All posts tagged: prototyping

So you’re interested in starting a new product development project…Read this first!

Take me straight to the reasons

Most of us have been there at some point – when a flash of inspiration occurs and you get an idea for that new product. The one that fills a market gap perfectly and is a huge opportunity if you can get it right.  

But if you’ve gone beyond the initial idea stage before you’ll know there’s a bit more to it than that first thought or conversation, even more so if your product is electronic or a custom IoT product

On the road from discovery through to the ultimate goal for most product teams – manufacture at scale – there are a number of things that can derail a project, no matter how promising the initial concept. Whether that is at the planning phase or further along where changes to scope and form can be costly, hitting a barrier at any point is not ideal.  

Luckily for you, we have many, many years of doing just that; taking an idea from the first conversation all the way through to manufacture. So through experience and lots of learning along the way, we’ve honed our design process over time and are pretty good at avoiding the pitfalls. 

So, if you’re considering a new product development project, we’ve listed some of the key reasons projects don’t make it to the end of the road and how you can avoid them:

1.  Not getting your budget correct

It may be obvious to state this but designing and developing a new product takes a considered capital investment. Manufacturing one at scale even more so. Once you’ve identified a gap in the market and have a concept you think answers it, you next need to do your sums to work out your budget and ultimately the cost/benefit analysis for your business. That means knowing not just the development costs, but ideally ongoing capex and opex plus what you can realistically drive in terms of revenue (which ultimately means also knowing the perceived value of the product to the end user and any competitive benchmarking).

For startups, we know it’s often a challenge to determine how much is needed in terms of investment funding, or even where to start with raising capital. The clearest piece of advice we can give here is, to consider the technical risks on the project and build a budget and plan that seeks to mitigate the risks early in the product development program.  An understanding that design iterations will be required to refine the product will also ensure that the project budget is sufficient to enable the project to succeed.

With any project, you don’t know what you don’t know. And whilst many design companies can help highlight areas in discovery sessions, it’s never a bad thing to be prepared, both financially and mentally, that you may need to change your path based on internal or external factors. 

2. Misunderstanding product/market fit (or a lack of one!)

This one can come in many forms, for example if your product idea is for a medical IoT device you likely need to be across specific standards and certifications the finished product must to pass in order to clear regulatory hurdles and gain access to the market. Or if you’re building an IoT performance tracker for cyclists is it a key driver to make sure it doesn’t add too much weight for them to be competitive? 

Our advice here? Research, research and more research! Great research is a strong foundation for any project and that’s even truer when you’re designing a new product from scratch. Build your knowledge base by speaking to industry leaders and people who work in your chosen market, by conducting focus groups and by reading as much as you can around the topic. Really understand (through quantitative and qualitative research), who your target market is, what their drivers are, how your product solves a problem/provides a benefit and what their potential objections might be. 

3. Taking too long! It’s a race, so run at it

Let us refer to the genius of Theodore Roosevelt here:

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

Often in new product development, you’re not the only horse in the race and someone has had a similar idea to you. And we’ve all seen where the second or third product to market may be functionally far better than the first, but by the time that second product has launched they’re already being lapped by the competition. That’s a difficult point to come back from, plus when timelines expand, more often than not so does the budget. Or if you’re working with consultants and contractors, scheduling of resources can become a challenge, so there are multiple reasons why staying on your timeline can be important.  

So once you have your budget and your product/market fit, set out a plan and work to it. Whether you are using agile methodologies or another process, a clear roadmap with defined accountability for each key phase and task is a great start. 

4. Prioritising form over function and using ‘every crayon in the box’

Whilst we understand that physical appearance is important and we want things to be beautiful inside and out – the majority of the time they also have to work. So throughout the process, it’s a good idea to keep referring back to your business case and any initial workshop sessions.

5. Missing the manufacturing piece of the puzzle

It sounds obvious, but plan for the manufacturing process as well. You’ve done all the work to get there so you don’t want to fall at the final hurdle. Often it’s at this point that products have problems, when the design doesn’t pass manufacturing readiness tests. This test looks at the design, cost, process capability, materials availability, QA plan and test plan and if a product is too expensive to produce or the design doesn’t work at scale, it won’t pass. The other side of that coin is where manufacturing comes back as too expensive or timelines are too long to meet the in-market deadline. 

So have a timeline and cost set up for manufacturing and do research over the best manufacturer for your kind of product. Or depending on the type of project, your product development team may offer turnkey services where they handle not only the new product development but the manufacture too.

