The Electronic Hardware Product Development Process is a structured approach that guides the creation of new electronic products from concept to production. This process is vital to ensure that the product being manufactured is feasible, reliable, and meets the needs of its intended users.

The journey of developing electronic hardware products is a complex yet rewarding endeavor. This article delves into the various stages of the hardware product development process, offering insights into best practices, challenges, and key considerations. From ideation to mass production, understanding each phase is crucial for entrepreneurs, engineers, and businesses venturing into the world of electronic hardware.

The Different Hardware Development Phases

Before exploring the hardware development process, understanding the various phases in the process is necessary. The process consists of the following phases:

  1. Ideation: define the need or opportunity and the proposed solution
  2. Concept: clearly define the possible solutions adopting a user-centric approach
  3. Design: go from sketches to non-functional prototype
  4. Engineering: develop the product and make sure it works reliably
  5. Prototyping: test the prototypes and validate the final product
  6. Production: start manufacturing and get ready for the product launch

Source: wikifactory.com
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Source: wikifactory.com

1. Ideation phase

The first step in electronic hardware development is the ideation phase. This is where ideas are conceived and the foundation of the project is laid. It’s essential to identify the market needs and the technological feasibility of the concept. This stage sets the tone for the entire project and is critical for hardware startups.

2. Concept Phase

In the design phase, ideas take a tangible form. Electronics design is crucial here, involving both hardware and software components. This phase requires a meticulous approach to ensure that all components work harmoniously. It’s not just about the aesthetics but also about the functionality and usability of the product.

Invite users to test your product since the first prototype and constantly improve the experience. Refining the concept as much as we can in order to save time and resources during the next phases.

3. Design Phase

Once the idea and concepts are clearly outlined, the process of designing and engineering can commence.

The Design phase is centered around the product’s aesthetics and user experience, whereas the Engineering phase is all about ensuring the product functions as intended.

The design process often begins with basic sketches to conceptualize the product’s form and various components. The objective in this phase is to develop a non-functional prototype.

4. Engineering Phase

The engineering phase is where the theoretical design gets transformed into a practical, working model. This involves detailed electrical engineering work, including PCB design and microcontroller chip programming. It’s a phase where theoretical knowledge meets real-world application, and functionality takes the forefront.

While the Design phase culminates in a non-functional prototype, the Engineering phase aims to produce a functional prototype emphasizing the product’s primary features.

Given the intricate nature of hardware products, it’s typical to experiment with various components in prototypes to discover the most effective configuration. This iterative approach in hardware development is crucial. Testing these prototypes with users and collecting their feedback provides critical insights, aiding in the refinement and enhancement of your project.

5. Prototyping Phase

Prototyping is about testing and refining the product. Functional prototypes are developed and put through rigorous testing. This phase helps in identifying any flaws or areas for improvement. It’s an iterative process, often involving multiple prototype versions before arriving at the final design.

In this stage, the outcomes of both the Design and Engineering phases are integrated. It’s crucial to ensure that the prototypes developed are suitable for large-scale manufacturing, which often requires modifying or omitting certain design or engineering elements. It involves thorough testing and validation of the product from both a design and engineering standpoint.

Upon successful validation of the product, the next step is production validation. This stage is focused on refining and optimizing the manufacturing process, typically by assessing the initial production run.

The Prototyping phase is considered complete once both the product and its manufacturing process have been fully validated. This holds true even for products that aren’t intended for mass production, underscoring the importance of adhering to the aforementioned phases.

6. Production Phase

The final step involves starting the manufacturing process and preparing for the product launch

The development process culminates as the product life cycle commences. By this stage, it is crucial to have a solid financial and marketing strategy in place to guarantee a successful product launch.

After the product hits the market, it’s important to pay close attention to user feedback. Be prepared to address any software glitches or other unforeseen problems that weren’t identified in earlier testing phases.

7. Market Launch and Beyond (Bonus)

Launching the product in the market is just the beginning. Post-launch, it’s crucial to gather feedback, conduct ongoing testing, and make necessary adjustments. Continuous improvement is key to staying relevant in the ever-evolving electronics market.

