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3 Tips For Taking Your Electronic Product From Concept to Reality

January 9th, 2018

Electronic Product Ideas & Concepts

So you have a great idea. In fact, it’s the perfect idea. Following hours of market research, coffee-fueled brainstorming sessions and more than a few false starts, you feel like you’ve finally landed on a concept that could connect with an audience, solve a problem, or fill a niche…but now what?

Taking those ideas from concept through to reality, however, requires a very specific set of skills. Ideas? They’re a dime a dozen. Whether those ideas are worth more than the paper they’re scribbled on depends entirely on your ability to execute on these concepts.

This process can be intricate, sometimes expensive, and oftentimes time-consuming. Are you in a position to manage the design and manufacturing process? How about prototyping and testing? More than that, do you know how to pitch this concept to investors, or sell the finished product to your target market? You’re going to face challenges and hurdles every step of the way, so you need to be prepared to evaluate, address, and move past these as they come up.

Whether you’re designing a commercial electronics product or an in-house solution, you’ll require creativity, smart business senses, and an entrepreneurial attitude in order to take this concept to reality without breaking the bank. With the right electronics design company working with you, as well as some of the tips we’re outlining today, you should be able to make it through the process unscathed.

1. Crowdfunding is the future

Even the smallest project requires a substantial financial investment, especially if you’re planning on bringing it to market. The journey to securing this funding was one littered with stuffy boardrooms and business suits, but nowadays the product development landscape looks a little different. Projects are no longer solely reliant on the large investment of just one, but rather the smaller investment of many. We’re talking, of course, about crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding is fast becoming the revelation of the modern product development era. With it, businesses, product developers, and even lone wolf creators like you are able to skip the middleman and take your concepts directly to the people you’re trying to sell them to.

This form of funding hit the headlines back in 2012 when videogame developer Double Fine kickstarted a revival of one of their most beloved genres to the tune of US$3,300,000. It hasn’t looked back since. Countless new inventions, technologies, and everyday devices have found success through Kickstarter and other online crowdfunding platforms like RocketHub and Indiegogo, without a traditional investor in sight.

Do you have an idea and the ability to sell it? Then chances are you could harness the power of the people who want your product to market. Some popular crowdfunding platforms include:

2. Prototyping is important

Research, theory, and hastily-scribbled sketches are all well and good, but they won’t tell you everything you need to know about your project. This is why the prototyping phase plays such a vital role in the success or failure of your concept.

How so? Prototyping gives you the opportunity to go hands-on with your product in a way virtual models and mockups don’t, and allow you to catch – and react to – any issues that could cripple a product that finds its way to store shelves without thorough testing.

If an idea isn’t going to pan out? You’ll want to know sooner rather than later. The former grants you the opportunity to tweak, adjust, and, if need be, return to the drawing board with minimal outlay and limited risk, while the latter sees you investing time and money into a project that could fail.

It’s important to note that prototyping differs from production in a few key ways, namely in outlay and cost. A production-level product may feature lavish materials and high-end finishes, but prototypes forgo this form for function.

Remember, this is the testing phase; no one cares what it looks like. In fact, many of the world’s leading electronic products looked surprisingly bare-bones and dare we say ugly during the prototyping phase: a mess of wires and cheap plastic. And at this phase, that’s all that matters. You need to know it works, long before ensuring it’s presentable and marketable to consumers.

Prototypes of electronic projects, for example, often make use of breadboards, PCB boards, microcontrollers, and various other prototyping equipment for quick, easy iteration without costly outlay on expensive hardware that just isn’t required, before advancing to a final design with production quality materials and mass-market production. Getting the prototype right can and often does determine the viability of a new product. It doesn’t, unfortunately, guarantee success. Do it right and the product might succeed. Do it wrong, however, and the project will struggle just to break even.

3. Marketing matters

The design, prototyping, and development phase all present their own hurdles, but even as tools are downed and production ramps up, you’re not necessarily in the clear. The success or failure of your ability to market a product can mean the difference between bringing it to store shelves, and then ensuring it leaves those shelves just as quickly.

In order to give your product the best shot at success, you require a marketing campaign that’s tailored to your product, its strengths, and its target audience. This includes everything from television and radio advertising, online and social media, as well as trade shows and conventions.

