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Electronics Group 2010 Annual Report

Research School of Earth Sciences Electronics Group Annual Report 2010
Andrew Latimore, Tristan Redman, Norm Schram, Derek Corrigan, Daniel Cummins, David Cassar, Hideo Sasaki
Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia

Table 1
RSES Electronics Group Resource Distribution 2010

Labour totals hours %
Administration total 1794 23
Maintenance total 1760 22
R&D Total 4202 54
Total 7756  
Electronics Group overheads 746 9.6
Union, EBA 69 1
OHS Electrical Safety Testing 604 8
Study leave + other 375 5
Total 1794  
Earth Chemistry 971 12
Earth Environment 171 3
Earth Materials & Processes 280 4
Earth Physics 73 1
External clients+ other 265 3
Total 1760  
Research and Development    
Earth Chemistry 2319 30
Earth Environment 102 1.3
Earth Materials & Processes 270 3.4
Earth Physics 1427 18.4
External clients + other 84 1.1
Total 4202  


The Electronics Group provides electronic technical support to all areas of RSES academic research. The group maintains RSES electronic systems and offers a development facility able to engineer innovative electronic solutions. The Electronics Group endeavours to ensure the Research School of Earth Sciences' technology remains state of the art.

2010 has been a rewarding year for the Electronics Group with several projects completed and operating productively. Early 2010 all electronic systems of Earth Chemistry's latest development, the SHRIMP SI, were completed and successfully activated. This project combines a myriad of electronic devices developed by the Electronics Group.

This year the group has developed a new digital short period seismic recorder that provides superior resolution and performance than commercial products available. The Electronics Group has constructed a working prototype that has achieved the challenging specifications.

To comply with the ANU's Occupational Health & Safety Policy and Electrical Safety procedure, the school must record and maintain an equipment database containing risk assessments and safety test information of all in-service electrical items. During 2010 the Electronics group was given the task of updating the existing database and testing appropriate items in school. The group commenced a major testing and tagging campaign to achieve this goal, with exceptional effort by Cassar and Cummins who worked considerable overtime during the year.

We continually experience strong demand for electronic maintenance, our group endeavours to promptly attend to any problem and pride ourselves on maintaining legacy equipment. Table 1 displays the Electronics Group's resource distribution for 2010.

Electronic Engineering Highlights

SHRIMP SI (Electronics Group)

At the beginning of the year three final systems were required to complete SHRIMP SI. By April 2010 the Electronics Group finished construction and testing of the sample stage manipulator, rack motor system and primary beam monitor. The SHRIMP SI project has been a major employer of the Electronics Group's engineering and assembly time over the passed three years and we are excited and relieved to see our efforts come to fruition. The machine was successfully activated and is now an operating mass analyser. The Electronics Group has been closely involved with the fine-tuning of the SHRIMP SI this year. As expected with a project of this complexity, electrical and mechanical anomalies occur during implementation, we are committed to supporting the project now and in the future.

The sample stage manipulator was a demanding task; the specification prescribed a motorised, three degrees of freedom stage system with repeatable position control of 0.3 micron. Our mechanical engineer Derek Corrigan upgraded an existing stage to meet the vibration and mechanical movement required. To achieve the resolution necessary we installed holographic linear encoders as feedback to direct current servo motors. In testing we recorded repeatable linear movements to 0.1 micron, a successful result that demonstrates electrical and mechanical precision.

IFLEX (Norm Schram)

The IFLEX project is an innovative fast responding electrometer developed by Norm Schram of the Electronics Group. During 2010 IFLEX was implemented onto Earth Chemistry's SHRIMP 2/SI and utilised to analyse Faraday cup electron flows. The project involves considerable research into electrometer design, bias current elimination and stabilisation. The IFLEX has enabled the SHRIMP SI users to capture data in charge capacitor mode that allows a 2 to 3 fold improvement in instrument precision. In order to implement the IFLEX, the group worked on improvements to the data acquisition systems of SHRIMP 2 and SI which involved a new electrometer controller circuit, temperature stabilisation circuit and microprocessor.

Short Period Seismic Recorder (Andrew Latimore, Tristan Redman, Derek Corrigan, Daniel Cummins)

This year the Electronics Group has worked for the Earth Environment department developing a new digital short period seismic recording system. The project specifications involved designing a rugged, high dynamic range, ultra low power, 24-bit digital acquisition system that recorded onto secure digital storage media. The Electronics Group researched several new technologies including low power electronics, battery management systems, low noise data acquisition, thin film displays, high density storage and global positioning systems. The project was build around the latest Xilinx field programmable gate array technology allowing us to create a powerful 32-bit microprocessor and peripherals functioning at extremely low operating power, below 0.2 watts. The project will activate 24-bit analogue to digital converters on a time-base systematically corrected by global positioning system data. A working prototype was completed by December of 2010. Initial results have been promising and the challenging power and resolution specifications have been achieved. In 2011 the group will continue development and testing with the units expected to be deployed in 2012.

