of employees. We identify their strengths and individuality while placing them in positions where they are able to thrive.
“I like to think of our environment as collegial,” says director of engineering, Justin Bennett. “When we schedule our employees for a project, we leave some time for miscellaneous so they can work on other projects.”
At Ciholas, we have created a space for our engineers to collaborate. These spaces are called PODS, Project Oriented Design Spaces, where different disciplines of engineering meet to work on projects.
Our goal is to foster communication, collaborate on various problem solving techniques, and most of all for everyone to feel welcomed and appreciated.
Evan Buchanan, Master Engineer at Ciholas, knew from the beginning that he wanted to be an engineer.
“I fell in love with computers at a young age. Our dad worked at IBM so it was almost destined that I was going to do something with computers.” Buchanan says.
A graduate from Perry Heights and FJ Reitz High School, Buchanan, decided to study computer engineering at the University of Evansville. He says he had a heavy class load in college but that prepared him well for his professional career.
“Computer engineering is almost two degrees. We joke that it is two thirds electrical engineering and two thirds computer science. We work extensively with both hardware and software.” Buchanan says.
Currently, Buchanan is working on refreshing our internal ultra-wideband products for consumer release.
As a master engineer, Buchanan, has worked with various types of projects that have been crucial for our growth. He says, at this point in his career, his goal is to expand his knowledge of emergent technologies and find ways to implement them into our work.
“When I started nearly fifteen years ago, coming out of college, I spent most of my time learning how to apply the math and software design concepts to the real world. Now I spend more time applying what I already know in new and interesting ways.”