If you’re after a few ideas, some of these sites might help:

  • Arduino
    Is your project based on or built from Arduino? Arduino are always looking to feature new projects and products based on their tech, so drop them a line. Or drop by forums and go direct to the public.
  • Autodesk
    Use Autodesk in the creation process? Create a userpage, tag it, and upload it. It may well be featured if it stands out enough!
  • Maker Faire
    Find yourself nearby one of Maker Faire’s locations? Hold events all the time, and there may be one near you. Perfect place to showcase creativity, new products and outstanding creations.

The 9 Proven Steps For Choosing An Electronics Design Company

January 9th, 2018

Electronics Product Design & Development Diagram

So, you or your team have an idea for an electronic product, device or application. What’s more, you’re pretty sure – no, absolutely certain – that it will revolutionise, if not the world, then your back pockets. After all, you’ve done the hard yards. You’ve identified a gap in the market, you’ve carried out the necessary research, and you’ve established a viable product that will meet this need.

The problem? You don’t have the manpower, tools or expertise to bring this product to life, let alone to market. So where to from here? How do you go about turning that idea into a potential moneymaker, while also meeting strict time and financial budgets that will ultimately determine the success or failure of this project?

Whether it’s consulting on a project, executing on a single task, or managing the development program, electronic design companies exist for the sole purpose of bringing their years of experience to bare on your best ideas. From the simplest technical consultation, through to complex Printed Circuit Board (PCB) designs, embedded software design, firmware development through to small scale prototyping through and commercial-scale manufacturing.

If this speaks to you, then it sounds like you need an electronics design company. But how do you find one, let alone one that can meet your very specific needs? It can be a tricky search, especially when your decision can mean the difference between getting your product to market on time, and getting caught up in costly delays and setbacks. Sure, you could switch companies at a later date, but is that a mistake you can afford to make?

The steps we’ve outlined below are intended as a guide to help you through this decision making process, and ensure you’ve considered all possibilities before you sign on the dotted line.

1. Research Your Options

Research Your Development Options

Research forms the foundation of any informed business decision. So like the products you plan to make, or the markets you want to enter, deciding on an electronics design company requires an initial investment of sheer time to compile a list of relevant options. To expedite the process and cut down on overheads, this phase should also see you gathering as much information on these prospective options as you can.

For example, say you have the following two candidates in front of you. The first is an electronics design startup, with little real-world experience and no past clients. The second? It’s a company with 10+ years of experience, with a history of successful projects, happy clients, and industry-wide recognition.

Which would you choose?

When push comes to shove, there’s no comparing a newcomer in the industry to a seasoned developer with a proven track record. So while the decision to work with a new company may pan out for you, a calculated risk is still just that: a risk.

From here, highlight the companies that have experience within a specific field similar to the one you intend to enter, or are flexible and versatile enough to adapt to your needs. If your projects requires microcontroller design and development, for example, look for companies with a history in the field.

At the end of the day, you want to know that your project is in the experienced hands of a developer that knows how to deal with the challenges that inevitably arise over the course of any project.

2. Size Matters

With a list of reputable companies in hand, you need to start considering the size of the company itself, as well as the inherent pros and cons that come with working with either.

Larger companies often suffer from an unfair stigma that they’ll treat you, the customer, as ‘just another number’. While small companies, in comparison, are known for providing personal, individualised service that can better suit your specific needs. They often become as personally invested in your project as your are because, after all, your success is their success too.

On the flipside, larger companies often have access to a much larger pool of resources, which can help speed up the process and ensure your project is moving through the production pipeline at a comfortable speed.

The ideal scenario is a company that ticks all of these boxes, whether it’s a large company that operates on the personal level of a small one, or a smaller company with the resources of a larger one. And don’t despair, these companies are out there. Either way, you want to join forces with a company that’s going to treat you and your project as if it were their own, irrespective of size, resources or annual turnover.

Look for signs of this approach early. How are your initial enquiries being followed up? What kind of language is being used? How are you treated during those initial conversations, and later when you’re talking to higher-ups within the company?

How a company treats new and potential customers is often a sign of how they’ll treat you a day, a week or a month down the track. Judge them based on your personal criteria, and choose wisely.

