MicroTools Company History
MicroTools was founded in 1988 by two Aerospace Engineers: Joseph Lehman and Bob Japenga. Prior to starting MicroTools, Joseph and Bob had over 20 years experience in a wide variety of hardware and software disciplines. Their primary area of emphasis has been in embedded and low-level control applications (device drivers, machine controls, flight controls, temperature controls, motion control, motor controls, etc). The history of MicroTools is reflected in the following collection of products and projects.
At MicroTools, our primary expertise is in designing and developing hardware and software embedded systems.
We specialize in medical products, motion control devices, energy monitoring, and the Internet-of-Things. We frequently select ARM and PIC processors. We create simple control loops or, for the more complex systems, use embedded Linux. Over the years, we have maintained a small, tight-knit engineering team. By controlling growth and carefully selecting talented employees, MicroTools continues to provide long-term value for our customers. Our small team has over 220 years of combined experience designing hardware and software systems.
MicroTools Medical Device Experience (Read More)
MicroTools Project History
- Energy monitoring
- Medical devices / medical products
- Internet of things (IoT)
- Control systems
- Motor controls
- Time and Attendance
- MicroTools designed a Linux system as an option board that sits inside a standard electric meter to monitor the energy used in solar panels. The board contains a GSM Cell modem (Sierra Wireless – AT&T) and Ethernet to communicate energy readings to a remote energy monitoring dashboard, a Zigbee wireless chip to communicate to various energy devices (inverters, combiners, etc), and an interface to the meter itself. MicroTools took the system through PTCRB, FCC and UL certification.
We modified this product with a u-blox LTE cell modem (Verizon) and is currently being certified with Verizon.
- MicroTools designed all of the software for a Linux, Android and some of the software for a Windows CE Time and Attendance system. This device contained fingerprint readers, barcode readers, mag stripe readers, a sound card, a camera and three different touch screens.
- MicroTools designed the electronics and the software for a fuel cell control system that monitored 150 fuel cells and controlled and monitored the resulting electric power generation. This included a Linux system to control the overall plant and 4 PIC processors to monitor 150 fuel cells. Pictured here is the PIC board (there are 4 of them in the system) which utilize a Linear Technology fuel cell / battery monitoring chip.
- MicroTools designed the electronics and the software for one of the most amazing products we have ever worked on. This product takes a patient who cannot get out of bed and moves them into their wheelchair. And it does the reverse as well! For an amazing video click here. This patient transfer system has 14 microcontrollers as well as a touchscreen that we designed and built. The main controller has an innovative approach to keep software out of the safety loop in this design. Pictured here are the motor controller stack (7 of them in a single bed), the main controller board and the bezel PCB for the touch screen.
This product supports both WiFi and Cell modems using the Multi-tech modules.
From 2010 – 2011:
- MicroTools designed the electronics and the software for two different portable wound vacuums. One device used a graphics display with an RGB back light. The other used a custom LCD display. Using time proven Negative Pressure Wound Therapy this device speeds the healing of many wounds. We designed the devices around a single PIC microcontroller and included pressure monitoring and motor controls. One unit contained a lithium battery charger and one included NiMH battery charger.
- MicroTools designed the electronics for a portable oxygen concentrator. This system involves 3 PIC microcontrollers and 1 PIC DSP. The PIC DSP controls a DC brushless motor with MicroTools proprietary design. The graphics display uses a PIC 24F class microcontroller and the MicroChip graphics library. The master control board controls the algorithms that actually produce the pure oxygen with a patented process for filtering the air through a sieve bed. The system must maintain pressures accurately and monitor oxygen purity levels using a proprietary purity sensor and flow meter. In addition, the master controller controls battery life and charging through a smart battery interface. The system logs failures and anomalies to a serial EEPROM and later dumped over an IrDA interface at the maintenance depot. This product has been modified to add a u-blox cell modem (Verizon). It has passed Verizon certification.
From 2010 – 2012:
- MicroTools designed the electronics and the software for a bariatric bed. There were two boards with a PIC processors controlling each. One board was for the user interface and mounted on a pendant. The other board was the control board and mounted in the bed frame. The pendant consisted of a number of seven segment and discrete LEDs with a number of switches for operator control. The pendant communicated with the control board over a proprietary RS-485 bus. The control board monitored pressures and controlled the flow of air into and out of the air bed. With these controls the device could automatically and regularly rotate the patient, raise or lower the patient and provide percussion/vibration to the patient’s back thus providing pulmonary therapy. PID control algorithms were used to control the air flow through a large number of valves and manifolds.
