Reverse Engineering Emerging As The Latest Trend In Advancing Technology

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Reverse engineering is no longer just about bringing old technology back to life. It's also about using that technology as a launch pad into the future. John Armistead, founder and owner of reverse engineering firm Armistead Technologies, discusses some recent technological advances - made in reverse.

As NASA moves forward with plans for future Mars missions, it has found itself relying on solutions from the past. Decades-old equipment and technologies from the Moon program are being used as the foundation for Mars-bound space systems. Unfortunately the engineers who created those solutions are long gone -- retired, dead, or moved on to other projects in other fields.

That has put reverse engineering in the news, as today's engineers painstakingly disassemble, analyze, and re-create mission-critical components from ancient spacecraft and support systems.

John Armistead, founder and owner of reverse engineering firm Armistead Technologies, can't help but chuckle. "Perhaps, for the printed circuit boards, they could've called me," he says.

Armistead's firm specializes in reverse engineering printed circuit boards (PCBs), the "brains" that control electro-mechanical devices. Manufacturers and companies call on Armistead when they need to recover a piece of electronic technology.

"It happens all the time," Armistead says. "What happens is, the engineers working on a particular problem learn their lessons, apply what they've learned to the solution, and move on. The lessons are retained by the group, but over time the group memory is lost."

This has serious implications for commercial enterprises as well as government agencies.

"For example, a company acquires another company," Armistead says. "They run through their inventory of PCBs and have to ramp up production again -- but by then the manufacturing files can't be found and all the people who knew anything about the circuit board designs are gone."

Engineering managers may have the in-house resources to reverse engineer PCBs, but they are often reluctant to take engineers away from critical design projects that are timelined. Now, they have the option of outsourcing the project to a reverse engineering specialist.

Armistead points out that even when manufacturing files are available showing how to make a certain circuit board, there often remain questions as to why certain decisions were made in the design process. That can confound efforts to update the PCB design to meet current needs.

"It's one thing to have a pile of paper on your desk saying 'this is the product,' and another thing to go out and actually build the product," Armistead says.

In those cases, Armistead Technologies reverse engineers the circuit board, creating new manufacturing files so a plug-in replacement PCB can be produced. Along the way, the circuit board may be updated with modern components to reduce costs. Armistead recalls a recent project for a European company in which the original PCB design was updated to use surface mounted components instead of through-hole mounted components. The result was an electronically identical circuit board with lower production costs.

"You move backward and forward at the same time," Armistead explains. "You reverse engineer the circuit board to fulfill its original functionality, but at the same time you update the materials and components or add functionality."

Another recent project had Armistead Technologies working for a commercial printer, reverse engineering control boards for massive printing presses. Spare control boards were unavailable, yet the presses themselves were mechanically sound. Armistead Technologies reverse engineered, upgraded, and manufactured a small number of replacement PCBs, extending the life of the presses at a fraction of the cost of replacing them.

"We do it all, including short-run manufacture," Armistead says. "You don't need to order several thousand PCBs. We can reverse engineer and manufacture as few as five or ten circuit boards. And we handle everything, from design to assembly, right here in the U.S."

And what if NASA should come calling? Armistead smiles. "I'm here," he says. "And I'm ready."

About Armistead Technologies, LLC.
Armistead Technologies is an engineering firm based near Baltimore, Maryland. It was founded in 1989 by John Armistead, a graduate electrical engineer from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Armistead Technologies specializes in reverse engineering printed circuit boards, and re-engineering older PCB designs to be compliant with updated standards and compatibilities.

For more information about getting re-engineered replacement PCBs, visit http://www.armisteadtechnologies.com/ or call John Armistead at (410) 627-2408.

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