3. An Experienced Management Team

Let’s face it, you want the most skilled and experienced staff members working on your project, right? Which means a large part of your decision is reliant on just how well a company’s development team is managed. It follows that common questions to ask would be ‘Is there a strong leadership within the company?’, or ‘At the end of the day, who will have the final say on hard issues?’.

Experienced, results-driven management teams don’t just sit on the sidelines, instead they offer up new ideas or ways to improve your project because they care about it, and want it to become the success you already know it can be.

Don’t always take this at face value, though. Oftentimes, companies can play the tried-and-tested bait-and-switch. That is, you’ll be lead to believe that senior staff are working on your project, when in reality much of the work is being carried out by subcontractors. Stay vigilant, ask questions, and find the answers you need to make an informed decision.

4. A Reliable Project Management System

Project Management Diagram For Your Electronic Project

A quality electronic design company should be able to show you how they intend to take your ideas from the drawing board to the store shelf, and what it will take to do so, so look for signs of a good project management system within the company. This is one of the most effective ways to circumvent problems before they arise. Questions you need answers to here include:

  • How will the process be executed?
  • What should I expect during the process?
  • How will the project be managed?
  • How will activities be tracked and resources allocated in order to meet goals?
  • How often will you be updated on progress etc?

Risk management should also be considered. Whether it’s a faulty product, human error, or unforeseen circumstances, even the best companies still suffer from downtime. What separates the good from the bad is their response. So, find out what the company’s risk management policies are like. Ask how your timeline would be affected if something goes wrong at a given stage, and find out what the worst case scenario is if a situation like this does arise.

5. Paperwork, Paperwork, Paperwork

Documentation is critical for any company, but even moreso for a design company that is rapidly working through numerous hardware, software and design revisions in a short period of time. A trusted electronics design company should be able to provide you with details on this process, including systematic design reviews, change tracking and a detailed project plan that highlights what is required, and when it will be achieved.

Solid quality control is also crucial. A completed product is no good if one in three are falling apart. This is often achieved through robust design verification testing that ensures the products being created are performing to the intended design specifications.

Any company should be able to provide you with a draft or template document that outlines their standard list of procedures, which will then be adapted to fit the specific needs of your project.

6. The People Factor

You may have heard this one before: ‘People buy things because they like the person selling the product.’ And it’s true! Chemistry between a company and those enlisting their services is crucial to the future success of any project. And it’s on this quality alone that you can often differentiate between the good and the great.

It’s here, with a list of potentials in hand, that you need to start evaluating who you’ll be working with within these organisations should you enlist their services – In most cases, this will be the project manager – and get a feeling for just how well you get along with them. Are they the kind of person you can see yourself working with on a regular basis? Do you feel they’re skilled enough to guide your project to completion?

It may seem small, but it’s important to evaluate a firm’s team and their ‘bedside manner’, so to speak, before you sign on. They may get the job done either way, but you don’t want to have to fight, kick, and scream to get there.

7. A Portfolio & References

Electronic Project Design Portfolio

Who has this company worked with before? What does their portfolio look like? Did they meet the needs of those customers? Did they deliver the product on time, to a high standard, and on budget? These are all important questions that can tell you the quality of a design company.

Like anyone, design companies want to put their best foot forward, so there’s always a chance they’ll cherry-pick their best clients, or showcase beautiful product designs that never left the concept artist’s sketchbook. It’s one thing to conceptualise products, but it’s a whole other thing to successfully commercialise them.

Armed with this knowledge, dig deeper. Find out who else the company has worked with, particularly those within a similar field as your product, and get in touch. Find out how the process went, how successful it was, the ins and outs of the project management, financials, and team chemistry.

Did it succeed in increasing market share or sales? Did it help to position the client within their desired market? This is usually where you’ll find red flags if they’re there, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.

8. A Knack For Innovation

The expertise, thinking, processes and ingenuity – not to mention creativity – required to reinvent the wheel rather than just create a variation on a time-honoured design is more than you might think. There’s just no comparison.

If you’re planning on leading the charge on the cutting edge of electronics, look for a product development company that isn’t going to leave you in the lurch at the concept phase. Innovative concepts and swish designs aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on if due thought isn’t given to the manufacturability, human factors, profitability and end-user experience.

