Ultimate Guide – How to Develop a New Electronic Hardware Product

Article Technical Rating: 7 out of 10

So you want to develop a new electronic hardware product?

Let me start with the good news – it’s possible! This is true regardless of your technical level and you don’t necessarily need to be an engineer to develop a new product (although it certainly helps).

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, maker, inventor, start-up, or small company this guide will help you understand the new product development process!

However, I won’t lie to you. It’s a long, difficult journey to launch a new hardware product (nothing great in life is ever easy). In order to succeed there is so much to learn.

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Essential Guide – The Cost to Develop, Scale, and Manufacture a New Electronic Hardware Product

Article Technical Rating: 5 out of 10

How much does it cost to develop a new product?

Most entrepreneurs drastically underestimate all of the costs required to develop, scale and manufacture a new electronic hardware product. This is one of the main reasons so many hardware startups ultimately fail.

Don’t make the fatal mistake of underestimating the costs, or worse yet not estimating them at all, because in order to succeed to market it’s necessary to know your costs. Without knowing all of the costs you’ll either run out of money before your product is market-ready, or you’ll find yourself developing a product that can’t ever be manufactured profitably.

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Should I Keep My Product Idea a Secret to Prevent It From Being Stolen?

Should you worry about someone stealing your idea? The simple answer is no, not really.

The most common myth believed by new entrepreneurs is that someone may steal their amazing idea if they don’t keep it secret.

The problem with this myth is that it stems from the core belief that your idea has value. Let me brutally honest with you, an idea alone has no real value!

Coming up with an idea is easy, and almost everyone has ideas for new products. The truly hard part is executing on the idea.

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Crowdfunding for Hardware Startups

Article Technical Rating: 1 out of 10

Developing and launching a new hardware product is expensive. It’s also incredibly risky. Fortunately, there is a way to help solve both of these problems: crowdfunding.

Most hardware startups know about crowdfunding, but how do you make it a success? You just create a campaign page about your amazing new product on crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or CrowdSupply. The world will then come rushing in to give you money! Piece of cake, right?

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Should I create a Proof-of-Concept prototype for my new product?

As the name implies, the purpose of a Proof-of-Concept (POC) prototype is to prove your product concept. A POC answers if a product is feasible. Whereas, a standard prototype answers how to make your product.

In most cases a POC prototype is only used internally to determine the practicality of a new product. Customers will rarely see a POC prototype. When demonstrating your product to customers you will usually need something much closer to the manufacturable version of your product.

So do you need a POC prototype for your product? The simple answer is it depends, since there are multiple reasons to create a proof-of-concept prototype.

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From Arduino Prototype to Manufacturable Product

Article Technical Rating: 7 out of 10

Creating a prototype based on an Arduino (or Genuino outside the US) is an excellent start to bringing a new electronic hardware product to market.

The Arduino is an ideal platform for proving your product concept. However, there is still a lot of engineering work required to turn it into a product that can be manufactured and sold.

The most straightforward strategy to transition from an Arduino prototype to a truly sellable product is to use the same microcontroller as used in the Arduino. Although there may be higher performance and lower cost microcontrollers available, the simplest option is to just use the same microcontroller.

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How long does it take to develop a new product and get it to market?

Last week I answered the most common question I am asked. This week I answer the second most common question. Obviously everyone wants to know how long this whole process is going to take to bring a new hardware product to market.

The simple answer is: a long time. The more accurate answer depends on many variables, including:

Variable #1 = You

Yes, you are the biggest determining factor to how long it will take to develop and manufacture your product. The truth is no one will ever work as hard or as fast as you (and any co-founders).

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How to Choose the Best Development Kit: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

Article Technical Rating: 6 out of 10

If you’re looking to build a proof-of-concept (POC) prototype for a new product idea, or perhaps you’re just wanting to learn more about electronics development, then the first step is to choose a development kit (also called a development board).

A development kit will serve as the brains of your project and will communicate with all the interconnected electronic components.

But here’s the thing about choosing development kits — it’s a super-complex decision, with lots of technical attributes that don’t seem to make a lot of sense, especially if you’re just getting started with electronics.

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How can I get my product to market if I have no money or experience?

One of the hardest things for new entrepreneurs to comprehend is that your idea is worthless. Sorry but that’s the cold, hard truth. Almost everyone has ideas for new products, but very few have the determination to turn it into a real product.

You must remember that the value is in the execution not the idea. This is also why no one steals product ideas, instead they wait and “steal” successful, proven products. They know that an unproven idea is worth nothing.

This means that to succeed with your product you’re going to have to commit to doing more than just coming up with the great idea. The idea is the easy part, but nothing of real value is ever easy.

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Introduction to Injection Molding

Pictorial of an injection molding machine (supplied courtesy of Rutland Plastics).

