Article: Design Considerations - Product from Proof Of Concept

Note: - This Article is part of a series of Articles on the subject of 'Taking a Prototype to Production'

Proof of Concept

Proof of Concept is a stage 1 Prototype which showcases the idea and its basic implementation. This is usually done using off the shelf hardware and basic software. Popular boards available in the market may be used to build a preliminary working model.

Once the decision has been made to take the idea to the product stage, and enter mass production, many design considerations need to be made. Some of them are explained in this article.

1. Form Factor

Size and shape of the product, also known as Form Factor has to be decided in the early stages of design for production. Also, arrangement and placement of Communication ports, charging inlets, displays, speakers, etc play an important part. Apart from satisfying function, market conditions will affect these design decisions.

2. Look & Feel

Color, texture, flexibility, and overall physical appeal are very important for many products, especially in the field of consumer electronics. People buy products not only for function but because they look good and fit in seamlessly into their lifestyles.

3. IP Protection

IP Protection means the ability of a product to withstand the elements, namely water, and dust, abrasives, particles etc. The level of protection is decided by carefully analyzing the operating environment of the product. Is it going to be placed outdoors or indoors? Is it going to be subjected to pressurized water or liquid flow? Is there going to be salt in the air around it? Is dust a major factor? Once these questions are answered, the product enclosure can be designed to protect the electronics against these elements. All ports and inlets may need to have caps or other protective elements around them.

4. Ruggedization

Some products may need to operate in harsh environments. Like extreme temperature. Some may be subject to high levels of shock or vibration. Maybe there is a chance that they are dropped often, or are placed on vibrating surfaces like machines. These factors need to be considered while designing the product. Parts which can survive these conditions need to be selected. Enclosure design needs to protect against damage.

5. Reliability

The definition of reliability is different for different types of products. Acceptable failure rate must be decided and product designed in such a way that failure rate meets or is less than the acceptable failure rate. Reliability increases cost, so it is important to calculate accurately what failure rate is acceptable.

6. Battery Life

Many products today are battery operated. Calculation of required battery life is critical. It affects the size, weight and overall functionality of a product. Wrong selection of battery could lead to the product failing in the market. Wrong selection could also lead to product becoming too expensive.

7. Stable Software

Proto software is typically very basic, quickly written and buggy. Production software needs to meet all the required functionality. It also needs to be reliable. Most problems are caused by buggy software after a product is released, and bug fixes after release could be expensive. Reliable software has robust architecture, with in- built error recognition and recovery mechanisms.

8. Upgrades

Production software should also be written in such a manner that it supports upgrades easily. Customers do not expect to change their hardware very often and would rather improve their device with a software update. Easy updates prolong the lifecycle of the product and so benefit both seller and buyer in many ways. Software supporting upgrades should have mechanisms to load new software easily as well as recovery mechanisms to revert to previous version. Nobody wants a brick at the end of an upgrade.

9. End OF Line Testing

End of line test procedures need to be developed for a production line. These tests will ensure that the product getting released into the market works. Tests need to cover all critical functional parameters of the product. Failures must be recorded and error codes generated which point towards the nature of failure. Specialized software needs to be written for carrying out automated end of line testing.

10. Compliance Testing

Products may need compliance to certain standards, before being released to market. This means getting the product tested at standard authorized labs and getting the necessary certifications. Proper testing also ensures some amount of reliability and robustness of the product, and is proof of a well engineered product.

11. Maintenance

Some products are prone to damage and may require maintenance during their lifetime. If this is the case then product should be designed such that it is easy to maintain. Enclosure and arrangement of parts should allow easy access and removal of parts requiring frequent attention. Software should be well documented along with supporting Software design documents. Design should allow quick turnaround, if the part comes in for repair. There should be documentation regarding lifelines of modules within the product, so that service engineers can take a decision as to whether to replace or repair a faulty module.

12. Component Availability for Life Cycle

While selecting components for the product it is important to make sure that these components will be available for the entire time the product is likely to be in production. If parts go obsolete and are no longer supported by their respective manufacturers, then either the product needs to be redesigned, or obsolete parts need to be procured. Obsolete parts are difficult to track and expensive. For major components it is always good to take an assurance from the manufacturer about support. Or replace it with a newer part which will definitely be supported.

13. Ease of Part Replacement

Design should keep in mind that sometimes part replacement becomes inevitable. This may be due to many reasons. The part in use may become difficult to source. Or an alternate part which may be introduced in the market which has significantly lower price. It is possible to accommodate these changes easily if proper care is taken during the design stages. Hardware design done keeping in mind alternate parts is always helpful in the long run.

14. Stable Vendor Base

A stable vendor base is very important to ensure that production runs smoothly. Vendors need to be evaluated and identified. The scale of production determines the criteria for selection of vendors. Some factors may be inventory capacity, lead times, credit policies etc.

15. Pricing

The most important criteria is of course how the product is priced. Can the production process achieve a price which is good for the market? An overpriced product will definitely not sell, and so design processes must ensure price targets are met. Price should be the most important criteria and the primary requirement while designing a product.

TL Micro Automation - Electronic Products , Embedded Design Services , Consulting