If they don’t know how to make your idea work, you’re wasting money, so find a company that can take that initial concept all the way across the finish line.

9. Repeat Clients

The sure sign of any successful business is repeat clients. If they’ve done it before? Chances are they can do it again. Switching design companies isn’t cheap or easy, as we’ve explored, so a client deciding to do so points to them being unhappy with whoever they were working with.

With this in mind, seek out companies that consistently work on multiple projects for the same clients. If they’re sticking around for 2, 3 or 4 products (if not more) then this is a sign they’re not just happy with the technical execution, but also the project & financial management, team chemistry, and other deciding factors.

It’s Time To Make Your Choice

Trusting anyone with your best or brightest ideas is a difficult task, which is why choosing the right electronics design company can be such a tough decision to make. Even more so when you’ve already invested so much time and money into conceptualisation, R&D and market research.

The above criteria are just a few of the numerous factors you should consider when making your decision. The size and experience of the company, how they’ve treated past clients – and how they’ll treat you – as well as their eye for innovation are all key factors that need to be considered before you can decide. By keeping these in mind, you’ll ensure your decision will benefit your product, your company, and contribute to its long-term success long after the tools are downed for the last time.

Electronic Breadboards: Your Guide To Breadboarding

January 9th, 2018

What Is An Electronic Breadboard?

An electronic breadboard is a piece of hardware specially designed for making experimental models of electronic circuits without the need to solder, making it the perfect design tool for beginners, DiY enthusiasts and professionals alike. By removing the permanence often associated with other real-world prototyping systems, a breadboard removes the barrier to entry and allows you to quickly build, test and prototype electronic circuits free from the worries of ‘messing something up’.

Found everywhere from a hobbyist’s lamp-lit desk through to classrooms the world over, their ease of use, accessibility and comparatively cheap asking price make breadboards the go-to tool whether you’re creating temporary prototypes, testing ideas or simply taking your first steps into the limitless world of possibilities that is circuit design.

Where Does The Breadboard Get Its Name?

The origins of the breadboard can be traced back to the most unlikely of places: the kitchen. In the past, slabs of wood – reminiscent of the breadboards we use to slice bread on – were used as a test-bed for electronic circuit design in a process known as ‘Breadboarding’.

When the plastic breadboard was first made available in the 1970’s, the name stuck. Though you’ll also find them referred to as ‘Pegboards’ and ‘Terminal Arrays’. Nowadays, it’s these breadboards that are used to prototype electronic design projects big and small: from analog and digital circuits through to fully-functioning CPUs and retail designs.

What Is A Breadboard Made Of?

A far cry from the makeshift wooden breadboards of old, modern breadboards are typically made of plastic, dotted with a number of perforated holes. Numerous tin plated phosphor bronze or nickel silver alloy spring clips sit beneath these holes, often referred to as ‘Tie Points’ or ‘Contact Points’.

The number of perforations – and their arrangement – varies from board to board, but regardless of their layout breadboards are almost always composed of two main ‘Strips’. These are:

  • Terminal Strips
    Terminal Strips are the main areas that hold the majority of the electronic components.
  • Bus Strips
    Bus Strips provide power to any electronic components attached to the breadboard. Typically consisting of two columns. One for ground, the other for a supply voltage.

The holes on these strips are connected in an easily recognisable pattern – the top and bottom holes connected horizontally, the remainder vertically – which allows you to easily attach components to each other, as well as power and ground the circuit.

Did You Know? The Spring Clips found in a breadboard are generally rated at 1 Amp at 5 Volts, and 0.333 amps at 15 volts (5 watts).

How To Use An Electronic Breadboard

Breadboards may look imposing, but don’t let appearances fool you. A breadboard is the perfect way to begin exploring the world of possibilities that is beginner, DIY and enthusiast electronics design. Best of all? The solderless design of a breadboard means it’s infinitely reusable, so you don’t need to stress over everyday mistakes or mishaps.

Mistakes are a part of any learning process, so the no-risk reusable breadboard marks the perfect starting point free from the fear of breaking costly equipment. Prototype and test to your hearts’ content. There’s no limit.

