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Introduction to Electronic Product Development

An Android Tablet

My Background

Hi, I’m Chris Pidd – welcome to my web site and welcome to my first blog post.

First up, a bit about myself. I have worked for many years developing electronic products, mostly for smaller businesses. I have worked in a variety of fields from electronic musical instruments to instrumentation to safety systems for large vehicles.

I am now working as a freelance electronic product developer. I specialise in working for small businesses having had many years experience helping to turn a great idea into a product on a very tight budget.

I’ve set up this web site for two reasons. Firstly to promote my services as a product developer and secondly to pass on some of my experience and, I hope, wisdom.

My views might be, occasionally, unconventional but they are a result of hard lessons learnt in the real world.

I’ll kick off with some general thoughts on product development and concentrate on specific areas in later posts.

Why Do Electronic Product Development?

Surely anything electronic you can buy for peanuts made in China. Certainly you wouldn’t set out to produce an MP3 player or a calculator.

Well, not unless, perhaps, you wanted to make a calculator specifically for the game of darts (they exist – replacing the traditional chalk board). Or perhaps, an MP3 player for a blind person which might use synthesized voice indications instead of a display.

These are specific requirements for specific customers. That bright idea, that gap in the market you’ve spotted.

Your product might be more expensive than the far Eastern version but remember the ipad and iphone are huge successes despite being considerably more expensive than the Android based equivalents.

Research & Development

How do you take your great idea from the back of an envelope to a product that’s ready to sell? The answer is research and development.

However, this is a phrase guaranteed to make my heart sink. Many people, especially managers talk glibly about “research and development”. In fact the two things are quite different.

  • Research is a process of testing hypotheses by experiment. The answer may well be “no”. This might be very interesting if you’re an academic but not very helpful if you’ve invested a lot of time and money in the answer being “yes”. Don’t promise something unless you’re absolutely positive you can build it.

  • Development is the process of going through a number of defined stages (which hopefully can be quantified in terms of time taken and cost) to reach the finished product.

Stages of Product Development

This first post is intended to introduce my take on electronic product development. I will be delving deeper into the various aspects of product development in future posts. What follows is the briefest of summaries for each aspect.

Design. “Hey, I’ve had a great idea for a product.” There are plenty of bright ideas out there – the challenge is spotting the good one and turning it into a world beater.

Hardware Development. Hardware development can involve long lead times and high tooling charges. Mistakes can be costly. Don’t despair there are ways to approach hardware development that minimise the cost and risks.

Software Development. Software usually represents the biggest part of product development in terms of man hours. It also generally takes at least twice as long as you think it ought to. Planning is the key…

Testing. You loose a lot of credibility very quickly with unreliable hardware and buggy software. It’s important to find those mistakes before the end user does.

Compliance. This usually means CE Marking. Directives and standards – all with obscure numbers and codes and lots of acronyms. Not to mention the expense of testing. Don’t worry, it’s not as complicated as it might seem.

Documentation and Manuals. How much documentation do you need to be able to maintain the product. How do you write a manual for the user that is not simply a list of things that the product does?

Manufacture. Everybody thinks you must rush off to China but is this the right approach for you – especially if you’re not making a million products a year.

Marketing. How to sell your product. I must confess this is not really my subject. Never the less I am happy to share my thoughts, observations and experiences.

Of course we shouldn’t forget that the development stages listed above are all interlinked – for instance there’s no point in designing a brilliant product that you can’t manufacture for a realistic price. I’ll come back to this in a later article.