Stages of a Hardware (Electronics) Product Development

So, you have a dream product!

In a flash of brilliance, you conjure up an innovative idea for a product. Glowing with pride and determination, you will now try to figure out ways, and means to transform that idea into a physical reality. This is when you start to realize the complexities involved in transforming your idea into a product.

The process of building a product from an idea to mass manufacturing is certainly daunting. Most are unprepared about the costs involved, or the work that goes into getting your product ready. Along this cycle, the unredeemable part is time. With passing time comes frustration and many tend to give up than dig in for the long haul.

We at Edwin Robotics, sell, as well as develop our own products and based on our experience, we would like to discuss about the various stages in developing a product.

  1. Ideation
  2. Proof of Concept (PoC)
  3. Prototype Development
  4. Small Batch Production
  5. Mass Production

Note: the post will not be covering the following topics:

  • Idea validation
  • Must-have features for your MVP

Ideation:

The ideation stage is a time of reflection during which the product is defined in its essence. We start by defining what the product does in under 20 words followed by an initial features list. The initial features list should be as elaborate as possible for someone working on the product to get a clear picture of the requirement.

The product definition will be your north star when it comes to finalizing your initial features list. When in doubt, check whether the cool/nice to have features to be added is in line with the product definition. Clarity eliminates frustration.

To be completed by the end of this stage:

  • Product definition in 20 words or less
  • Initial Features List

Proof of Concept (PoC):

PoC’s typically are the Frankenstein versions of your product used to test out the features list in the fastest and cheapest manner possible using off-the-shelf products and development boards.

The PoC plays a crucial role in the development cycle, it’s our first interaction with the product, that was just an idea earlier. During testing, the features list will be further refined, thereby providing clarity to the initial idea.

During the development of the PoC, modifications and sacrifices will need to be made to the features list due to the unavailability of an off-the-shelf component or complexity in deploying a feature that would delay the overall development.

Remembering Murphy’s law — “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong” — will help keep expectations & timelines at bay, it is recommended to double your initial budget with respect to time and cost to ensure things are completed “on time” and “within budget”.

The development and testing of the PoC is a good time to finalize the features the initial prototype. Also to understand any modifications to the off-the-shelf products that may be required for the reliable operation of the hardware being developed.

To be completed by the end of this stage:

  • Tangible product using off the shelf components.
  • Revised Features List.

About this stage:

  • Relatively cheap and quick.
  • Bulky and Ugly.
  • Able to test the core idea. Worth pursuing or not?

Prototype Development:

The prototype is our first foray into the actual building of the product. It may involve custom circuit design and enclosure design, to begin with.

Unlike building a PoC, during product development, the features list is defined first, and the components are selected accordingly.

The prototype being built does not have the general restrictions present when building a PoC and thus the steps would be the inverse of building a PoC. This is largely because the components being selected are based on the finalized features as opposed to easy to integrate and readily available components.

The process of product development tends to give the illusion that everything under the sun can be incorporated. A time-saving measure is to have a feature freeze at the start of the project, it may be revisited during component selection if a feature is not feasible or will be too expensive/time-consuming to implement.

Product development is iterative by nature and even the simplest of products will require at least 2 iterations.

Depending on the complexity of the project, the initial prototype may use a mix of off-the-shelf and custom designs. This enables the testing and debugging of the designed elements with the confidence that any of the issues faced do not (possibly) stem from the off the shelf hardware used. The off the shelf components can be eliminated in the future iterations of the prototype.

E.g. An Arduino can be used instead of incorporating the microcontroller into the initial prototype to test the proper functioning of other components in the system first.

To be completed by the end of each iteration:

  • Thorough testing of the design.
  • List of, Off-the-shelf components that can be migrated in the next iteration.

To be completed by the end of this stage:

  • Features Freeze.
  • Ready to test prototype/MVP.

About this stage:

  • The product is nearly ready for production.
  • Multiple iterations are required.
  • Can be field-tested.
  • Tends to take longer to develop and is more expensive.

Small batch Production:

Upon completion of the development and testing of the prototype, the product should be ready for a thorough field testing, this typically involves producing a sample batch of 10–20 devices that can be given to your internal team or early adopters for testing. This stage provides crucial information such as:

  • Ease of procuring materials for manufacturing.
  • Complications in manufacturing, assembly, configuration, and installation.
  • Initial feedback for the final product.

Upon production, it would be a good time to review the entire manufacturing process and see how it can be further optimized to reduce costs during mass production. In line with the nature of product development, multiple batches will need to be produced to ensure that the manufacturing process has been optimized.

To be completed by the end of this stage:

  • Optimize manufacturing process.
  • Initial Product feedback on component and material selection.
  • Vendor and BoM Freeze with lead times.
  • Manufacturer shortlisting.

Mass Production:

Mass production checklists are worth an article on its own, we will be covering a basic checklist for completeness of the stages of product development.

Entering mass production comes with its own hurdles. Once a timeline is set in place for mass production, the shortlisted manufacturers will need to be revisited to check on their availability, ensure the vendors selected still have the inventory of the parts required in stock, or if there is any change to the lead time.

A testing procedure is crucial for mass production to ensure that the hardware is built to specification and fully operational — Remember Murphy’s Law. Test gigs will need to be made covering all aspects of the products to catch any defective products.

Pre-check for mass manufacturing:

  • Product testing procedure.
  • Re-check BoM lead time.
  • Finalize manufacturer(s).

Upon starting mass production, an initial batch is first produced and tested to ensure everything is within specifications before continuing with the complete batch. This will reduce if not eliminate any possibility of production issues due to any last-minute changes.

The key element to remember throughout is that anything not tested is to be considered faulty.

Founder at Edwin Robotics