All posts tagged: prototype product

Most projects on crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter, especially technology projects, end up being delayed weeks, months or sometimes even more than a year beyond their “estimated delivery” date. Why do these crowd-funded technology projects seem to get delayed?

What sorts of factors are responsible for the apparent lack of on-schedule progress commonly seen with technology projects on crowd-funded platforms, and what are some of the potential perils of crowdfunding the design and production of new technology products produced by amateur industrialists on these platforms?

Delays tend to correlate with the complexity of the project, the level of over-funding, lack of maturity of the prototype engineering (which is sometimes nothing more than concept art) at the beginning of the funding campaign, and the constraints of the team running the project – for example, are they working on this project only part-time or after hours, is the project run by an individual rather than a team, and is the project being attempted with no other funding sources?

Founders of crowd-funded projects tend to be optimistic about the imminent success of their idea or product – that’s why they launched their project in the first place. As optimistic project founders see their idea through rose-coloured glasses, and they believe that their idea is the exception to the rule, and that success is imminent.

By reading about the success of other contemporary projects, or the fictionalised ease of development for iconic products such as the original Apple computer – founders can often believe that their abilities are much greater than what is truthfully so. Which is a pity – as many great ideas can be derived from those with non-engineering backgrounds.

When launching a crowd-funding campaign, it’s easy to show the things that work and gloss over the things that don’t in the launch video. It’s easy to create a computer rendering of some artwork of what you imagine that your conceptual product might look like, or even a beautiful cosmetic model that looks good with no functionality, without having an actual prototype that addresses the actual engineering risk required to implement the technical claims for the product that you’re pitching.

While some crowd-funding platforms such as Kickstarter have tightened up their rules for technology projects in this regard, it can still be a problem. The prototype engineering possessed by project creators at the time of campaign launch is often rougher than what is shown in the video, or even non-existent, without any video or images provided to the backers that show close-up detail of functional, working prototypes.

This isn’t really a reason that crowd-funded projects get delayed past the “estimated delivery date” set by project creators, but this slightly misleading behaviour can be a reason why backers get the mistaken impression that technology projects are more developed than they actually are at the time of launch, leading to unrealistic backer expectations.

Anyone can draw a picture of a flying car and claim that it’s a working, existing prototype with no engineering risk, so to address the perceived problem with unrefined and over-promised technology or “gadget” projects on Kickstarter, new rules were enacted banning product renders and simulations with no real-world substance, and requiring project leads to explain the risks that exist in the process of making their idea a reality. Over the coming years we’ll see if this improves the punctuality and delivery success rate of Kickstarter technology projects.

Another reason for possible delays is the ever-present temptation for “feature creep”, addition of new features, engineering changes or improvements. In many cases, if a new feature or concept is developed that would clearly contribute to an improved product many project creators would happily trade off some delivery delay for a superior product.

Another important factor often seen in crowd-funded projects is that many amateur engineers and product designers have little or no concept of the importance of design for manufacturability – design, documentation, assembly, construction techniques and supply chains for materials and components that are compatible with large-scale industrial manufacturing – then working with regulatory agencies to have their product approved for use in major markets can cause complete product redesigns if not planned for originally.

This is especially important for “over-funded” crowd-funded projects where the demand for the product has significantly exceeded expectations. What happens when you set a goal of $10,000 for your Kickstarter project, but eventually collect fifty times that in pledges?

The scope tends to broaden, especially with very successful projects. Big funding can catalyse big, ongoing dreams – and pursuing these dreams inevitably bleeds into the process of delivering the core expectations of the campaign itself on the promised schedule. Larger than anticipated demand also requires that highly-scalable, high-volume manufacturing processes such as injection moulding for enclosures, where it may not have been originally intended for such manufacturing processes to be used.


Many DIY hobbyist mechanical and electronic construction projects that are hand-crafted need to be translated into a manufacturable design for scalability – PCB designs using standard photo-lithography file formats such as Gerber, with manufacturable design rules, metal and plastic parts for machining drawn up in an industry-standard fashion with materials and tolerances properly specified, cable assemblies designed and documented in a manufacturable way, etc.

Making a garage-made prototype into a design which is compatible with industrial manufacturability at any scale required can be a tricky business. DFM can be assisted by relying on the experience of your manufacturing partner and using their insights to drive design revisions, and/or by performing factory manufacturing of small sample or prototype runs, assessing the manufacturing process and the finished product and revising the design documents based on what you’ve learned.

