Interview with FIMS
01 February 2021
We bring you an interview with Michał Smolnik from a company FIMS.
- Can you tell us a few words about yourself and about your company, please?
My name is Michał Smolnik and I am the owner of an engineering company called FIMS. Electronics has always been my hobby and as a result, I have graduated from the electronics faculty at the Technical University. The company FIMS is a small electronics design company with almost 20 years of experience. However, our customer base is mainly in Poland, we have been also realizing projects all over the EU.
- What does FIMS offer?
Our company is operating in two main business fields. First focuses on designing electronic devices for customers who are expecting a high level of customization. This kind of projects are usually of low or middle volume, but they are very time consuming as every single detail is very important for the final product. The second field focuses on designing devices and control systems for industrial automation. Automation projects have an even higher - tailor-made - customization level.
- What is the scope of work you do? Are we talking only about prototyping or is your offer wider?
The business model for every project usually includes several partners so it is up to a customer to decide which part of the project we would realize. Our know-how allows us to support the customer at every stage of the project from the concept phase. At this stage, we usually focus on pointing out the bottlenecks existing in the project concept and provide customers with a proposal on how to overcome them. Next, we can provide the customer with a full electronics design, which also can include a mechanical design for enclosures, fixtures, or front panels. Our offer obviously includes also prototyping and testing. We familiar with standards in various industry segments so our designs are made with further certification in mind. We can also take part in the certification process for the device at the customer's request. We produce the documentation necessary for production which is done either by our business partners or by the customers themselves.
It isn't uncommon that we also realize projects for customers outside the electronics industry. The customer usually has a good sense of a product and its commercial value however they lack technical knowledge in terms of electronics design and the standards required. In that case, we guide the customer in the design process from the concept including basic requirements, creating a prototype, and finally preparing everything that is necessary for full production. We like this kind of project very much however if the customers want us only to support them at only one given stage of the design process, we are happy to do that as well.
- We have met for the first time during the project of a wireless controller for clay target puller machines, which is used at sports ranges. What is your experience with wireless control projects?
At this point it is worth mentioning that however, wireless control in Poland is a rapidly growing sector of the electronics industry, it is still very young - I mean, that many potential fields of wireless application are waiting for exploration. Our company - FIMS has done radio frequency projects in the past, starting with designing UHF radio modems for the mining industry. Another interesting project was a digital wireless voice communication system where an important part of the project was sound processing and transmission over a low bandwidth channel. The project had also an unusual self-organizing network.
So wireless controller project for sports ranges, where IQRF was used, was only one of the wireless projects we have done. The reason why we have chosen the IQRF solution for this project was the easiness of implementation and reliability of communication which we tested before actual implementation. Thanks to that we were able to create a prototype in a very short period of time and now the product is manufactured and available for several years.
- What are the benefits for customers when using the wireless solution?
Wireless solutions today are very popular among customers and their usage is growing. Applications using wireless connectivity are easily scalable so it is extremely simple to add a new device to an existing network or to change its set up. Using wireless connectivity can open completely new possibilities for products and applications. I think we all can see it today.
- However, it is still very popular saying that "a wire is a wire" and this kind of communication is safer than the wireless one? What do you think of such an approach?
Obviously, I do agree that all kinds of wired solutions are stable means of communication. But there is a major problem with wired connection – it works well only until the first failure of the transmission medium. If we damage the wire, the communication is gone. Costs of repairing the failure can be high depending on the place and the type of the damage. In the case of critical infrastructure, it can be obviously made redundant, but it should be done using different routes to increase safety. However, redundancy can dramatically increase the cost of installation. Moreover, if we have to connect many different nodes in a redundant wired network, the installation process can be really time-consuming and difficult. Cable routing design needs to be prepared before actual installation, which is expensive in already existing buildings. When we use good quality modules for wireless communication the stability of connection in the network can be as good as when using a wired solution. Furthermore, there is a possibility to build a moderate-cost network with redundant communication routes, that is resistant to failures or interferences. Even if there is no communication between the nodes the good quality modules usually allow remote maintenance which is very convenient. In IQRF it would be Direct Peer-to-Peer functionality.
- Why did you decide to use IQRF for your sports range control project? Where there any special requirements to fulfill? Was any functionality critical for the project realization?
We started this project with experience from previous wireless projects we have done. We had the knowledge of wireless solutions suppliers' market, and the project had two main limitations:
- Fairly low volume – hundreds of pieces a year
- Limited R&D budget
The sports range market is definitely not a premium market. So, with this kind of project, a customer is counting every euro cent. Since the beginning, we were trying to find a compromise between functionality and the final price. It was also important how fast the project will be implemented, providing the customer with full flexibility at the same time. We decided to use a radio module available on the market from a manufacturer that we trust. So, we decided to use series 72 modules from IQRF, which use the SIM connector. That approach allows our customer to provide a basic version without wireless and an advanced version with an IQRF TR-72 series module. Wireless communication works independently from basic controller functionality. Controllers work in one radio network, which allows controlling few machines by one person, but a growing number of clay traps in a network could not increase the signal latency between the trigger and the actual release of the clay target. What was also important for the project was that the IQRF modules are fully certified, which speeds up the process of certification of the final product.
- At this point, you are very familiar with IQRF technology? What would you say about it? Can you name three pros and cons of the technology?
The pros which I can describe are those which I already mentioned earlier: flexibility of the technology, ability to select the module which suits best for the project, high reliability and easiness of implementation. One of the cons I could mention, however, is paradoxically the IQRF IDE environment, which is provided by your company. It is a great tool for developers that significantly makes application creation faster and easier. It would be great to have a light version that could be given to system integrators with a limited number of functions. I know that the application offers the possibility to hide certain functions or windows, however, as we well know the customer if tempted to go somewhere will for sure go there. So, a light version with limited functionality would help out during basic diagnostics or configuration in the field. This is something which I am lacking. It is really hard for me to point out any other cons of the technology.
- How do you purchase your IQRF products? Are you happy with cooperation?
I buy IQRF products through one of the Polish distributors - the company ELHURT from Gdańsk. I am very happy with the cooperation with this distributor. The products are always on time. I also cooperate directly with the manufacturer - IQRF Tech company. Cooperation with the manufacturer is growing, which recently turned into signing the agreement to become IQRF certified Design House so I look into the future with optimism.
- Why did you decide to start closer cooperation with IQRF Tech and become a Design House in Poland?
The answer is very simple. If the product is proven and works well in our solutions or the designs that we provided to our customers it is natural that we want to promote it and expand cooperation. I like very much the approach that the IQRF Tech company has taken – it supports prototyping or low volume projects through distributors, some of which later develop into higher-volume projects. Thanks to training provided by IQRF, we better know how to use their tools. That should in a short time transform into a growing number of projects. The cooperation of the companies naturally opens additional marketing channels for both companies. The natural effect of synergy is created.
- So why is it good to contact FIMS company when planning electronics and automation projects, for example with wireless control?
We have the interdisciplinary experience, as I mentioned previously. We have also quite a lot of experience in designs for regulated markets: with projects that require meeting the defined standards, certification, or preparation of special documentation. We are not afraid to use modern solutions, innovations and we are constantly growing our knowledge base as well as gain experience from project to project. We try to be very flexible when cooperating with any kind of customer and we can make the project as a whole are only a part of it. Most of our current work is from returning customers or from customer recommendations. Even now during pandemic times, we keep opening about 5 to 6 different size projects every month. I think it can be proof of our expertise. I strongly encourage you to contact our company to verify what I say.