Muhammad Awais5 Reasons why New Products don’t make it to Manufacture

There are many different agile development methods and process frameworks, with Extreme Programming, Scrum, Kanban, and Dynamic Systems Development Method being some of the best known. Although there are many different agile process frameworks and methods, most are fundamentally similar in that they promote teamwork, collaboration and process adaptability throughout the whole life cycle of a development project. 

The various agile methodologies share much of the same underlying philosophy as well as many of the same characteristics and practices. From an implementation standpoint, however, each has its own combination of practices and terminology. Most agile methods break tasks into small increments with minimal planning, without directly involving long-term planning.

At the end of teach iteration in the agile process, a working product is demonstrated to stakeholders. This minimises overall risk and allows the project to adapt to changes quickly. Iterations might not add enough functionality to warrant a market release, but the goal is to have an available release (with minimal bugs) at the end of each iteration. 

Multiple iterations might be required to release a product or new features. No matter what development disciplines are required, each agile team contains a customer representative, for example the “Product Owner” in the Scrum method. This person is appointed by stakeholders to act on their behalf and makes a commitment to be available for developers to answer mid-iteration questions. 

At the end of each iteration, stakeholders and the customer representative review the project’s progress and re-evaluate project priorities with a view to optimising the project’s return on investment and ensuring alignment with customer needs and business goals.

Extreme Programming, which has emerged as one of the most popular but sometimes controversial agile methodologies, is a disciplined approach to delivering high-quality software quickly and continuously. It promotes high customer involvement, rapid feedback loops, continuous testing, continuous planning, and close teamwork to deliver working software at very frequent intervals, typically every one to three weeks. 

The original model of Extreme Programming (XP) is based on four simple values of simplicity, communication, feedback and courage, backed up by various supporting practices such as pair programming, test-driven development, continuous integration and collective code ownership. 

In an XP project, the customer or customer advocate works very closely with the development team to define and prioritise granular units of functionality referred to as “user stories”. The development team estimates, plans, and delivers the highest priority user stories in the form of working, tested software on an iteration-by-iteration basis.

Scrum is another popular agile project management framework; a lightweight framework with broad applicability for managing and controlling iterative and incremental projects of all kinds. Scrum has achieved increasing popularity in the agile software development community due to its simplicity, proven productivity, and ability to act as a wrapper for various engineering practices promoted by other agile methodologies. 

Using the Scrum methodology, the product owner works closely with the team to identify and prioritise system functionality in form of a “product backlog”. The product backlog consists of features, bug fixes, non-functional requirements and anything else that needs to be done in order to successfully deliver a working software system. 

With priorities driven by the product owner – cross-functional teams estimate and sign-up to deliver “potentially shippable increments” of software during successive “sprints” typically lasting 30 days. Once the product backlog for any given sprint is committed, no additional functionality can be added to the sprint except by the development team.

Kanban is another agile method used by organisations to manage the creation of products with an emphasis on continual delivery while not overburdening the development team. Like Scrum, Kanban is a process designed to help teams work together more effectively. 

It is based on the three basic principles of visualisation of the work to be done on a given day using large noticeboards, walls or “information radiators”, since seeing all the items in the context of each other can be very informative, limiting of the amount of work in progress at any given time, which helps to balance the flow-based approach so that teams don’t start too much work or commit too much work at once, and the enhancement of efficient workflow, where the next highest-priority task from the backlog is underway quickly once a previous task is completed.

The Dynamic Systems Delivery Method, or DSDM, is another important agile method, which grew out of the need to provide an industry standard project delivery framework for what used to be referred to as RLX2apid Application Development or RAD. 

While RAD was very popular in the early 1990s, the RAD approach to software delivery evolved in a fairly unstructured manner. As a result, the DSDM Consortium was created and convened with the goal of devising and promoting a common industry framework for rapid software delivery, and since then the DSDM methodology has evolved and matured to provide a comprehensive foundation for planning, managing, executing, and scaling agile process and iterative software development projects. 

DSDM specifically calls out “fitness for business purpose” as the primary criteria for delivery and acceptance of a system, focussing on the useful 80% of the system that can be deployed in 20% of the time. Requirements are baselined at a high level early in the project. Rework is built into the process, and all development changes must be reversible. Requirements are planned and delivered in short, fixed-length time-boxes, also referred to as iterations, and requirements for DSDM projects are prioritised into “must have”, “should have”, “could have” and “won’t have” categories. 

All critical work must be completed in a DSDM project, but it is also important that not every requirement in a project or time-box is considered critical. Within each time-box, less critical items are included so that, if necessary, they can be removed to keep from impacting higher priority requirements on the schedule. The DSDM project framework is independent of, and can be implemented in conjunction with, other iterative agile methodologies such as Extreme Programming. 