Article Technical Rating: 7 out of 10

Unless your electronic product will be marketed solely to DIYers and electronics hobbyists it’s going to need an enclosure. Most likely this enclosure will be made of plastic.

Although 3D printing is the technology used for prototyping plastic parts, injection molding is the technology used for manufacturing.

Injection molding is going be a big part of your journey to market. Regardless of your technical background you at least need to understand injection molding at a basic level.

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How to Hire Low-Cost Product Developers But Get High-Value Results

Article Technical Rating: 3 out of 10

Are product developers in the U.S. better than those in other countries? The simple answer is no. When I was a design engineer for Texas Instruments, about half of the engineers I worked with were from other countries.

This was because big tech companies know that to hire the best people you need to expand your search to a global scale.

Between Texas Instruments and Predictable Designs I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the brightest people in the world.

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Understanding Certifications for Electronic Hardware Products

Article Technical Rating: 5 out of 10

Most electronic products require multiple certifications in order to be sold. The certifications required depends on the product specifics and the countries in which it will be marketed.

The cost and time needed to obtain all of the certifications necessary for your product is one of the most overlooked steps to bringing a new hardware product to market.

Certifications may not be the most captivating subject, but to succeed it’s essential you understand the certifications required for your product.

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Review of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Solutions

Article Technical Rating: 8 out of 10

Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) is definitely one of the most popular technologies for new electronic hardware products. There are good reasons.

BLE is an extremely low power wireless technology that can be powered from a tiny battery for potentially years. Even better, it’s also relatively simple to implement and very affordable.

There are two ways to incorporate wireless functionality, such as BLE, into a new product: either use a module or use a System-on-a-Chip (SoC) solution.

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Why You Should “Pre-Design” Your Product

Article Technical Rating: 6 out of 10

Define your product, design it, then manufacture it. Right? Well, not exactly. Although, this is the process most entrepreneurs follow, it’s not the process you should follow.

Before you jump head first into fully designing your product you really need to look at the big picture. This will allow you to answer many questions earlier than otherwise.

The best way to achieve this early insight is by inserting an intermediate step between defining your product and designing it. This intermediate step is a pre-design, or preliminary design.

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Introduction to Microcontrollers

Article Technical Rating: 7 out of 10

Almost every electronic product needs a “brain” of some sorts to control the various product functions. But what “brain” is best for your product?

Start by deciding if you need a microcontroller unit (MCU) or a microprocessor unit (MPU). Nearly all electronic products use one of these two types of processor chips, and some products use both.

Is your product complex with a need to process significant amounts of data? Does your product require an operating system such as Android or Linux? If so, then you probably need to use a microprocessor.

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16 Secret Tips for Hardware Entrepreneurs to Save Money and Reduce Risk

Article Technical Rating: 4 out of 10

Bringing a new electronic product to market is generally difficult, risky, and expensive. To succeed, and make it to eventual profitability, you need to focus your early efforts on minimizing your costs and risk.

Your first goal should be to get your product to market as cheap as possible, as fast as possible, all while minimizing your risk. You have to think positive and have confidence in your product, but you should always strive to keep your investment as low as possible. 

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How to Prototype Your New Product

Article Technical Rating: 7 out of 10

Prototyping your product is all about learning. Each time you create a prototype version you will, or should, learn something new. Start with the most simple, low cost way to prototype your product. Then, with each prototype iteration you should progress closer and closer to a production-quality prototype.

During the early stages of prototyping it will be best to separate your product into different types of prototypes, each with its own goal. The most common strategy is to separate the appearance and feel of your product from the functionality. These are called looks-like prototypes and works-like prototypes.

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The Definitive Guide to Pricing Your New Electronic Hardware Product

Article Technical Rating: 5 out of 10

Setting the price for your new hardware product is one of your most important decisions. You need to get your pricing right as early as possible. If you mess this up it will be difficult to fix later. The pressure is on.

Pricing is a complex decision with many variables. In fact, there are entire books written on the subject of pricing. Ideally, pricing is something you should begin thinking about from day one while validating your product idea. If you set the price too low then you won’t make enough profit. If you set the price too high then your product won’t sell well.

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Why Hardware is Hard, But Easier Than Ever

Article Technical Rating: 5 out of 10

Hardware is hard is so commonly said it has become a cliché. Yeah, you know it’s hard, but why exactly? In this article I will discuss this in detail.

Fortunately, there is good news too – developing and launching a new hardware product is easier now than it’s ever been. There have been many advancements in recent years that make it much more feasible for an entrepreneur to bring a new hardware product to market.

Throughout this article, I’ll also share with you various strategies for surpassing the obstacles in your path to market.

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13 Reasons Why Hardware Startups Fail (and How to Make Sure Yours Doesn’t)

Article Technical Rating: 4 out of 10

Most of us have learned something from our mistakes, but have you ever learned from the mistakes of others? Studying the failures of others can actually ensure that you don’t make the same mistakes they did.

