The Electronic Product Development Cycle
Electronic Product Development is an interactive process, actively combining the efforts and creativity of the client and the design team. In broad terms, the development of a new electronic product goes something like this:
- Design: Determine if the concept is doable.
- Rapid Prototype: Make up a rapid prototype for first-impression evaluations.
- Working Sample: Build a working sample that embodies lessons learned from the prototype.
- Pre-production Sample: Develop a pre-production sample (or small run of samples) so that the concept can be refined toward a production-ready design.
- Production Methods and Materials: Use production methods and materials to build a first run of "ready for the customer" products.
- Product Certification: Perform any necessary testing so that the new product can be certified by any applicable organizations.
- Documentation Package: Release a full documentation package to production.
The Electronic Product Development Cycle in More Detail:
- Consultant-Client Meeting: We meet with the client to understand as clearly as possible what the client has in mind (the scope of the project and expectations for the project from the client's perspective.)
- The Proposal: We put together a proposal, outlining clearly the development stages and milestones, the time frame for each stage, and an estimated cost for each stage.
- The Prototype: The simplest possible prototype is made up, one that demonstrates basic agreed-on concepts and allows the client to get hands-on experience with user interface, basic operating modes, and performance capability. Note that this prototype quite often triggers in the client a re-evaluation process (there's nothing like having something in one's hands to play with) and a redirection in product goals! That's a good thing, and the main reason for getting something up-and-running as soon as possible.
- Refining the Prototype: Next, a more refined prototype is produced. Rapid-prototyping techniques will be used to produce a housing and internal assembly that often closely resembles the desired product, but the techniques used to realize this prototype are not yet appropriate to the production of more than a few hand-made units.
- Evaluation and Design Review: From Design to Production: Once a full evaluation and design review of the RP prototype is done, next comes the process of getting the design production-ready. The overall design is re-evaluated with a focus on how the design will be produced in quantity. Production drawings are created. Assembly techniques are re-examined. Procedures are written and used in pre-production dry-runs to verify that these procedures are workable with real parts.
- Parts Specification: A first set of parts is ordered to the production drawings. These parts are assembled, using production drawings and procedures. The assembled products are out through a full trial, including operation at environmental extremes, to verify that the product works as desired.
- Compliance Testing: Samples of this pre-production run are submitted to outside labs for verification that the product meets any appropriate standards. Examples of regulatory agencies that issue these standards include UL for electrical and overall product safety, FDA for laser safety, and CE for verification that the product neither interferes with other equipment nor is susceptible to the emissions of other equipment.
- Production Release: If all compliance testing is performed satisfactorily, and the team is satisfied with the overall results of the pre-production run, then the product is ready for production release.