The Interested Phase

It all started when element14 posted a new road test for a Keysight E3613A power supply.

I thought "that looks interesting", I can always use a good power supply. So I looked up the specs posted in the road test announcement.

They looked great, so I set up a directory to collect documentation on the device, including links to the road test page.

The Research Phase

I then went to the Keysight web site to find more information. I found the document library page for the device and  downloaded and read several documents such as the data sheet and application notes.

The site also led to a Youtube video, so I searched for more Youtube videos and found half a dozen made by various Keysight staff.

The Motivated Stage

After reading through the literature and watching the videos, I was very impressed with the features and how they might improve my capabilities.

Now I really wanted this device, but I was still a long way from deciding to write a proposal.

The Doubting Phase

I always have internal debates about whether to embark on a project like this:

  • this is going to be a lot of work - but it will make my work easier - but it is a big commitment - but I want it .....
  • I don't like the image of scoring all the road test equipment - but I can really use this one - but others may need it more - but it is unfair - but it is a fair competition ....
  • I can't think of a compelling proposal - but I have lots of uses for it - but a features description proposal has little chance - but I want it - but there are lots of talented members writing great proposals - but I can write a proposal and see what happens - but it is a lot of work for a long shot chance ....
  • at your labour rates, you could buy this device with a small fraction of the work of a road test - but there are other benefits ....

These arguments rage internally until I finally decide to hit the submit button and sometimes I write a proposal but don't submit, but I don't let that possibility stop me from proceeding, at least in this case.

The Brainstorming Phase

I think it is hard to write a compelling proposal for an instrument because they have a specific purpose and all proposals will describe the same features and propose to do similar demonstrations of how they work.  I think it is important to do all that, but to win, the proposal needs to include something different and interesting.

I wasn't coming up with anything interesting, so I started thinking about all the projects I've done where I had problems with power supplies. There were quite a few so I thought through them to see if this power supply could have been used to address any of the issues. It was a bit of a stretch - this supply can replace many defective power supplies, but is too big and expensive to be a solution.

However I did come up with a metal detector circuit that needed multiple supplies, where I couldn't troubleshoot the main circuit because the complex power supply wasn't working properly. This triple supply would be great at powering the circuit so I could troubleshoot the non-power supply issues. This was okay, but not something everyone would be excited about and I didn't feel it was a compelling application, so I kept thinking, trying to pick problems that lots of other people might run into.

What I came up with was the explosion of USB "wall wart" power supplies. There is a huge variety, and many of them have problems powering high-current / voltage-sensitive devices like Raspberry Pi modules. But how does this Keysight power supply solve these types of problems? Well, read the road test, but one thing it can do is help characterize USB cables, which often have significant voltage drops when carrying large currents. Well, now I had a couple of applications although not what I would call a killer app, so I kept thinking, this time about trends in power supplies that might be topical and interesting.

One area immediately stood out - mobile power - batteries. This Keysight power supply can create an ideal charging cycle for Lithium batteries and it can log voltage and current during the whole cycle. It might show how well commercial chargers perform against an ideal cycle and I would like to experiment with that idea. But what about discharge performance? This might be even more interesting to experiment with. A normal power supply typically is not a good programmable load, but perhaps I can find a way to use this very capable power supply in this capacity and use it to log the discharge cycle at the same time.

Now I think I may have enough to write a proposal that is different from everyone else and has enough different applications to be interesting to a reasonably wide range of members.

The De-Risk Phase

Now that I have some hair-brained ideas about what I want to do in the road test, I don't want look like an idiot by publishing them to the world and having them not pan out. (de-risking is not always sufficient )

I also don't want to be successful with the proposal and when it comes time to carry out the road test, I can't complete it because I don't have the right components and materials.

So I do some homework to prove that I have a chance of completing the road test as proposed.

In this case I dug out my problematic metal detector circuit - to verify that I still had it. I also took a look at measuring USB power supplies and cables and realized it wasn't going to be easy to get accurate results, especially without ripping cables apart. USB connectors make it pretty difficult to measure voltage and current, so I searched for USB breakout cards and ordered a selection with various connectors. I couldn't find all the cards I wanted, so I designed some custom USB cards and ordered them, including a card that has banana plugs to plug directly into the Keysight power supply. Hopefully my research into the binding post spacing is accurate.

I also thought through the problem of using a power supply as a programmable load and came up with at least one design that should work with components I have on hand.

At this point I still have not written the proposal and not even decided to submit a proposal, but if I want all this stuff to be ready in time to meet the schedule, it has to be done immediately. Also, all of this is being done knowing that the proposal, if I write it, has a low probability of winning.

I do not mention any of these de-risk activities in the proposal - I don't want the proposal to sound presumptuous.

Contingency

It may sound presumptuous to design solutions and order parts before submitting a proposal or having a clue if the proposal will win, but I often do it and I have never regretted it. I think I gives me an advantage in writing a proposal that makes sense and sounds achievable as well as providing the best chance of succeeding in the road test if the proposal is successful. And the work is not being done in vain - even if I don't win the power supply, I still want to experiment with USB power supplies and cables. Everything else helps improve my knowledge and experience.

The Proposal

For the actual proposal, I broke it into 3 fairly short paragraphs with no pictures:

  1. Product Research and Road Test Motivation
    • In this section I explain exactly what I like about the power supply, what impresses me and how important it is to me.
  2. Road Test Plan
    • In this section I indicate what videos I would produce and what they would cover in terms of device features and performance.
    • I also include short paragraphs describing each of my differentiating applications
  3. Credibility
    • Here I brag unashamedly about my experience, my track record and my previous successes.

 

At this point I re-read the proposal and go through a final round of soul searching before deciding to submit.

 

Summary

The whole proposal is only 890 words, but it took a lot of work and thought to get to there.

This is not exactly a typical proposal for me as my mind can travel down numerous tangents on the way to a conclusion, but it is typical that I put more thought into the proposal than comes across in the text and the actual proposal writing is only a small part of the whole process.

 

Proposal Post Mortem

rscasny posted the main criteria used by Keysight in evaluating proposals. In looking how my proposal matches their criteria, they had to dig a bit to infer that the proposal addressed their criteria, because it didn't explicitly have those categories, but thankfully they found enough linkage. I don't know how close my proposal was to failing, but armed with the new knowledge it should be possible for everyone to improve their proposals.

I didn't want this blog to be too verbose and I'm not sure what I'm leaving out here, so if you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below.

I will edit this and put a link to the road test once I get it posted.