When it comes to new hardware startups, there are so many possible mistakes to be made. There’s a reason behind the cliché “Hardware is hard!”. You would be wise to study in detail how other hardware startups have gone wrong.

Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of hardware entrepreneurs, and I’ve been one myself. I’ve also spent considerable time reviewing “autopsy reports” for hardware startup failures.

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How to Build a GSM Cellular Panic Alarm Using an Arduino

Article Technical Rating: 8 out of 10

While security cameras do a decent job of passively monitoring background activities, they do little to deter intruders or prevent emergencies like fire, flood or theft. Of course, you can always call 9-1-1 in case an unfortunate event occurs, but shouldn’t security be more proactive, rather than being simply reactive?

In this article, I’m going to show you how you can build a proactive panic alarm system that can be triggered from a wireless remote (in case you’re home) or from your smartphone (if you’re outdoors). The system would send instant SMS alerts to the preconfigured mobile numbers in case of an emergency, and function normally even if the electrical or network cabling of your home is cut-off (since it runs on GSM network).

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How to Turn Your Raspberry Pi Into an Amazon Echo/Dot Using Alexa

Article Technical Rating: 8 out of 10

When Amazon launched its flagship product the Amazon Echo in 2015, it was nothing more than a voice-controlled speaker. But it’s been barely two years, and the intelligent voice assistant has already conquered the consumer electronics market. It has reached more than 5 million homes, and continues to be one of the most popular home automation gadgets.

While the widespread popularity of the device can largely be attributed to its intuitive voice processing capabilities, the fact that Amazon opened up its platform to collaborators for developing voice apps accelerated the early adoption. Alexa’s dominance was evident at CES 2017, where almost every concept design from consumer brands like Ford, Whirlpool and LG had a built-in Alexa integration.

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PCB Design Software – Which One is Best?

Article Technical Rating: 7 out of 10

There are numerous software packages available for designing printed circuit boards (PCBs), too many in fact.

That being said, there are three PCB design packages that are the most popular: Altium, Eagle, and OrCad.

For a struggling hardware entrepreneur developing a new electronic product or even for a freelance engineer just getting started, all three of these packages are probably prohibitively expensive. Launching a new product is already rather expensive without also spending thousands of dollars on just design software.

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Home Automation with an Arduino – A Basic Tutorial

Article Technical Rating: 6 out of 10

From controlling the room lights with your smartphone to scheduling events to occur automatically, home automation has taken convenience to a whole new level. Instead of using mechanical switches, you can now conveniently control all the devices in your home from your fingertips.

However, that comfort comes with a rather expensive price tag.

For instance, a normal LED bulb costs $1-$2.  The Philips Hue smart home kit is available for $130 with each bulb costing $30.  Wemo Smart plugs that allow any electrical device to be controlled from your smartphone start at $30.

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Linear and Switching Voltage Regulators – An Introduction

Article Technical Rating: 7 out of 10

Voltage regulators are an essential part of most electronic hardware products. The function of a voltage regulator is to provide a stable voltage on the output of the regulator while the input voltage can be variable.

Voltage regulators can be generally classified as linear or switching.

Linear Regulators

Linear regulators can be thought of as variable resistance devices, where the internal resistance is varied in order to maintain a constant output voltage. In reality, the variable resistance is provided by means of a transistor controlled by an amplifier feedback loop.

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Teardown of an Internet of Things (IoT) Wireless Device with Bluetooth Low-Energy and ZigBee

Article Technical Rating: 7 out of 10

The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the hottest areas of new product development. By 2020 it is estimated there will be 50 billion IoT devices.

Since all of the products I design are protected by NDA, I’ve decided to instead show you the details behind a IoT reference design from Texas Instruments (TI) that offers Bluetooth Low-Energy, ZigBee, and 6LoWPAN wireless protocols.

TI has developed a IoT reference design they call SensorTag that’s purpose is to showcase their IoT system-on-a-chip called the CC2650.

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Hiring an Electrical Engineer to Develop Your New Electronic Hardware Product

Article Technical Rating: 6 out of 10

Developing a new electronic product absolutely requires that you hire the right electrical engineer(s).  As with medicine, electrical engineering is a broad field of study with countless specializations.

Not all engineers are created equal. If you hire the wrong designer your project may take twice as long, cost twice as much, and not even work.

Regardless of the engineer you hire, one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself and lower your risk is to also hire a second independent engineer to review the work of the primary designer.

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How Much Does a Prototype Cost?

Article Technical Rating: 6 out of 10

One of the first steps on the road to developing and marketing a new product is the creation of a prototype. The cost of a prototype can be broken into two parts: the engineering cost to design it, and the actual cost to produce it.