When it comes to using your breadboard? They usually feature a slot that runs down the middle of the plastic board, called a ‘Trench’. Integrated Circuits are then inserted to straddle this trench, and from here interconnecting wires and leads of discrete, standalone components – including resistors, inductors and capacitors – can be inserted into the remaining free holes to complete the circuit you’re creating.

You don’t always need to use Integrated Circuits, either. In fact, if you choose not to, discrete components and wires are then free to use any of the breadboard’s perforations. Allowing for numerous different configurations, designs and prototypes to be created.

Just Getting Started? Here’s 5 Tips For Using A Breadboard

Using a breadboard for the first time? Here’s some tips to get you started:

  • Use the breadboard’s side-lines to supply power to connected chips.
  • Use red wiring for power connections, and black wires for ground connections.
  • Keep wires and connections as flat as possible, to keep the breadboard looking clean and make it easier to use
  • Instead of routing jumper wires over chips, route them around. This will make it easier to change chips should the need arise.
  • Resistors, Transistors or LEDs being pulled out by accident? Trim down the legs so that they fit tightly.

Want To Learn More? Read Up On How To Use A Breadboard

A Visual Learner? Try This Video Guide To Using A Breadboard

What Are Breakout Boards(BOB)?

Breakout boards take a single electrical component and make is that much easier to use with a breadboard or other circuits within your project by ‘breaking it out’ from the breadboard and onto a standalone PCB Board featuring its own pins spaced to give you easier access to this new circuit.

The majority of breakout boards you’ll find are Integrated Circuits (IC) with pins on them. These pins provide a wide range of exciting capabilities, including power supply, providing a ground as well as pins for both input and output.

Types Of Breakout Boards

Breakout boards are as numerous as they are varied. Many of them are designed for a variety of different sensors – from temperature and ultrasonic distance sensors through to RFID and pressure sensors. Given their ubiquity and ease of use, breakout boards can be used with any number of breadboards and Microcontrollers, including the ever popular Arduino and Raspberry Pi.

The Benefits Of Using Breakout Boards

  • They can save you space by ‘breaking out’ a given component onto a standalone board.
  • Larger, DIP versions of components may not be available.
  • Like Breadboards, they can be reused time and time again.
  • Most Breakout boards are pin labelled, which makes it easier for beginners and experienced designers alike to know what connects where.

How To Connect A Breakout Board To A Breadboard

Breakout boards are a great addition to your electronics design toolbelt. But how do you connect a breakout board to a breadboard? It’s easier than you might think. Here’s just a few of the ways:

  • Use Clip-On or ‘Grabber’ Test Leads.
  • Use Pogo Pins
  • Solder a 0.1” male header to the breakout board. You can then use this header to plug directly into your breadboard.
    • Don’t want to solder? Use a solderless header instead.

Tip! You can use a right-angle header to save space and make it more convenient to access.

Other Modules To Use With Your Breadboard

Breakout boards aren’t the only addition you can make to your breadboard toolset. There are numerous other pre-fab modules on the market than you can use with – and attach to – your breadboard to make the prototyping process easier and increase the options at your disposal. Some of these include:

  • Power Supply Module
  • Screw Terminal
  • MIDI Out Port
  • MIDI In Port
  • Proto Area
  • Stereo Audio Jack
  • Dual Power Supply

Learn More About The Range Of Modules Available For Breadboards With These Resources

  • Embedded Lab – DiY Plug-In Modules To Make Microcontroller Breadboarding Easier

Ready To Go? Try These 5 Simple Electronic Breadboard Projects

Now that you’ve got the basics of breadboards down, why not consider giving some of these simple breadboard projects a try?

Five not enough? Instructables features a wide array of even more breadboard projects.

DIY Electronics: 7 Simple Design Projects For Beginners

April 7th, 2016

Wannabe DiY tinkerers, creators and toy makers take note: there’s never been a better time to bring your ideas to life!

No longer dependent on costly degrees or professional electronic product developers, cheap and readily available beginner electronic equipment and Microcontrollers like the Arduino and Raspberry Pi have given rise to a hobbyist community that welcomes new members and exciting new projects every day.

It’s this community we have to thank for the wealth of guides, how-to articles and video series you’ll find across the web, all detailing in their own way the exact steps needed to breathe life into your electronic creations. Even better, doing so requires minimal financial outlay, and next to no risk.