Graphitization Furnace Automation (Hideo Sasaki, Andrew Latimore, David Cassar)

The Accelerating Mass Spectrometer facility incorporates a graphitization process for sample preparation. In previous years the Electronics Group has developed electronics to manually control the graphitization line. During 2010 we have focused on designing an automated 20 channel line to improve production and occupational safety of the procedure. Our research has covered methods of cryogenic trapping CO2 with semiconductor Peltier devices and liquid nitrogen control. The project has allowing us to introduce new touch screen technology into the laboratory and deliver process control from the screen input eliminating need for keyboard or mouse. The automation component is currently under development expecting completion early 2011.

Other projects

  • OHS electrical testing and tagging (Electronics Group)
  • MAT 261 upgrade (Norm Scram)
  • Laser ablation cell drafting, design and assembly (Derek Corrigan)
  • Piston cylinder electrical upgrade (David Cassar)
  • Tesla Tamer assembly and testing (Daniel Cummins)
  • J1PC tuning and implementation (David Cassar)

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Engineering Group 2010 Annual Report

Andrew Wilson1, David Thomson1, Carl Were1, Geoff Woodward1, Brent Butler1, Ben Tranter2, Hayden Miller3
1 Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia
2 GFD Technical Officer part time in Workshop
3Trainee Technical Officer 50/50 Earth Materials/Workshop

The Engineering Workshop completed SHRIMP SI mechanical construction early in 2010 and continued to support the commissioning of the instrument throughout the year. Commitment to other internal, small to medium sized projects was unexpectedly high at times.

Due to the usual demand from the school, and the need to catch up on administration and workshop maintenance from a hectic 2009, only a small amount of external work was undertaken.

Workshop staff logged a total of 7055 hours to the month of December. 69% of total hours were devoted to RSES internal work. External clients accounted for 4% of our time.

29% of our charged/internal time was spent on jobs which took less than 50 hours to complete.

Major commitments for 2010:

Water cooled electrical coupling used on Noble gas
high temperature furnace

As expected one of our major projects this year was the construction of a high temperature furnace for Dr Masahiko Honda. This was completed mid year with some development continuing until November.

SHRIMP- Completion and commissioning of SI, New Stainless Steel Optical Rails for SHRIMP 2, IFLEX Electrometers for SHRIMP 2 and SI, CDEM Shielding. (Geoff Woodward, David Thomson, Brent Butler, Carl Were, Ben Tranter, Hayden Miller and Andrew Wilson)

200T press refurbishment for Prof Hugh O'Neill (Carl Were, Brent Butler)

Laser ICPMS Sample Holders (Brent Butler, David Thomson)

Seismic Recorder Battery Enclosures (David Thomson)

AMS Graphite Line components (Carl Were, Brent Butler and Geoff Woodward)

Support was also provided for Professor Ian Jacksons Rock Mechanics Laboratory including new furnace cores, high temperature/pressure apparatus modifications and the usual sample preparation. (Geoff Woodward, Ben Tranter, Andrew Wilson, Carl Were, Hayden Miller and Brent Butler)

27% of our time (1917 hours) was uncharged and can be accounted for as follows:

17% Staff Training
35% Workshop Administration
35% Workshop Infrastructure. This includes the time taken for improvements and modifications to tooling, machines, workshop layout, workshop storage and assistance with workshop building maintenance.
8% Machine Maintenance
5% of uncharged hours were spent at meetings, seminars, conferences and exhibitions as well as on some uncharged jobs.

Other Developments

A new CNC Machining Center, Okuma MB-56, arrived early in 2010. The SHRIMP 2 Optical Rails and 200t piston cylinder ram housings were machined using this machine making use of the physically larger and more accurate CNC milling capacity.

During the year, Brent Butler will once more coach the Australian national team in the 'Worldskills' teams manufacturing category. He has also been selected as the deputy chief expert for this category, competition to be held in London in 2011.

Good progress has been made this year documenting our CNC machine procedures. Well refined written procedures are vital to enable staff to switch between machines easily and to lessen the training load on our regular CNC operators.



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