Agile hardware development may seem complex, or quite foreign – however the methods used can decrease the period of time from idea to final product launch – with the right partners. Here at the LX Group we can partner with you – finding synergy with your ideas and our experience to create final products that exceed your expectations.

To get started, join us for an obligation-free and 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 AwaisFrameworks for Agile Hardware Development

When designing hardware to integrate with an Internet-of-Things solution, or an entire solution – it can be easy for the design team to focus on the software, server and control system due to the ease of prototyping and the availability of experienced people. It’s a common philosophy that once the software is “sorted out” – the hardware can be easily designed to work with the system. Thus it can be tempting for organisations who move towards IoT solutions to focus on the software more than the hardware as it may seem at the outset to be more complex and more difficult part of the system.

However hardware design cannot be overlooked or resources in that field minimised. There is much more to consider than just what “the hardware will do” – the consideration of which type of IoT system to work with needs to be executed – and in conjunction with that the choice of which hardware design path to take. 

After deciding on which IoT platform to design your hardware for, the choice of hardware design path is crucial to the success of your IoT implementation. Even if you’re developing for internal use, or offering hardware or turnkey systems to customers – the choice of hardware design can play a part in the long-term success or failure of the system.

When we say the “choice of hardware design” it is not the actual type of device (however that can also play a part in success or failure) or design tools used to create something – it is the choice between one of hardware design paths. That is, will you choose proprietary hardware interface designs from an existing supplier; create your own hardware and protect the intellectual property with copyright and possible patent protection; or open-source your design to some degree to allow input and contribution from internal and external customers? There are pros and cons to each method, so let’s examine them in some more detail.

Existing design – This is the easiest option for your design team, as the hardware interface to the required IoT system has been designed, tested and ready for integration into your hardware. To resell your own devices based on an external system can require licence or royalty payments to the system provider, however this will often be returned “in kind” with marketing support, referrals and leads from the system provider. However you’re at the mercy of the success or failure of the host system – which could leave you with outdated and useless hardware that can be at least difficulty to modify or at worst a total write-off.

Internal, protected design – With this option you have access to the required interface design from the IoT system provider that allows you to create your own hardware instead of buying or licensing technology from the provider. It gives you total control over the hardware design – including possible modularity between the IoT interface hardware and the product itself, in case of system failure (as mentioned previously). Furthermore you have complete control of the design, maintain all IP, and can market your designs as an exclusive product that’s compatible with the system. However all design, support and revisions will happen in-house.  

Open-source – After a few minutes searching on the Internet it may seem that almost everyone is open-sourcing their designs to allow all and sundry to review, modify, critique and sometimes re-manufacture their products. This method is preferable if you are offering paid access to the server-side infrastructure or you are happy to allow others to create devices that compete with your own hardware to quickly allow customer take-up of your IoT system. Furthermore you can build a community around users of your system, which can reduce the support load and generate good-will.  However taking this path in essence abandons revenue from hardware sales and any intellectual property your team have created. Finally, larger customers may see this product as insecure (even if it offers encrypted data transmission) due the openness of the designs.

Here at the LX Group we can discuss and understand your requirements and goals – then help you navigate the various hardware and other options available to help solve your problems. We can create or tailor just about anything from a wireless temperature sensor to a complete Internet-enabled system for you. For more information or 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 AwaisLX Group discusses Hardware design directions for IoT integration

Everyone is in a rush. From management with new ideas to implement, engineers under the pump to meet or beat deadlines, investors and shareholders to receive their financial returns, and generally everyone else in the organisation. Then you have the competition – who you need to beat to be first-to-market with your new product ideas or revisions. It just doesn’t stop!

You may be tempted with the concept of shipping just the minimum viable product, or looking to save as much time as possible. It is true that time can be saved in the design process – and there may be many quite obvious methods of doing so. However efficiency gains in any process can only be found and validated by professionals in each field. Therein lies the key to successful product development, and fine-tuning the process – you need the right team members with the expert knowledge in their field.

In the past you may have released products that have been satisfactory, had a low return or maintenance rate, with good customer feedback. However this may have just been a simple fluke – due to low volume, low feedback of any kind, and the end users not using the product to its rated specifications. But when it comes time to speed things up – the results of the new design may be altered directly or indirectly for the worse.

But how can this be? Knowledge – and the lack of it. Even in medium or large organisations, the design team may comprise of inexperienced new hires, staff who aren’t familiar with the latest revisions in your field, or well-meaning people who just don’t have enough design knowledge to do the best job possible. Their results may produce costly mistakes – both financially and legally. Let’s examine a couple of mistakes to see how easy they are to make, yet costly to recover from.