From 2010 – 2011:
- MicroTools designed a custom keypad that when interfaced to a sip and puff device allowed for individuals with disabilities to access an existing voting machine. A small PIC in the keypad translated sips and puffs into ASCII keys from the keypad. This keypad was used with existing voting machines, helping counties and municipalities meet federal ADA requirements for accessibility.
- MicroTools designed a implantable device for monitoring pressures and electrical activity of the heart. This design contains 4 interfaces to electrodes and one interface to a pressure sensor. This data is sent from inside the body via an IrDA link to a halter worn by the patient. High speed data acquisition is required to allow transmission of this data in real time to the halter monitor which in turn closes the loop to the heart. An air transformer provides the device power. The processor chosen for this project was the Atmel ATxmega16A4.
- MicroTools also designed a device to translate the IrDA signals from the implantable device to RS-485 and RS-232 for interfacing to a National Instruments Labview interface for lab testing. This board is the pre-cursor to the halter design for use in the lab. It uses the same Atmel ATxmega16A4 as is used on the implantable device. This processor was chosen for its high speed A/D capabilities on the implantable device but was kept for tool chain compatibility for the translation board.
This system has been modified to support WiFi and a Cell modem (AT&T).
From 2008 – 2013:
- MicroTools designed and developed a revenue grade ANSI C12.20 certified energy monitoring system. The initial design, from project start date to completion of safety, FCC and ANSI certification was 8 months. This included a major requirements change 3 months into the project requiring a redesign of the hardware. Once the product took off, we developed two redesigns to reduce the costs during large scale production. The project contains an ARM9 running Linux, 3 DSPs for accurately measuring energy, a PIC for high speed I/O, two RS-485 ports, an RS-232 port, support for WiFi, Ethernet and a cell modem for internet connectivity. It also supports six analog temperature sensors, pulse counters and a standard USB. MicroTools, in addition to the initial production unit, has created three other versions of this product. One for revenue grade single phase meters with an optional graphics display; one for non-revenue grade single phase metering and one for three phase revenue grade metering with a graphics display. Software support is provided for http, https, ftp, telnet, ssh, ntp, a web server and ppp.
From 2008 – 2009:
- MicroTools has modified an embedded Linux system for a heavy industry equipment manufacturer. MicroTools modified the Linux kernel, added a watchdog timer, modified the Linux drivers and modified the application that controlled several remote controllers. In addition, MicroTools created a remote display option available with numerous user screens
From 2008 – 2009:
- MicroTools replaced an obsolete x86 Tern user interface for an inverter manufacturer. The new design needed to support email notification during system errors and alerts. MicroTools chose to implement an embedded Linux system using an off-the-shelf single board computer and a dedicated I/O processor. MicroTools ported the old x86 Tern code to Linux, implemented the new functionality and provided the customer with a more reliable and much cheaper solution than his previous device.
- MicroTools has created an embedded Linux system for a time and attendance equipment manufacturer. MicroTools modified the Linux kernel, wrote the Linux drivers and wrote the application that actually performed the time and attendance functionality. This system is based around an Atmel ARM9, has 4 different graphics screens (one touch screen); USB ports; RS232 ports; Ethernet ports; EEPROM interface; smart card, magnetic, optical, finger print and RFID readers on board. This device includes a small footprint web server and supported telnet, http, https, ppp, ntp, ssh, scp, vnc, sftp and ftp. The device also has a Java virtual machine present to allow customers to program their own applications. This device, in its smallest configuration has a full featured Linux in 16 meg of RAM and 32 meg of FLASH with a fully redundant partition for automatic recovery. The system fully supports remote firmware updates. The software supported both a proprietary protocol as well as a full XML compliant web services interface.
- MicroTools created a Linux design to replace a PLC for a sonic welding company. The system included an off-the-shelf PC104 SBC with a touch screen interfacing to a proprietary I/O board.
From 2005 – 2008
- MicroTools helped a local company solve problems with a DC servo motor control. MicroTools aided them by improving their PID algorithm (we added a limiter to their Integral control) and helped them tune the loop. In addition, we helped them perform real time analysis on their control loop writing all of the software for a new welding system utilizing Rabbit core processors in conjunction with a Windows CE user interface.
- MicroTools re-designed an existing product for a company to utilize a USB rather than an outdated PC interface. This design provided state-of-the-art self test provisions to make the board easier to build and test.
- MicroTools retro-fit (hardware and software) several existing products (8051 based) for a company to utilize a TCP/IP Ethernet interface instead of RS-232.
- MicroTools replaced a customer’s existing single axis motion controller with a more sophisticated dual axis high speed motion controller.
- MicroTools re-designed an existing product (hardware and software) utilizing the latest technology (including surface mounted parts and a more robust software design).
- MicroTools performed FAA DO-178B compliant module testing on several hundred flight critical software modules.