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Read more: The Best Place to Manufacture Electronics in 2023

A New Electronic Hardware Product Development Process

The electronic hardware product development process is evolving, and this new approach breaks it down into detailed, manageable steps. Each step is designed to streamline the process, ensuring efficiency and reducing the time to market. Here’s a closer look at each step:

Step 1: Simplify Your Product

To successfully launch your product on time and avoid financial pitfalls, it’s crucial to prioritize simplification. Complexity in product design is often a major hurdle for new entrepreneurs and startups.

Many entrepreneurs and engineers tend to underestimate the ramifications of adding various product features. Even what appears to be a minor addition can significantly escalate development costs and extend the time required to reach the market.

The essence of product simplification lies in identifying the key features that your target market desires. Collaborating with experts helps in understanding the consequences of each feature, ensuring that the product remains streamlined yet effective.

Step 2: Build Proof-of-Concept (POC) Prototype

After streamlining your product concept to its essentials, the next crucial step is to verify if your concept effectively addresses the problem it’s intended to solve. This is where a Proof-of-Concept (POC) prototype comes into play. It’s an initial prototype that utilizes readily available components.

POC prototypes are generally assembled using development kits like Arduino, ESP32, or Raspberry Pi, and do not include any bespoke electronic designs. However, it’s important to recognize that a POC prototype is often not suitable for direct market release.

Typically, the costs of producing a POC prototype are prohibitively high, its size tends to be too bulky, and its appearance may not meet market standards.

Step 3: Create Preliminary Production Design

When embarking on the creation of a new electronic hardware product, it’s crucial to start with a preliminary production design. It involves the key aspects of your product such as the components for production, cost analysis, profit margin, performance, features, development feasibility, and manufacturability.

This early design stage allows you to estimate the development and production costs, including prototyping, programming, certification, scaling, and, crucially, manufacturing expenses.

The preliminary production design aims to answer essential questions:

  • Is my product developmentally feasible?
  • What are the expected costs for development and prototyping?
  • What is the timeline for development?
  • What will be the manufacturing costs, and is there a viable profit margin?

Skipping this vital step, as many entrepreneurs do, and directly moving to the custom schematic circuit design can be a costly misstep. This often leads to investing significant time and resources in a product that may not be economically viable in terms of development, manufacturing, or profitable sales.

Step 4: Select Critical Production Components

Selecting the right components is essential for the success of electronic hardware. This step ensures all the components chosen are the best fit for the product’s design and functionality and retail price of your product.

After that, you should create a preliminary Bill of Materials (BOM).

If you reach higher production volumes, you will save money by purchasing some components directly from the manufacturer.

Step 5: Estimate Production Cost

A crucial step in the hardware development process is estimating the production cost. This includes material, labor, and overhead costs, helping you understand the financial feasibility of your project.

Understanding the manufacturing unit cost of your product is essential for setting the right sales price, calculating inventory expenses, and, most importantly, determining your potential profit margin.

The process of estimating manufacturing costs begins with the creation of a preliminary BOM, which itemizes and prices each component involved in production.

Read more: 7 Effective Ways of Cost Savings in Manufacturing

Step 6: Design Schematic Circuit Diagram

This step involves creating a detailed schematic diagram, a blueprint of your electronic hardware, which is critical for PCB design and assembly.

The schematic diagram indicates how every component, from microchips to resistors, connects together. A schematic diagram is all about the little details, whereas a system block diagram is mostly focused on the higher level product functionality,

Step 7: Design Printed Circuit Board (PCB)

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After completing the schematic, the next step is to design the Printed Circuit Board (PCB), which is the physical board that connects and supports all electronic components.

While the development of the system block diagram and schematic circuit is largely theoretical, the design of the PCB is a practical task. The PCB is created using the same software that was used for the schematic diagram.

This software is equipped with various validation tools that ensure the PCB layout adheres to the specific design rules applicable to the PCB manufacturing process and that it accurately reflects the schematic.

Typically, the complexity and time required for PCB layout increase with the miniaturization of the product and the density of the component packing.

Additionally, if your product involves high-power routing, high-speed digital signals (such as crystal clocks or data lines), or wireless functionalities, the PCB layout process becomes even more intricate and demanding in terms of time and expertise.

Read more: The Untold Truth of Printed Circuit Boards (PCB)

Step 8.1: Generate Final Bill of Materials (BOM)

Creating a final BOM is essential for understanding all the components required for manufacturing the hardware product.