One recent – and very public example is the recent issue with the Lithium-Ion battery pack used for auxiliary power in the new Boeing 787 aircraft. In a constant drive to reduce weight, engineers chose Li-Ion batteries for their high energy to weight ratio – which theoretically is a great idea. However in practice one large battery was made with several individual packs that were packed together in a sealed compartment. This didn’t allow for any cooling space between the individual packs, thus causing overheating after use and a fire. Now the 787 fleet is grounded until further notice, causing great cost embarrassment to operating airlines, Boeing and associated organisations. [1] With more thought about the design and knowledge about Li-Ion batteries this potentially lethal situation could have been easily avoided.

Another much smaller yet equally hazardous example is that of a power supply design update. The previous design had the AC-AC transformer mounted separately on the chassis. However in a drive to reduce the enclosure size, a newer engineer decided to mount the transformer directly onto the PCB – and also reduce the PCB thickness to save production costs. In theory it looked great, and the test samples from production worked flawlessly. However after the first batch shipped to customers – they were not happy. The combination of the transformer weight, reduced PCB thickness and shock from the delivery process caused the PCBs to fracture – rendering the power supplies useless.

In both cases it would have taken an experienced, knowledgeable person a very short period of time to determine the changes were not for the better, and recommend positive design changes. And thus saving an incredible amount of time for restoration, money and the organisations’ reputation. It can be said that “experience pays” – every time. But what to do if you’re in a rush and don’t have the required experience?

Work with an organisation that has a large team of knowledgeable, experienced engineers with a wide range of design and manufacturing expertise across consumer, business and military-grade products – such as the LX Group. We can take your design ideas, revision requirements and produce the required customised solution for your team, or even follow through to final completion, including documentation, standards compliance and revisions.

For more information or 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.

[1] Peter Cohan, Forbes Magazine 27/01/2013 –


Muhammad AwaisLX Group discusses the value of Experience in Product Development

When working on electronics designs in your workshop, bench or in less than ideal commercial situations there is always the danger of encountering electrostatic discharge (ESD for short). ESD [1] is the sudden flow of electricity between two objects caused by one of three things:

  1. physical contact – such as simply touching an object with your hand
  2. an electrical short – due to component or object fatigue
  3. dielectric breakdown – such as the failure of insulation

Over time it has become easier for those in the semi-professional or hobbyist to not concern themselves as devices and components have become more resistant to the effects of ESD. However this laissez-faire attitude will sooner or later punish the individual’s components or projects. Furthermore, the hazard of ESD is not limited to those with less experience or training, it can affect even the most seasoned engineer.

The causes of ESD generally fall into two categories. The first is the familiar static electricity, caused by two objects coming into contact with each other and then separated. A simple example is wearing a sweater made from synthetic materials – you can feel the static electricity as you take the sweater off. The static electricity is caused by a process known as thetribolectric effect, where a charge moves from a highly-charged object to the lower-charged object in order to balance out.

The second cause of ESD is electrostatic induction. This is the redistribution of charge in an object, caused by the influence of nearby charges. [2] So you may have an object with an excessive amount of positive charge and bring it close to an object without a charge that can conduct electricity, the electrons in the charged object will be attracted to the other and thus the charge is induced across the gap between the two items.

There are several types of ESD, and the most common form is the spark. A spark will occur when the potential difference between two objects is to high the charge will bridge the gap between them. An obvious example of this is lightning – as the potential difference between the charged cloud and the ground is very large. However not all sparks will resemble lightning, and some are small enough to exist yet remain unseen – a hazard in themselves. Some may consider them to be harmless if they’re not strong enough to be visible, however this is not the case.

Various risks involved with ESD are documented widely, with the major concern in the electronics design field being the possible damage to electronic components and devices. The most susceptible component types are CMOS integrated circuits and MOSFET transistors. It only tales one careless person to run their hands through their hair and then pick up an IC – only to find it doesn’t work. Why? The high voltage yet tiny static charge transferred from the hair to the hand sparks across to the leg of the IC handled by the engineer, thus rendering it useless. Those parts that are vulnerable to ESD ship in protective tubes, anti-static bags or other special packaging types for a reason, and care needs to be taken once removed from the packaging.

So how can these risks be mitigated? The first method involves setting aside an area or converting the work space into an Electrostatic Protective Area (or EPA). To do this the workers need to be grounded, usually via wrist straps; and that all conductive materials are also grounded such as bench mats and surfaces. This can be done easily with the use of anti-static bench and floor mats. Furthermore humidity control is important – by dehumidifying the area involved, the opportunity for moisture to develop on various surfaces decreases and in turn the opportunity for ESD damage. Some organisations may even use ion generators to help neutralise charged surface regions in the space. If you organisation has on-site storage or assembly areas, these will also require various ESD-neutralising systems. Finally the use of appropriate warning signage, staff training and quality control is required to maintain the awareness of ESD and the possible risks.