Still, every journey needs a beginning. You won’t be the next Nikola Tesla or Albert Einstein overnight! Which is why we’ve hand-picked 7 of the best DiY beginner electronic design projects from around the web to help get you started. Each of these projects is perfect for any skill level, and we’d be surprised if at least one didn’t spark your electronics imagination.

#1 – Build A Simple Circuit With A Pizza Box

Pizza Box Circuit

Fast food and electronic product development don’t have all that much in common. At least at first glance. But the first project in our list definitely puts that theory to the test.

The pizza itself is, unfortunately, optional – it’s the cardboard we need here – but nevertheless this project does a great job of stepping you through the process of creating a fully-functioning electronic circuit similar to what you might find on a circuit or PCB board. And all of that with just a handful of readily-available materials.

This is a beginner project through and through, which highlights just how easy it is to get started with electronics. You don’t need any previous knowledge to give this one a go. There’s no soldering iron in sight! Just a used pizza box, a few everyday items and a small helping of theory that will help wrap your head around the basics of electronics.

#2 – Light Up An LED With A Breadboard Circuit

LED Breadboard Circuit

The humble light bulb is largely taken for granted nowadays. Instead, we’re all focussed on much more exciting technological marvels. But even something as simple as an LED light bulb can offer an exciting insight into the inner working of an electronic circuit.

This simple project sees you exploring just that, illuminating the inner workings of both light bulb and switch with a breadboard circuit. There’s even a smaller version of this project that sees you creating a light-up card, which might just be the perfect gift card for the tech-savvy friend or family member.

#3 – Chapstick LED Flashlight

Chapstick Light

The true joy in any DiY project is finding ways to make the ordinary extraordinary. Is there anything more ordinary than the humble chapstick container? We didn’t think so! This project sees you applying the basic circuitry principles you’ve learned in earlier projects to turn it into a fully-functioning LED flashlight. It even comes complete with an on and off switch!

#4 – Wire Loop Game

One part electronic project, one part game, this project is sure to provide more than a few ‘Ooohh!’ And ‘Aaah!’ moments. While previous projects have dealt more in theory, this step-by-step guide to creating your own Wire Loop Game might be just the thing you need to spark the interest of a younger audience.

#5 – Fruit Clock

Fruit Clock

They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but with this project it also – seemingly – keeps the electrical bills at bay, too. At least to an extent! This nifty project shows you how to power a clock with a single piece of fruit. Lasting for as much as a week, it harnesses the chemical reaction between the citrus and metal components used to create it. How’s that for ingenuity?

#6 – Clap Activated Light Switch

Colour Changing Night Light

The clap switch is a device often associated with the lives of the rich and famous, but with this project you’ll be surprised to find just how simple – and inexpensive – these seemingly exclusive devices are to make yourself.

#7 – Colour Changing Night Light

Anyone with children knows how difficult it can be to persuade them that, no, there’s nothing lurking under the bed or in their closet. We’ve all been a little afraid of the dark at some point in our lives!

The humble night light is usually the go-to cure all in this situation, but why buy one from a store when you could get the kids involved in fighting those nighttime nightmares and make one yourself?

This project highlights how to do just that, providing you with the perfect opportunity to solve a problem, educate yourself – and your kids! – on the basics of electronics, and at the end of the day have a multi-colour night light to show for it.

Feeling Adventurous? Build A Robot With This Bonus Project

From the terror of the Terminator to the far friendlier faces of C3PO and R2D2, who doesn’t love a good robot? Sure, while Hollywood may still be undecided as to whether they’re our friend or foe, for now they remain the pinnacle creation in every DiY electronic hobbyist’s collection.

This may sound like an advanced project, but with Lifehacker’s step-by-step guide you can create at least one part of your own robot. Namely, the arm. Just be sure to leave out the world-destroying robot AI while you’re at it.

Scratch Your Electronics Itch With Even More Electronic Projects

Whether you’ve burned through these projects and need more to keep your mind occupied, or you’re intrigued at just what the wide world of electronics has to offer, the following sites are a constant source of inspiration, ideas and new projects. With these sites bookmarked, the possibilities for future electronic creations are truly endless. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and get creating!