- MicroTools developed a multi-axis AC 3-phase brushless servo motor control as part of a major R&D effort for a local manufacturer.
- MicroTools modified an existing Java J2SE platform to greatly enhance the user interface of an existing product.
- MicroTools helped a company re-port several of their existing 8051 products to utilize a more up-to-date compiler. This system communicated with a number of RF Links for command and control of a energy monitoring system. This system included interfaces to KYZ inputs; AC breakers; Serial to Ethernet adapters; I2C temperature probes; and various RS-232 and RS-485 serial ports. We included an interface to an RF Modem in the new product thereby minimizing cost and reducing dependency upon proprietary technologies.
From 1990 – 2012:
- MicroTools implemented a series of servo controls for a machine manufacturer to provide better motion control of their machines. These controls interfaced with both DC servo motors and three phase AC brushless servo motors. These controls broke new ground for our customer in supplying low cost and highly reliable motion control. We have implemented and delivered over 15 such mechanisms, using either Microsoft C++ or Borland C++ for x86 platforms and Archimedes/Keil for 8051 platforms. We used various platforms ranging from OS/2, ROM-DOS, smx and VxWorks, with approximately 85% of the code re-used in each control.
- MicroTools maintained an existing Z80 based and QNX hosted real-time control systems.
- MicroTools designed a series of Windows applications to aid in integrating factory based servo controllers which greatly enhanced our customer’s productivity. We wrote these applications in C++ using Borland’s OWL interface.
- MicroTools developed a Java based interface for displaying real time data from these servo controls.
From 1992 – 2005:
- MicroTools developed all of the software for a series of mailing systems.
- MicroTools designed and developed all of the software (application, BIOS, factory diagnostics) of a series of data base intensive embedded commercial scale products. This application involved graphic displays, printers, serial ports, load cells, and a large volume of data. We wrote the software in C++ (50,000 lines of code) with some 80×86 assembler. We completed this product in approximately 15 months and it was highly successful for our customer.
- MicroTools specified, designed and developed very sophisticated board level diagnostics capable of detecting failures to the chip level for this generation of products. It also specified, designed and developed a quality assurance software package for use by manufacturing to accept the final product.
- Then in 1994, this application was ported to a PC platform utilizing a real time embedded operating system and high speed DOS graphics. This application was required to run on a wide variety of PC’s with very limited memory and required a significant amount of knowledge of DOS internals. It was written in C++ and contains over 100,000 lines of code. It was completed in approximately 6 months. Using unique techniques, we were able to create a multi-tasking overlayed application using Borland standard tools set. This design has set the standard for ease of use in it’s industry. This project was developed using Borland C++ and was later ported to Microsoft C++.
When the next generation of product was developed on yet a third totally different platform in 1997, MicroTools re-used about 50% of the code to quickly and efficiently bring this product to market. The project involved significant amounts of data encryption and digital signature technologies. The product includes interfaces to a thermal printer, an LCD display, a TCP/IP stack, a modem, a load-cell and a data encryption safe.
With this generation, MicroTools was responsible for a board level diagnostic capable of detecting failures to the chip level for use by board level manufacturer. It also specified, designed and developed a quality assurance software package for use by manufacturing to accept the final product.
- Finally, in 1999 another new generation of mailing system was developed and MicroTools again re-used the core design enabling the customer to bring the product to market quickly.
The object oriented display engine developed in 1992 was used in 5 completely separate products:
1992 120 x 20 Graphics Interface
1992 480 x 64 Graphics Interface
1994 480 x 640 PC Color Graphics Interface
1997 2 line 20 character text interface
1999 240 x 240 4 color Interface
- MicroTools designed several embedded PC servo controllers networked using a NetWare server and a supervisory PC written in C++ and assembler. These servos were required to perform a complex closed loop algorithm every 2 milliseconds running under a multi-tasking version of DOS. These servos are still in use today.
- MicroTools completed a motion profile controller design which provides variable downloadable motion profiles for a variety of servo controls (hydraulic, pneumatic, and electric). We used C and assembler for the design which uses an 8051 and interfaces to the STD Bus.
- MicroTools designed and developed a servo pneumatic machine control using an 8051 based processor. This design did what others said could not be done and controlled a pneumatic device (with a compressible fluid – air) as one would control a hydraulic device. This control utilized advanced adaptive closed loop servo control techniques to maintain highly repeatable motion control. This consisted of approximately 1700 lines of 8051 assembler code and 700 lines of Archimedes C. It became the prototype for a commercial product still being sold today.
- we developed an 80188 based tank measurement device used to monitor tank levels and temperatures and detect leaks.
- we specified, designed and developed a wind turbine control system for an experimental alternate energy project.