Collimator gives me a lot more confidence that we will go through the testing phase much quicker than if we would have implemented this blind without a model behind it. I would say that testing time will be reduced to about a quarter
Simon Willis is a Principal Electronics Engineer at Redback Technologies. Redback Technologies is an Australian-owned and operated company focused on the development of advanced solar and battery storage solutions, powering a cleaner tomorrow. Redback Technologies is passionate about creating a cleaner tomorrow for our future generations, by helping Australian households and small businesses affordably generate their own renewable energy today.
Previously, Simon worked as a control systems engineer in the minerals processing industry. “In my previous experience it was very common to use a tool like Collimator before writing the firmware.” Now that systems are becoming more complex, it’s becoming imperative to model and simulate systems end-to-end as a way to reduce risk and gain insights quicker.
Simon was looking for a tool to conduct rapid prototyping of his company's next-gen solar battery systems. “We’ve typically got multiple inverters in one house, and at the moment they all operate alone without input from each other. We’re trying to implement a new algorithm that will allow them to work together as one and improve their efficiency and safety.”
Simon searched for engineering tools that could help him model and simulate different configurations of his battery system. He evaluated Matlab, LabVIEW and Xcos in addition to Collimator. “I originally wanted to use Matlab, because that’s what I had worked with in college and briefly at my last job but I knew that was out of the budget. This was the case with LabVIEW as well. Next I looked at Xcos. I downloaded that and played with it but I found it difficult to use. Drawing block diagrams and routing the wires was a huge pain.”
What Simon wanted was an engineering tool that was easy to use and would give him insights into his battery system quickly and easily.
Simon found Collimator when searching for Matlab alternatives and decided to give it a try. Innovation is at the core of both Collimator and Redback Technology so he was reasonably confident that it would work. In addition, with the headwinds in the macroeconomic environment, he wanted to ensure that the price point was good enough to justify the spend. Here are the things he said about Collimator:
Collimator is browser based and combines the best of what Simon was looking for: a simple to use, lightweight tool that makes designing systems intuitive and a tool with powerful design analysis capabilities.
Simon said, “When I started dragging and dropping blocks on the canvas, I noticed it was super easy to just get rolling… I probably spent about two minutes looking at an example on the web and went ‘that looks easy!’ I was able to get the first version up and running quickly and that’s why it [Collimator] won in the end.” He continued, “One of the really nice things about Collimator is the trending tool. Click the icon and bam it’s on the trend… in other tools the process was much more involved.”
Collimator is Python based so it offers a way for users to import open source libraries, implement Python functions directly within the model, or use AI/ML for an end-to-end system simulation.
Simon said, “Another thing that was a winner for me was the Python integration. Once I implemented my algorithm using the Python block in Collimator and called a few Numpy functions, that just made life so easy… I also wanted to implement my own PID controller in addition to the one that Collimator offered, so I found one that was open source and pasted the code into my Python block and done! It’s super handy, that Python block!”
Collimator is built to handle external data - no matter the size. It can stream TBs of data to/from any database or from IoT systems in production with no problem.
Simon said, “To test my new system, I wanted to simulate the power from the sun. I initially started with a sine wave but as I continued improving on my design, that did not work as well. So I instead imported the data from my home system and replaced my sine wave with it… It was super easy and I had realistic data to use!”
Collimator is built to make designing systems collaborative and sharing insights easier. Anyone can access Collimator directly from a browser and share their project with anyone - giving them view, edit or comment access.
Simon said, “I shared my project with the programmer who is responsible for implementing the system. He opened it up and reviewed it on his own and he thought it was a very good discovery.” He continued, “I’m going to present this to the rest of the company... There’s going to be a lot more sharing and collaboration across the company.”
Collimator helped Redback Technologies streamline verification and validation and save up to 75% of testing time. Simon said, “Collimator gives me a lot more confidence that we will go through the testing phase much quicker than if we would have implemented this blind without a model behind it. I would say that testing time will be reduced to about a quarter of what we usually do. I think we would need 1 week to test this instead of 4 weeks before a full QA.”
Collimator also helped Simon design and analyze his battery system over a wider number of parameters and across a wider range. This created a eureka moment where he stumbled into an insight that significantly simplified his design process in a way he had not considered before. Simon said, “The way we usually do this is someone would’ve just implemented it and then we’d test it and go through a much slower process of finding issues in the model and fixing them. Through implementation of the design in Collimator, I learned that I didn’t even need a PID controller and my original plan was a lot more complex than what was actually needed. This made the final design so much easier to implement.”