As the pace of product design and development always seems to be increasing due to market forces and technological innovation, the one factor that can often affect the speed is the budget available for research and design. More engineers are being tasked to achieve more with less, and although that may be possible with hardware, the financial cost of doing so may not be possible.
Due to these time, financial and other pressures there is one method that has become increasingly popular – the use of manufacturers’ development boards, open-source hobbyist platforms and similar products in the design stage. This is perfectly acceptable and often an inexpensive way to test unfamiliar microcontrollers in an inexpensive manner – some boards can be acquired for less than ten dollars, less than the cost of the MCU itself.
However in doing so, the design team can quite easily fall into a trap – and one that can be very difficult and expensive to extract the organisation out of. This is using the actual development board in the final, manufactured product design. However like many things in life, it may have “seemed like a great idea at the time” – but there are several potent reasons why this is a bad idea. Let’s run through them now.
Volume – can you get the required number of development boards for manufacturing? When a new microcontroller is released, it may be followed with a few thousand inexpensive boards – that can vanish from retail channels six months later, never to be seen again. If your product becomes popular you will need to redesign to allow for a new microcontroller board.
Reliability – it’s all very well to bolt in a development board and have the assembly team either insert interface wires or solder into the connectors, however this adds another layer of complexity and another area that will not be resistant to vibration, harshness or corrosion. Furthermore you will need to keep stock of replacement boards for servicing – for the lifetime of the product. And as mentioned earlier, boards may not be available over the long term. So you need to stock up in advance, which is a calculated gamble of your operating capital.
Intellectual Property – naturally you can incorporate a microcontroller into your design and own the IP over that design. However if you incorporate the manufacturers’ development board, the copyright over the total product design and thus your intellectual property rights can be weakened or removed by the terms and conditions of the development board use. Furthermore, by using the development board in final designs, it is easier for your competitors to analyse the design in terms of build cost and general design.
Is it Open Source? – some development boards are released under a variety of licenses such as Creative Commons or full Open Source hardware-software. By using these products you are then morally required to release your product built on this hardware using the same (or more open) licensing as the original development platform. In the hobby or kit market this may seem like a good idea, but not for commercial products. Releasing designs for your product just helps the competition.
Reputation – What would your customers think of your design if they realised it was based around a development board? It looks cheap, shoddy, and can often prompt people to think that “if it’s that easy, we could do it ourselves!” – even though you realise it is not. Furthermore this could create difficulty with the development board manufacturer and weaken the relationship – as the purpose of development boards is to allow inexpensive prototyping and encourage the purchase of their products at a commercial rate.
Thus there are many reasons not to cut corners and use these development boards in your design. However this will not solve the problem of getting your design to market on budget and on time. In situations where time and money is critical, it can be much easier to outsource any or all stages of hardware design to manufacturing to an experienced, trustworthy partner with agreements on final deadlines and expenses – such as here at the LX Group.
We have large engineering team with a wide variety of experience in all stages of design for various markets – including the domestic, commercial, industrial and military arenas. We can take your design ideas and product the required customised solution for your team, or even follow through to final completion, including documentation, standards compliance and revisions.
To move forward with your design requirements on time and on budget, simply contact us for a confidential discussion about your ideas and how we can help bring them to life – click here to contact us, or telephone 1800 810 124.
LX is an award-winning electronics design company based in Sydney, Australia. LX services include full turnkey design, electronics, hardware, software and firmware design. LX specialises in embedded systems and wireless technologies design. https://lx-group.com.au
Published by LX Pty Ltd for itself and the LX Group of companies, including LX Design House, LX Solutions and LX Consulting, LX Innovations.