Toolmaking for injection-moulded plastics is a well-known challenge for small or inexperienced hardware start-ups, due to its cost and the impracticality of iterative design. Even though a typical heat-treated steel injection-moulding die may be used to manufacture as many as a million plastic components at a very low cost before it needs replacement, the initial design and fabrication of the die can easily cost between $50,000 and $100,000. It can also take several weeks or months to make the tool, and if any changes or iterations of the plastic design are required then the same cost is required for a new die.

For a small hardware start-up with limited funding, mould tools really need to be designed and fabricated correctly the first time. Unfortunately, this is not easily compatible with agile, rapid iteration during your product development process, but options such as 3D printing for plastic prototyping, prototype die making in softer metals such as aluminium or diecast zinc and alternative manufacturing methods such as laser cutting, vacuum forming or thermoforming can reduce the cost burden of tooling for plastics manufacturing.

Designing your product using electronic components that can be sourced economically in sufficiently large volumes to meet scalable demand, and specifying a usable bill of materials with components sourced directly from their manufacturers and/or high-volume distributors is another potential cause of difficulties with manufacturability for designers moving into the production of a high-volume product for the first time.

It can also be difficult to convince a factory to work with you as a relatively small, new start-up, since factories tend to make their money on volume and start-ups generally can’t offer high-volume manufacturing. If a factory is willing to work with you on a moderately small volume manufacturing project it’s probably because they share your excitement about what you’re doing and they also hope that you’ll grow quickly, bringing more business for the factory along for the ride.

In short, the process of taking a great idea and developing it into a product via a crowd-funded platform can either be a total success or a complete failure. The difference in outcomes can be predicated by planning, research and teaming with experts in product design and manufacture.

If you’re considering launching the “next great thing” via a crowd-funded platform – or if you have the funding and are now at the “where do we go from here?” stage in your real product development, it pays to partner with an organisation that has experience in all stages of product design.

Here at the LX Group we have experience in short-run product development, and can scale your design for any quantity required. Don’t risk scaling up your product with hobbyist-level engineering – instead, join 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.

Published by LX Pty Ltd for itself and the LX Group of companies, including LX Design House, LX Solutions and LX Consulting, LX Innovations.

Muhammad AwaisPlanning for success with crowdfunding projects

LX's embedded systemHave you ever thought about how truly marvellous all the gadgets we have today are? It’s not just the mp3 players, digital watches, e-book readers etc., but even things like traffic lights, airplane guidance systems and even climate control devices, which, even though we hardly notice them, makes everything more convenient and easy for us to go through our daily routines. And what make all of these things possible are embedded systems.

An embedded system is a computer built for one specific purpose, as opposed to a PC which is built for general purposes and can be used for many things (like watching movies, reading email, surfing the net, etc.) One device can have one or several embedded systems. A great example is a car. A car can have one embedded system to control the anti-locking brakes, another to control the automatic four-wheel drive, one to control the heater and air conditioner, and a multitude of other devices. Embedded systems are great for things that just have one purpose, and it is especially great for tasks which are repetitive and have to be precise (such as the anti-lock braking systems.) Equally, embedded systems are applied to transportation, medical applications and fire safety equipment because they can perform their tasks accurately in real-time without any delay and almost without any need for outside input.

Embedded systems have been around for longer than most people realise. For example, one of the first ones was used in the space shuttle, Apollo Guidance System, in the 60s. These were created to reduce the size and weight of onboard computers for the shuttle craft and one of the first and prime examples of integrated circuit use. Of course, as technology advanced, embedded systems became cheaper and smaller, and thus we’re no longer limited to putting them on million-dollar space shuttle, but even things like microwave ovens, water heaters and dishwashers.

Why an Embedded System?

Perhaps many people may think, instead of using a dozen small computers in one device, why not just put one computer to do all these things? Well, perhaps for things with a lot of embedded systems (such as the car) that may be possible, but what about for simple things, like your coffee machine, oven or a digital watch? Adding an entire computer system wouldn’t make much sense, when all you really need for your embedded system to do is tell time, turn itself on in the morning or make sure it stays a certain temperature. It simply makes much more sense to put in a simple, single-function computer.

When deciding on an embedded system, these are usually the top considerations:

Price – A computer used to be something only governments or big companies could own. Embedded systems make it possible for electronics to be affordable and efficient, so that we can place them in virtually anything and everything (yes, even the kitchen sink.)