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Read more: BOMs: Bill of Materials – An Essential Guide

Step 8.2: Order PCB Prototypes

Ordering PCB prototypes is a key phase in testing and ensuring the design is ready for mass production.

There are 2 steps in creating electronic prototypes:

  1. Producing the bare, PCB
  2. Having all of electronic components soldered onto the empty board

An output file from your design software, is commonly called a pick-and-place file, shows the exact coordinates of every component placed on the board. Your PCB assembly shop can fully automate the soldering process with this file.

Read more: PCB Assembly: Printed Circuit Board Assembly (PCBA) Process

Step 9: Evaluate, Program, Debug, and Repeat

This iterative process involves evaluating the prototypes, programming, debugging, and refining the design based on feedback and testing results.

This can be a difficult stage in both terms of cost and time. First prototypes rarely work perfectly, and first versions are never ready for mass production.

Read more: Common Quality Issues in Manufacturing

Step 10: Develop Custom Enclosure 3D Model

Develop a 3D model for the custom enclosure of your product. This step is essential for visualizing the final product and preparing for manufacturing.

To develop custom-shaped plastic or metal pieces, you will need a mechanical engineer who has experience in 3D injection molding design.

You may need an industrial designer if your product’s appearance and ergonomics are of utmost importance.

Step 11: Produce Prototypes of the Enclosure

Once the 3D model is ready, produce prototypes of the enclosure. This is crucial for evaluating the design and functionality.

The most common method of building plastic prototypes is to use additive or subtractive processes. In an additive process, like 3D printing, thin lines or layers of plastic are stacked up to create the prototype. Since additive processes can create just about anything, they are by far the most popular.

In subtractive processing, the final product is carved out of a solid block of production plastic. The advantage is that you get to use a plastic resin that exactly matches the final production plastic you’ll use.

In the beginning, you don’t necessarily need your prototype to follow all of the rules for injection molding, but you need to keep them in mind so your design can be easily transitioned to injection molding.

Step 12: Evaluate the Enclosure Prototypes

Testing and evaluating the enclosure prototypes is vital to ensure they meet the design specifications and user needs. A 3D computer model allows you to visualize the enclosure, but nothing compares to holding a real prototype or “real product”.

Step 13: Transition to Injection Molding

Transitioning to injection molding is a significant step in the manufacturing process, especially for mass-produced hardware products.

Since harder metals are more difficult to machine into the required shapes, the more injections required, the higher the mold cost.

Step 14: Certify the Product

All electronic products intended for sale are required to undergo various certifications, with the specific types varying based on the destination country. While these are primarily electrical certifications, it’s crucial to certify the complete product, including its enclosure, rather than just the electronic components.

Therefore, it’s important to consider certification requirements right from the initial design stage. Generally, however, the actual certification process is conducted as late as possible, typically during the manufacturing setup phase.

Certifying the product too early can lead to complications. If there are any design changes after certification, the product would need to be re-certified, which can be time-consuming and costly. Thus, it’s more strategic to wait until the product design is finalized and no further modifications are anticipated.

This approach also provides the advantage of validating the product in the market before incurring the additional expenses associated with these certifications.

By following these phases and steps meticulously, a new electronic hardware product can be developed efficiently, meeting the desired quality and functionality standards. This process is fundamental to transforming an initial idea into a tangible, market-ready product.

Conclusion

In summary, the Electronic Hardware Product Development Process is a comprehensive journey that transforms a concept into a market-ready product. Each phase, from ideation to production, is crucial in ensuring the functionality, reliability, and success of the hardware.

By meticulously following these steps and understanding their importance, developers and companies can effectively navigate the complexities of hardware design, prototyping, and manufacturing.

Embracing this process not only streamlines product development but also significantly enhances the potential for innovation and market impact in the dynamic field of electronic hardware.

With many year experience in the manufacturing industry, Lone Star supports businesses all stages in electronic hardware development process and whole supply chain project. Let Lone Star help you manage supply chain and manufacturing project! Contact us now

Sources:

  1. Ultimate Guide: How to Develop and Prototype a New Electronic Hardware Product in 2023
  2. Hardware development process: from idea to production