Design of a Doppler Water Current Meter employing FPGA's
Reduced production costs and power consumption open new market opportunities for water flow velocity sensors
Technologies used


Industrial sector (PRODCOM code)
    31 Other electrical Equipment n.e.c.
Nortek AS is a Norwegian company that develops and manufactures sensors for measurements of water flow velocity based on the Doppler principle. These sensors are used both by scientists within the oceanographic community and in hydraulic laboratories. Sensors based on the Doppler shift methodology are currently the most state-of-the-art type of sensors for water flow measurements, and there are three companies world-wide (one Norwegian and two from USA) that manufactures sensors based on this principle. Nortek launched its first Doppler shift flow velocity sensors in 1992. The electronics hardware platform for these sensors was, even at that time slightly old-fashioned, using through-hole components and much less single-chip intelligence than what is the case with the new product, and it has to a great extent remained unchanged since then. In 1994 Nortek's main competitor released a new generation Doppler current meters that were built around a significantly modernized hardware platform. This enabled lower power consumption and production costs than what was the case with Nortek's hardware platform. Hence, in order to not only stay in business, but to gain an advantage over our competitors a modernization of the electronics hardware platform was needed. This was the background for the Application Experiment described in this report. The AE has made it possible for Nortek as a first user to take FPGA technology into use. Further, traditional through-hole component mounting and a multiple of PCBs have been replaced by double-sided surface mount on a single multiple layer PCB. The DSP, CPU, and micro-controller of the former hardware have been replaced by a XILINX/DSP solution. These improvements represent a major step forward for Nortek technologically. Our organization has gained important knowledge about FPGA design and surface mount technology that was not present prior to the AE. Also, the AE has made it possible to design products that meet the EU requirements associated with the EMC directive, which will be another advantage in terms of competitive strength. In summary, the AE has lead to the following advantages for Nortek:
Development of an electronics hardware platform that is superior to what our competitors have
Reduced size and cost of electronics hardware (the PCB size has dropped from 600 to 150 cm2, and the cost from 1 kEUR to 0.75 kEUR)
Power consumption has dropped from 3-4 W to 0.2 W
CE marking of new products based on the "AE hardware platform"
Significantly reduced time from product idea to finished product
Increased company knowledge about FPGA and surface mount design
On completion of the AE Nortek is very well prepared for the development that will come during the next 5 to 10 years. Without the development that has been the subject of the AE we would not have been able to meet the competition with sufficient strength and, consequently, the AE represents a key factor in the continued success of Nortek. The duration of the AE was 12 months, with an additional 6 months after the second prototype, before the system was in full production. The time to market for products emerging from the hardware platform developed under the AE has been reduced by 4-6 months. The payback period is estimated to be 12 months. ROI is obviously difficult to estimate, but a value around 250% is reasonable, if the product lifetime is assumed to be about 5 years. The cost of the AE up to the prototype stage was 150 kEur, while the cost of industrialization, including first production batch was 200 kEur.
Nortek AS
Bruksveien 17
1390 Vollen

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FPGA technology provided Nortek AS with the means of improving its products and enhancing its market position. You can also achieve significant benefits by acquiring the right microelectronics technology and utilising it in your product or manufacturing process. You can get help from FUSE to realise this.

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