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Jun 24th 2013

Electronic Development Guidelines

Choosing someone to do your development can be fraught – especially if you get underway and realise you have made a mistake.  It is possible to get it right first time with a little guidance.

If you aren’t technical you may feel a bit overawed or simply have a feeling that you are entering into a situation where you have little control. If this is true you need to overcome the fear because it doesn’t have to be true.  The following are some guidelines:

  • Trust your instinct. Not being technical doesn’t remove your ability to judge people or facilities. If it is dirty, disorganised or not good for any reason you can’t put your finger on – find other suppliers. Don’t use a supplier if you are uneasy for any reason.
  • The requirements of a good development company are no different from any other supplier. If you are left with a feeling of trust – it is a solid basis. Right from the very first communication start to build a relationship with your development company.
  • Go and see several companies. One will provide a benchmark for the others.
  • A question to ask is what will be deliverables? The answer should be at least the following: a couple of prototypes, technical specification, circuit schematics, a bill of materials, design notes (anything technical that required special guidance or calculation), gerbers and cad files (these are the computer files that allow you to manufacture PCBs). These are all very important because, if you don’t get them, you will not be able to make your product.
  • Do I need a specification? Yes, definitely. Never allow a development to proceed without a clear, written description of requirements. A good supplier will insist on this and help you with it. The reasons are obvious – people can’t read what is in the mind of other’s and without a written description it inevitably leads to failed expectations. The best way to do these specifications is to write down what is required and then, for each item, specify a test that both parties agree will constitute a pass of the requirement if the test passes. If you can’t write a test then the requirement isn’t specific enough and you may need to do some feasibility.
  • It is as well to know what is available in the market place. It splits roughly into areas: one man engineers, mid-range development companies and top end development companies. The advantage of using a single consultant is they will probably be cheap. The potential problems are related to reliability. There are some excellent engineers out there but there are some that are not so good. If you find a good one you will get a good product under budget. If you find one that isn’t so good you may find you have no product a year later. Mid-range companies are a good compromise. They will give more confidence because they have a reputation to protect and they have the resources of a company to back the development. They are usually more expensive than individual consultants but it is probably worth paying. Top end development companies will be extremely expensive and geared to doing development of a very substantial nature.
  • What about manufacture? It is a big advantage if the supplier manufactures the product as well as develops it. It is not unknown for a product not to work and the developer blames the manufacturer and vice versa. This leaves the burden of proof with the customer – you. Another advantage is that if there are small design problems a good developer/supplier will cut and strap them out for you on the prototype – without cost normally. This can save a lot of grief.
  • Don’t make too many to start with. We are all human and mistakes do happen. You don’t want hundreds that are not right.
  • How can I be sure that what has been designed for me will work? Make sure that a witnessed test is included at the end of the development. This should be to do all the acceptance tests agreed at the specification stage.
  • How do I control what my product will cost? This is a difficult one. It is unreasonable to expect the developer to state what a product has cost before they have designed it. If you insist on a budget cost it will probably be loaded (obviously to protect the developer from the unforeseen). The best way to deal with this is to give the specification a target cost. This should be determined from your market requirements. Be realistic when setting this figure but you can make it a requirement of the development (put it in the spec). If it is reasonable a good developer will meet or improve on it.
  • Enclosures. What are you going to house your design in? There are several options. If a simple laboratory standard enclosure is adequate NE can do that easily. If you require something more aesthetically pleasing NE has a strong working relationship with a product designer that means you can have virtually anything you want.
  • What about CE marking? Any good supplier will be able to make sure there development proceeds along lines conducive to CE marking your product. However, the responsibility for CE marking is with the entity placing the product on the market – not the developer. A good developer will be able to give you guidance.
  • Timescales. This is always a difficult issue because the nature of development is such that the unexpected can happen. What is important is that deadlines are not hidden from the developer and that there is transparency when it comes to progress. Deadlines can be met (NE does it all the time) but one sure way to scupper attempts to produce on time is not tell the developer the deadlines after the order has been placed. A strict supplier may then either be unable to meet them or, with justification, require a supplement to the order.

Whatever electronics project you are undertaking, our design company Newbury Innovation can help. Take a look around our site or get in touch with us for a chat.