The total cost of the prototype (assuming an electronic product) usually includes the cost to manufacture the custom Printed Circuit Board (PCB), plus the cost of assembly, plus the cost of the components, plus the cost of the enclosure prototype.

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The 5 Steps of Product Development for a New Electronic Hardware Product

Article Technical Rating: 5 out of 10

The new product development process for an electronic product (or any product) is by no means simple. It’s a pretty overwhelming task especially for those with limited resources such as entrepreneurs, makers, start-ups and small companies.

However, the process can be simplified by breaking it down into five steps. The steps summarized below will get you to the point of having a fully functional prototype.

There are many other steps to getting a product to the point of being manufactured in volume and sold to the general public.

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PCB Design – The Top 5 Mistakes Made on Printed Circuit Board Layout

Article Technical Rating: 9 out of 10

There are a few mistakes that I see over and over when it comes to hardware design.

More specifically, I see errors with the design of the Printed Circuit Board (PCB) that connects and holds all of the electronic components together.

Okay, lets now look at 5 of the most common PCB mistakes that I see when reviewing other designs.

#1 – Incorrect landing patterns

I’ll start with the mistake that I’ve been known to make myself.  Shocking I know.

All PCB design software tools include libraries of commonly used electronic components. These libraries include both the schematic symbol, as well as the PCB landing pattern. All is good as long as you stick with using the components in these libraries.

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PCB Design – Making Your PCB as Small as Possible

Article Technical Rating: 9 out of 10

When it comes to new hardware products many times smaller is better. This is especially true with wearable tech products and Internet of Things (IoT) products.

One of the keys to a smaller hardware product is of course a smaller Printed Circuit Board (PCB).

A technology for reducing PCB size that shouldn’t be overlooked if small size is critical for your product is the use of blind and buried vias. Their use allows the components on a PCB to be packed much tighter.

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Bluetooth or WiFi – Which is Best for Your New Wireless Product?

Article Technical Rating: 8 out of 10

There are numerous wireless standards at your disposal when creating a new product. Each choice has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. It really depends on your goal.

In this article we’re going to look at the three most popular short-range wireless standards including: Bluetooth Classic, Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE), and WiFi Direct.

The Need for Speed

If high speed data transmission is the most critical requirement for your product then most likely WiFi Direct will be the best choice. Everyone has heard of WiFi, but few know of WiFi Direct. Although that is changing.

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How to Develop a Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) Product

Article Technical Rating: 8 out of 10

In this article, which was published by Make: Magazine, I explain how to develop a new product that incorporates Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) technology, also called Bluetooth Smart. If you plan to sell a new electronic product that uses BLE then you definitely want to read this article.

Bluetooth Low-Energy is the most simple wireless functionality that you can implement in a new product. It also happens to probably be the lowest cost option for wireless functionality.

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How to Fund Your Electronic Hardware Startup

Article Technical Rating: 1 out of 10

It’s an expensive process developing and marketing a new physical product, especially if your product is complex.

Unless you have tens of thousands of dollars that you can throw into it, you’re most likely going to need to get creative when it comes to funding your new startup.

Funding Development

Unless you’re an engineer, you’ll need to outsource most of the development to an experienced engineer, or two.  That being said, it’s always best if you can take your product’s development as far as possible on your own.  If you’re not technical, then you should probably find someone technical to be your co-founder!

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Developing a New Wireless Hardware Product? – Here’s Your Most Important Decision

Article Technical Rating: 9 out of 10

When developing a new wireless product there is one decision that matters most.  This decision not only affects technical specifications like transmission range, battery life, signal quality and product size, but it also dictates where you can even sell the product.

This priority one decision that you must make as early as possible is the selection of the carrier frequency.  This is the frequency of the signal that is used to “carry” the data from one device to another.  Granted an electrical engineer will be needed for this process, but any entrepreneur or startup developing a wireless product should also understand the process at a high level.

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Radio Control Car

How a Radio-Controlled Car Works

Article Technical Rating: 10 out of 10

I recently bought my son his first radio-controlled car. Playing with it reminded me how as a young child I loved to get radio-controlled toys so I could tear them open to figure out how they worked. The magic of the electronics is what fascinated me. It was this early curiosity that helped drive me toward a career in electronics engineering and helping entrepreneurs develop new electronic products.

Unfortunately, I never figured out the details of how one worked. Once I began the serious study of electronics other areas captured my interest. So I decided to take apart my son’s new car to finally see how one worked.

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5 Reasons Why Turnkey Product Development is a Bad Idea

Article Technical Rating: 1 out of 10

As an entrepreneur, or small company, I know it’s tempting to hire a turnkey product design firm to completely develop your new product from start to finish. The less technical you are the more this is probably true.

Some of you may be thinking: “I’m not an engineer. I just want to hire someone to take my idea and turn it into a finished product. They can just wake me up when they have it done.”

But that type of thinking is a big mistake for various reasons including:

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