Size and Weight – Before integrated circuits, no one could even dream of computers smaller than their living room, much less the palm of their hands. Now, we can have embedded systems in things even smaller than our palms, and they continue to become smaller and lighter.

Productivity – An embedded system does only one thing, and it can do it efficiently. For many repetitive tasks, such as the many mentioned previously, this is enough. It’s simply not a good use of resources to have an entire general purpose computer in something that only does one thing. What about that car example? Well, it’s true you could have one PC to control, but it would not only be expensive, but it would be inefficient. If the computer broke down, then you wouldn’t be able to use your car. With embedded systems, if your car’s temperature control broke down, you could still get to where you needed to go (you’d just need to wear shorts and roll the windows down.)

Embedded systems aren’t perfect, though; for example, you’d need a lot of testing to release certain products out on the market (such as medical and life-saving devices) and because it is embedded deep into the product, you couldn’t update it easily. However, embedded systems have certainly changed the course of human development in the last 20 years, and will most likely do so in the next century.

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.

Published by LX Pty Ltd for itself and the LX Group of companies, including LX Design House, LX Solutions and LX Consulting, LX Innovations.

Muhammad AwaisWhat is an Embedded System?

LX's Electronics Prototyping

A prototype is a model that designers use to determine the feasibility of a concept or device and to test the development of the device throughout the research and pre-production phases of the product development. The word is made up of two Greek words meaning roughly something like “first impression.” Prototypes are used in many ways, but are particularly helpful and necessary in electronics development and manufacturing. Electronics prototypes are often assembled manually, which is faster and cheaper than creating an actual stamped PCB board and can be more easily modified, but still allows for circuits to be properly assembled and tested.

Proof-of-Concept Prototype

A proof-of-concept or proof-of-principal prototype is a model that is close enough to the envisioned device to establish sufficient certainty that the idea has the potential to do what is intended, before pursuing the task in earnest. Issues that are identified can be remedied long before the more costly and complex research process begins. This can save time and money that could potentially be wasted if it turned out that the conceptual idea is either impossible or is too difficult to make it worth the time and effort.

Prototype Product Evolution

Demonstration prototypes are the next step in the product evolution. Once designers, engineers and investors are convinced that the product is feasible, the prototype serves as a demonstration tool to sell the idea to others. Usually that refers to investors and others with an interest in the feasibility of the concept. In some cases the prototype is required to file for a patent for the device. Demonstration prototypes are generally more advanced and closer to the fully operational device than the concept prototype, but still not fully functional or formed.

Product Development

Once everyone is satisfied that the product is possible, the next stage of product development begins. In electronics, this often consists of the creation of software and control instructions. The research prototype serves as a test bed for the software and may undergo some hardware changes to ensure compatibility with the software algorithms.  Depending on the device, a research prototype may be used to also help develop appearance and physical designs. Once the research is complete, the final product is built in the form of a functional prototype, which as closely as possible mimics the finished product.

Commercial Production

Once the research necessary to build the device is complete, the final process is the commercial production phase. This is when the device is finally made into the fully functioning product that will be sold to consumers. The first iteration is called an alpha prototype. It will be as close to the intended final product as possible in both form and function and serves to identify any issues that interfere with production. Once complete it will be thoroughly tested and if necessary changes to either the device or production process will be made. The next iteration is the beta prototype, which reflects any changes that were made during the first iteration. Once complete the device is put through more grueling trials and testing. Once again, any identified issues are corrected and when complete the pre-production prototype emerges. This is the final prototype before large scale production begins.

Prototype Process

Prototypes are an important part of the process of creating, building and manufacturing an electronic product. Without utilizing prototypes along the way, the process would suffer frequent setbacks that will consume funds needed for the project. The prototypes evolve as new information comes to light and grows along with the idea. Without a prototype, the only way to know if a device will do what is intended would be to manufacture it, which requires a much larger expenditure of time, effort and money, and the finished product may not work at all.

Prototypes are an essential tool in the development of any electronic device because they take a concept that exists only on paper and in theory and transforms it into something that is tangible and actually performs at least some aspect of the envisioned product. Prototypes are considered so important in the electronics manufacturing field that there are entire companies that specialize in constructing them for other designers, inventors and manufacturers.

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.

Published by LX Pty Ltd for itself and the LX Group of companies, including LX Design House, LX Solutions and LX Consulting, LX Innovations.

Muhammad AwaisThe Importance of Electronics Prototyping