Developing the electronics, enclosure and software simultaneously is the ideal situation. Their development has to be staggered a bit, but there can be considerable overlap between these different parts of your product development.
The one limitation is when you’re really restricted on how much capital you have for development. If you’re developing the electronics, enclosure and the software all at one time, that can be a really significant drain on your finances.
Entrepreneurs that are bootstrapped may want to spread some of this out. But if you have the money, and you’re just looking to get the market as fast as possible, then you can do the development simultaneously.
I recommend you start by estimating the size of your Printed Circuit Board (PCB).
You need to first select all the components – the connectors, the microchips, etc., that are going to go on the PCB. Then, with the right experience you can get a pretty close estimate of the size of the PCB. This is what I do as part of my custom report service.
At this point, you can have your industrial designer, mechanical engineer, or 3D modeling expert start on the enclosure design.
In the end, the PCB will be somewhat different than your original estimate. It’s not going to be exact, although you could precisely lock it in, especially if you err on the slightly larger side.
If you think your product could fit it on a board that’s 2” x 2”, but you have room for up to a 3” x 3” board, then you could potentially go with the 3” x 3” board since your confidence will be very high that requirement can be met.
Having a slightly larger PCB is not going to add significant cost to your manufacturing cost. In most cases, assuming your initial estimate on the PCB size is pretty accurate, it will be easy to make slight modifications to your enclosure design to fit the final dimensions of the PCB.
You will want to ensure that there’s ample communication between the electrical engineer that’s designing the printed circuit board and the industrial designer. You don’t want either of them going off on their own for too long.
If one or both of them aren’t sticking with the original estimated PCB size, that can cause issues once you have to make those pieces fit together.
Just make sure to monitor this closely. Make sure that the EE and the industrial designer can communicate ideally through you.
You can connect them up for direct communication, but make sure you’re always copied on all the emails. You don’t want to be in a situation where you have engineers communicating a lot without you being involved. This is your baby!
So far we’ve discussed how to do the enclosure and the electronics design simultaneously once you have the PCB size estimated.
You can actually do your software development at the same time too. A lot of people think that you have to completely finish the hardware, get a prototype back, and then begin working on the firmware.
Well, that will be true to some extent, and to completely finalize the firmware program it will require that you have the final hardware.
But you can begin immediately to make significant progress on the firmware by purchasing a development kit that is based on the same microcontroller you will use in your production design.
For instance, I’m a big fan of the STM32 line of microcontrollers from STMicroelectronics. These are Cortex-M based controllers. ST sells various development kits that use many of the different iterations of their microcontrollers.
For instance, one of them is called ST Discovery Kits, and they sell others called Nucleo boards. You can purchase those and begin programming and developing the code as soon as you’ve finalized your microcontroller selection.
This will allow you to get a significant head start on the firmware development.
You can also begin, at that time, doing some of the initial work if you require a mobile application for your product. You can start defining your app’s aesthetics, layout, menus and core functionality.
Once you have that working, and if you’ve got the firmware functioning, you can begin doing some of the development work on how the mobile app will communicate with the firmware program.
You’ll be able to do both the firmware and any mobile app development pretty much around the same time that you’re doing the electronics and the enclosure design if you start off with a development kit.
Just make sure that you go with a development kit that uses the same or a very close relative of the same microcontroller you’ll be using in the production unit.
If you’re using a 32-bit STM32 microcontroller for production, then there’s not going to be a lot of benefit to developing your firmware on an Arduino, which uses an 8-bit ATmega controller from Microchip.
It can still be somewhat helpful if an Arduino is the only kit you feel comfortable programming. Some of the basic code and algorithms can be carried over to a different microcontroller, but it requires major rework of the code.
So, just to sum it all up, remember that you can simultaneously develop the electronics, the enclosure and the software. They will have to be staggered a little bit, but there’s also significant overlap.
Developing all of these simultaneously should drastically speed up the time it takes to get your product to market.
Don’t forget, the one downside to this strategy is it will drain any development capital that you have more quickly. So be sure you have a good idea of your development costs for the electronics, enclosure, and software well before you start. Knowing these costs upfront will allow you to optimize the entire development process.
I hope you found this FAQ useful. If you have any further questions on this topic, or any questions you’d like me to answer in a future FAQ, please just leave it in the Comments section below.