Zigbee IOT Proof of Concept Work

A customer of SFL required a rapid proof-of-concept development to support a pitch of a commercial multi-room environmental control system to management. We connected a local Zigbee thermostat and magnet/reed switch to a Zigbee controller, communicated up through Zigbee2MQTT and Eclipse Mosquitto to the Azure Cloud IoT service. How cool! I implemented the custom bits in Zigbee2MQTT (Javascript) for these specific Zigbee devices, and wrote communications to and from the Azure Cloud (Python). The client implemented my code in multiple locations and demonstrated bidirectional communications and control.

Savoir-faire Linux

Now here was a challenge… moving to a new city, a new culture, and a very different work environment – during a pandemic, no less! Savoir-faire Linux is a wonderful open source consultancy firm based in Montreal, Quebec. I moved to Montreal for 3 to 6 months of training, then was to move back to Winnipeg and work from remote.

I had more difficulty with the French language than I expected. My colleagues were great though, working with me in English, and helping me navigate the challenges of life in the big city.

The work was amazing! I had done all kinds of hardware development, firmware development, FPGA, debuggging, and engineering supervision. But, wow, Jerome Oufella and the R&D team at SFL are amazingly competent and efficient. It was a challenge to learn the new systems and get up to speed with the latest expectations for embedded systems development using LINUX.

Shifting gears from management back to small systems development was difficult, but so much fun! I had a bit of trouble getting into the by-the-hour consultant mode of work again (since my Elecsys days, it’s mostly been get-it-done-no-matter-the-time-needed mode), but I gradually got with the program.

Jerome was hoping that my addition to the team would round out their experience in the low-end MCU space, and give them insight into hardware that they did not have before. I saw some indication of how this might work – a client had a bad implementation of an SDIO bus (badly matched path length, multiple unmatched layer transitions), and I recognized the severity of the issue immediately. Another member of the team came up with remedial code and a work-around.

Unfortunately, in this pandemic time, business continued to slow through the fall, rather than pick up again, as we had expected. Just before Christmas 2020, I was let go, and travelled back to Winnipeg.

I still believe in Savoir-faire Linux and their work. I would recommend Jerome and his team to anybody who needs open-source and embedded Linux assistance.

ELPhase Power Technologies

ERLPhase needed some extra development capacity.  The TESLA DC Isolation Module was showing its age, and its shortcomings was starting to affect sales.  I was asked to come in on a fixed length term, to redesign the DC Module to address these issues, then perhaps do a bit of research and “blue sky” work on future development of Travelling Wave Fault Location (TWFL).

The development took longer than expected…  it always seems to be that way… but I was quite pleased with the result.  I was there to see the boards made but not for the bring-up.  As there always is, there were some issues, but I’m proud of the contribution I made!

The TWFL work is of course, confidential, but we did identify some key technologies, and I created a proof-of-concept that can be used to get started on the larger project at a later date.

Alstom / GE-Alstom / GE

I spoke to Jim Blake, PhD, R&D Manager of Alstom Grid DIT (Digital Instrument Transformers), a small group located in north Phoenix, Arizona, and he offered me an excellent opportunity at advancement.  I moved to Phoenix, bought a house, lived and worked there for four years.  It was a fantastic experience.  I had visited Phoenix several times, but had not had the opportunity to get to know the area really well.  In fact, I had never spent this much time away from Winnipeg!  It was an amazing time.

The work was challenging, and we had a small team, quite constrained in resources, but we were able to consistently ship to meet our targets.  We undertook several very interesting projects while I was there.

GE purchased Alstom Grid while I was there, so I was back in the GE family.  It was interesting, being in touch with my friends at GE-Multilin again!

In 2017, personal reasons pulled me back to Winnipeg.  I continued to work from remote for some time, and it was quite effective…  I was working with people all over GE, from Brazil, France, and other parts of North America.  But, in late 2017, facing a financial crunch, unfortunately, GE laid me off.

ERLPhase Power Technologies

ERLPhase had the challenge of bringing a relay development team up to speed at their parent company, Easun Reyrolle of Bangalore, India.  I took a term contract to assist in helping to get the Bangalore team started.

