Solution Specialists Limited (SSL) provide technical services to petrol filling stations which include the provision of Air Dispensers for vehicle tyre inflation. SSL have achieved considerable growth over the last two years but we believe that this growth can not be sustained through servicing alone and so we wish to develop the manufacturing side of the company. The goal of SSL is that in three years time 40% of the revenue will be derived from manufacturing.
The objective of this project was to redesign and upgrade the simple PCB based electromechanical system in this garage forecourt equipment using microcontroller based system to increase market share and increase the manufacturing side of the company so fulfilling SSLs aspirations as stated above. The present system merely switches on an air compressor for a fixed time enabling tyre inflation. By using a micro-controller based system many features could be added to make the equipment more user friendly, enabling ease of use for the disabled or elderly driver, self calibration of air pressure and extended tyre life. The required tyre inflation pressure is entered via a simple keypad on the main console eliminating the use of a hand held tyre pressure gauge. The micro-controller controls the air compressor to allow the inflation and measurement of the tyre pressure until the entered value is reached. The actual tyre pressure together with target tyre pressure is displayed by large LCD displays, visible in all weather conditions.
SSL saw the opportunity to become market leaders in this type of equipment since only simple electromechanical systems are on the market in the UK and feedback from their present customers confirmed a market for such an improved Air Dispenser. Help and assistance through FUSE allowed SSL to design and develop the improved micro-controller based Air Dispenser with a funding of ECU 32k and a scheduled duration of 10 months.
This is the first time SSL have used microelectronics having previously used only simple PCB based circuits using discrete components. Although the product will be subject to improvements during its life it is expected that the lifetime of the product will be approximately 5 years before a major revision needs to take place. The expected pay back period will be within two years and the ROI is estimated to be over 800% over the product lifetime. In addition, SSL will use the expertise gained to develop another micro-controller based project within Air Dispenser lifetime thus increasing the economic benefit of the FUSE programme.
Many lessons were learned during the execution of the project, the major ones being how to choose and evaluate technologies and the selection and management of subcontractors necessary for the projects successful completion. The project management of a microelectronics project was a major lesson learned. These lessons, we believe, will allow SSL to work on and develop further microelectronics projects thus furthering the companys long term strategy.
The development of the air dispenser project was carried out in a modular fashion for both the hardware and the software. This approach allowed the development and or modification of a part of the design without affecting other parts. This is most useful for the software development and also allows easy partition to incorporate features to differentiate different models of the equipment. An example of such would be the inclusion of an air dispenser specifically for the haulage market, where tyre pressures are three times that found on cars and small vans.
SSL have gained the knowledge and experience to design and develop micro-controller based products which will be used to develop future products.