Even though this has been a summary look at ESD, preparing your organisation can be an expense that isn’t justified when preparing your first design prototype, notwithstanding the cost of setting up a complete electronics design facility and workshop. So if you are thinking about moving into hardware work for the first time, instead consider outsourcing the hardware (or more) prototyping to a team of experts with experience in the field, documented successes and all the resources to successfully move your prototype forward to a product. Here at the LX Group we can partner with you through all stages of the design process, allowing you to avoid the expense of setting up engineering areas in your facility.

To get started, 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.

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

[1] ESD definition Wikipedia, accessed 09/11/2012

[2] Electrostatic induction definition from Wikipedia, accessed 09/11/2012

Muhammad AwaisLX discusses Electrostatic Discharge

Building prototypes of your product idea during the design process is naturally important and something that is a necessity for many reasons – including physical conceptualisation, demonstrations to possible financiers, proof of concept, usability testing in later stages, and project inspiration. However like all stages of the design process (as discussed last week) doing so requires a level of knowledge and expertise that not every organisation possess.

 This is not a criticism, but should be taken as a positive observation. And like any skill – if you can’t do it properly yourself, find someone who can. Here at the LX Group we will take the time to understand your needs and ideas which can then be transformed into one or even a range of prototypes – setting you up for success. As part of this process a decision needs to be made with regards to the type of prototype required, so let’s examine them in more detail and the benefits of each.

 Proof-of-concept prototypes

This is often a very basic example that will function in a similar manner to the final product – to prove that it is feasible and can be done. We say that the key purpose is to focus on, understand and address identified risk areas with the prototype. For example selecting an appropriate microcontroller to ensure processing speed and I/O requirements are adequate, or power consumption levels fall under a required maximum. During this level of prototyping it is important to remove design faults and technical risks otherwise the costs involved to make changes later on will be exponential compared to doing so now.

 Demonstration prototypes

When you need to show someone what “it’s all about” – a demonstration prototype will be required. This is the model you shop around to potential investors and future customers, document or show during grant applications, and generally spruik to the outside world. Those of you in larger organisations may also require this to “sell” the concept to decision makers in the upper echelons of management. The prototype may not function as the final product, however it should appear to do so. For example the housing and cosmetic look will match the final product as much as possible, however embedded software may be very basic or “emulate” the required functions.

 Research and Development prototype platforms

When you have the go-ahead to move forward with the project design, it’s time to get working on the design – which requires R&D prototypes. The algorithm development of the product can take place with these prototypes, and thus may not look like the finished product, but they will have the functionality and specified hardware to operate as one. Furthermore this type of prototype may be modified or altered during the research process to account for changes, updates and possible design changes.

 Commercial Product Iterations

There are three iterations during this stage in the design process, including:

  • Alpha prototypes – these are the first revision of the design and generally meet all aspects of the product design. These will be used to test the design parameters, review the design and seek improvements, and seek internal suggestions and improvement ideas.

  • Beta prototypes – these will include any changes made during the alpha prototype stage, and be submitted for compliance testing, certification, stress testing and product trials. After the results of those operations more changes may be required to the design requirements and specifications.

  • Pre-production prototypes – these are manufactured during short runs and ideal for verifying the manufacturing process, component suppliers, determining production yields, product testing, and the supply chain. For more popular products security at all stages of the supply and manufacturing chain is vital to remove the possibility of information leaks, industrial espionage and intellectual-property theft. You don’t want fuzzy photos of your next great thing plastered over Internet pundit websites.

 Where to from here?

 Your project budget and prototype requirements will determine the method of creation and time required to do so. For many designs the speed of prototyping can be increased dramatically, in conjunction with reducing the budget requirement by using a mixture of standard components, development kits, a mixture of reference and custom designs and pre-designed hardware libraries. By not “reinventing the wheel” wherever necessary time and money can be saved without too much effort, leaving resources available for R&D or custom sections of the design.

 So if you have an idea for a prototype and not sure about how to move forward and would like to have an experienced organisation take care of everything – we can “make it happen”. At the LX Group we have our own hardware compiler – a proven system of product design that will save you precious time and money. No matter what stage of design your team has achieved, we can partner with you to share our design and manufacturing expertise for your benefit.

 To move forward with your prototype requirements, 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.

 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 AwaisLX Group – your Partner for Prototyping