Culture was a big challenge, especially over Skype, not having ever met any of the staff in person.  I recommended that they get the Indian staff to visit Winnipeg, or (shudder) I would have to visit Bangalore.  Well, the Indian team had difficulty in getting to Winnipeg, so I went to Bangalore… and loved it!  This was quite the adventure, culture shock, all of the cliches, but overall, a very good experience.

After my return, it was much easier to work with the Bangalore team, now that I knew them well.  A great group of people, some of whom I am still in touch with.

ERPhase Power Technologies

ERLPhase needed a senior electronics developer to deal with some specific issues, and forge ahead in some new development.  Their team was experienced, but mostly in digital electronics, MCUs, and FPGAs.  I am more of a generalist, having experience in all kinds of electronics, but a strong analog & power component.  [ and if I bump up against something that I don’t have experience in, I know who to contact who does ]

In addition, knowing the ERLPhase team, there could be opportunity for advancement.  ERLPhase was in rapid product development, and there could be rapid company growth in the near future.

Krish Narendra, ERLPhase R&D Manager, wanted me to contribute to the development of their new Merging Unit, so I jumped right in.  After correcting some issues on the main power supply and investigating some issues with the digital inputs and outputs, I developed a board-level power control processor that would manage the power supply sequencing and report on the health of each power rail.


I felt that I had outgrown the Winnipeg tech market, so when Michael Miller contacted me to consider working at GE-Multilin in Markham, Ontario, I jumped at the opportunity.  I moved to Markham, lived 3 blocks from the plant, and walked to work most days.  It was a fantastic experience!

I met a lot of great people at GE-Multilin, many of whom I am still in touch with today.

I was lead hardware engineer on the flagship transmission level protection relay, the URplus.  Originally developed as a replacement for the venerable and popular UR relay (“UR” meaning “universal relay”), the URplus could not displace the UR in the hearts and minds of customers, so it was moved upscale into a higher end niche.  Part of that niche was the development of its Process Bus capability, through the incorporation of the recently-developed Process Card.  I did a significant amount of work to shepherd the Process Card through the various development gates, into production, and then into shipment to customers, culminating in the introduction of the B95plus product to the marketplace.

Since then though, GE-Multilin’s product family has been pruned, and the B95plus is the only member of the family under active development.  All other applications are actually migrating back to the now-revitalized UR product line.

Although there were lots of good people, and the work was challenging, I missed Winnipeg, and moved back in anticipation of significant opportunities there.

Norscan Instruments

Norscan acquired Elecsys at the end of 2016.  Jason Fuith became Norscan’s Business Development Manager, and I became Norscan’s Product Development Manager.

Norscan had a long history of product development, but the owner, Ken Sontag, wanted to expand into new markets.  Jason and I had been doing just that, and even with our limited resources, were having some success.  Ken wanted us to continue to do this using Norscan’s capabilities and resources.

Most of the client relationships that Elecsys had established turned out to be unable to support an ongoing revenue stream for Norscan.  Over a few years, most of Elecsys’s projects faded away.

However, Norscan’s ongoing marketing efforts, through Jason, Jeff Sadler, and others, resulted in some new opportunities, of which I’m very proud.

Hans Wuthrich of Gimli, Manitoba, is the world-wide leader in the creation and maintenance of competitive curling ice.  Hans approached us to develop his concept of a complete wireless ice rink monitoring system, the Eye on the Ice. Norscan created the system for Hans, and is still being marketed by his company, Ice Consultants International.

Winmer Technology Innovators, a small company in Alburquerque, New Mexico, is operated by a former Sparton Corporation executive, Don Bartrip.  Winmer specializes in the manufacture of replacement cards for the Sparton air pressure monitoring system, still used for monitoring of underground telecom cable health in many urban centres.  Norscan undertook to develop drop-in replacements for the 5318 mini monitoring unit and the main processor card for the 53000 mainframe system, with modern components and built-in Ethernet communications.  These were implemented and worked.  However, industry regulatory approval proved difficult to attain, and the products have in the meantime become obsolete.  Still, the development team achieved their goal and I’m proud of that!

In 2010, having achieved as much as I could at Norscan, I left to pursue career advancement back at ERLPhase.  I appreciate what we strived to accomplish, and I loved the team.  They are a great group – I’d have them take on almost any development project.