One of Allen-Bradley’s goals is leveraging — taking better advantage of existing resources. We are developing a methodology and supporting tools that help engineers share and reuse (i.e., leverage) their firmware design and development work. Writing reusable firmware source code is especially difficult due to the tight constraints in most embedded systems — code must usually be written for product specific hardware needs and resources. Reuse of engineering work at the design level is a more effective approach.

With this in mind, we have been working with Allen-Bradley Power Products engineers and managers to pilot a Firmware Design Capture (FDC) system. In a FDC system, engineers work in their own paper or electronic workbooks compiling descriptions of their domains’ technologies and algorithms in loosely structured electronic document sets called technology books. Product-specific information is placed in complementary document sets called product books. Engineers can access this growing body of ‘Strategic Design Information’ that they and others have created; freely drawing from, commenting on, or adding to it. Key characteristics of this FDC system are:

• A focus on collecting reusable and accessible design information

• Incremental, small-grained development of documents during design activity

• Electronic format of documents, for ease of refinement and access

• Unobtrusive tools and methods, determined through frequent user feedback

We expect this methodology to help engineers improve schedule predictability and reduce the firmware development life cycle, better retain vital technologies and product data, and increase product quality. Feedback from our initial work supports these expectations.

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