How do you develop an electronic consumer product? (Part 1)

Develop Electronics Products

By Michael Schjerbeck, December 2020

I was thinking long and hard about what my first article should be about on LinkedIn and with all the content out there, written by a lot of talented people, I felt I needed to write a post about the thing I have learned during my almost 2 decades in China – developing hundreds of consumer products.

It was supposed to be a quick keyword list on my take on what it takes to develop your new product idea, but since there is no easy to way to develop a new product I will divide my guide into smaller pieces, while keeping in mind all the steps needed for a new product development.

Concept phase / USPs / Funding and the beginning of the development.

It all starts out with the big dream / idea

Concept and Idea phase

First make sure the product you want to set into this world is well thought through. Make sure it’s the right one for your business and pinpoint the real opportunity of your idea. Take time to analyse the competition, review their products and analyse the online feedback they get on their products. Always improve on other peoples mistake. It might be as simple as adding an extra button or increasing battery life.

a.    Competition (everything starts here)

b. Patents – always research patents as early as possible. You want to develop a product that is not infringing on any patents or trademarks

c.    Market size

d.    Sales channels

e.    Marketing needs

f.    Cost analysis

  • Development cost
  • Production cost
  • Certification and testing
  • Transportation
  • Warehousing
  • Customer service
  • After sales service

Selling points (why should consumers buy your product)

Be specific about your USPs (Unique Selling Points).

a.    Design

b.    Problem solving

c.    Patented technology

d.    Price

e.    Features

f.     Availability

g.    Customisable

Funds and Cost

Make sure you have enough money to pay for your development fees, samples, certificatoins, pilot run, mass production, transportation, marketing and distribution. Make initial RFQs (request for quotations) with suppliers and vendors – home and abroad. The intial costs you should keep in mind are:

a.    NRE fees (Non Reoccurring Engineering fees)

  • Electronic development
  • Demo boards
  • Benchmark samples
  • Mechanical development
  • Benchmark samples (always set your goal with benchmark samples – don’t expect partners / manufacturers or even your engineers to have the same goals with the product as you)
  • Firmware development
  • Samples (3D prints / CNC / Components / Custom made parts etc.)
  • App development
  • Tooling / Mold fees 
  • Certification fees (CE / FCC / ROHS / UL / BS / NOM / KCC / TELEC / SAA etc.)
  • Production Jigs
  • Testing Jigs
  • Test software
  • Test equipment

b.    Reoccurring costs

  • Product cost (Based on manufacturers Minimum order quantity). Product costs usually fluctuate greatly through out the development stage, only after the pilot run will a manufacturer be certain about the absolute cost of the product
  • License fees
  • Travel fees
  • Inspection fees
  • Shipping fees
  • Custom clearance / duties
  • Warehousing
  • Marketing
  • Product registration in EU/USA etc.
  • Waste management fees

Start your product development journey.

Surround yourself with people that understand the problems you wish to solve and have the skills to do so.

There are 2 ways to approach product design.

I. From the inside-out

  • This means you work on your technical solution first or buy the technology off-the-shelf from a solution company or manufacturer
  • You then design around the solution, knowing what to expect from the insides. Here even small changes to positioning of buttons, knobs, charging ports etc. can have a major impact on your timeline, and might require the manufacturer to re-layout the electronics to what you want.
  • This approach will give the least headaches if your core is pre-determined (given your industrial designer follows what is given), and follows the mechanical rules for injection tooling etc.

 II. From outside-in.

  • You or your designer has given the product a certain shape or aesthetic pleasing look, only keeping the most essential technical parameters in mind, without knowing the internal structure.
  • The challenging part here is to keep the aesthetics and squeeze the functions and features into a concept.

There is no real right or wrong in terms of product development. I guess it depends on how quick you want to go to market and how many boundaries you wish to push. By really designing something unique, sleek and innovative, you most likely will push the price up and need to make several custom-made parts and several design tweaks before you reach your goals.

This approach requires talented people and a flexible designer that knows how to work the original concept into the upcoming challenges ahead. 

First consider the user case scenarios

Where will the product be used?

  • Waterproofed / Low Temperature etc.
  • Indoor / Outdoor use
  • For Children
  • For Seniors
  • Athletes
  • Industry
  • …….

Based on your findings in your research you need to now go into the development of your product. Be sure to design both an external pleasing and functional product that attracts your demographics. Test your designs with focus groups and make changes if needed. It’s easier and cheaper to change during the development stage than after the first or second production.

Industrial design and development

  1. Make sketches – Always have more than one design on hand. It is important to have a plan B, if the desirable design is not possible to produce.
  2. 2D drawings – Be as specific as you can be on your 2D drawings. If possible. If you are able to already size the products and define details, do it as early as possible.
  3. 3D drawings – Here you need to be able to define the structure of the product. You need to have an idea of how to assemble the product and know how many parts the product should be made of. These parameters will change as you get deeper into your development.
  4. 3D prints – are the the best way to test your design. Making sure the size is what you are looking for, and determine if the product looks good or not. Make sure your design is printable. Some drawings are good for production but not 3D printing and vica versa.
  5. CNC prototyping – after having gone through the mechanical process of finetuning the design, and made several 3D prints, you should invest the money it cost to make a beautiful CNC prototype. This can be sanded, and painted to make a 1:1 replica of the final product.
  6.  Electrical engineering
    1. Proof of Concept.
      1. Work on a proof-of-concept (POC) model first. Base this of demo boards like arduino or other widely available development kits suitable for your product. Once you POC is nailed you can move on to following.
    2. PCB Layout
    3. Schematic
    4. PCB samples
    5.  SMT
    6. PCBA samples
    7.  Firmware development
      1. Test – test – test
      2. Always consult with experts in the field and prepare samples for non-experts as well, to give you honest feedback on what works and what doesn’t.
      3.  It is always your own responsibility to make sure your own product works. So set aside enough time to test your samples, make sample reports and note down the changes you want the manufacturer to make. Nothing is a given, everything has to be specified and in writing. Most software companies, or solution companies simply follow the customer instructions, and if the scope, functions and flow is not clear – they guess their way to the result.
    8. Engineering samples (working prototypes)
      1. Test – test – test
      2. It is extremely important to set aside enough time to test your product thoroughly and extensively. Being in rush will not do you any good. Set up the products in various scenarios to test each user case and keep testing the products for some time. The manufacturer or development company will most likely finish the product samples in a hurry and move on to the next task, not knowing how or where the products are used. 
      3. Again, write down all your findings and invest in more samples for testing if something isn’t right. Going with “we can improve this during production” is not a viable option for anyone. Samples cost money and take time, but it is a lot cheaper to invest in more samples and get things right, befor you start mass-producing any product on a large scale.
      4. Write down all test requirements imaginable for your product. (consult with testing labs and start reading some of safety and environmental regulations in your selling markets). It is a good idea to consult with the government departments in charge of your product category. Be sure your manufacturer is able to handle these test requirements in-house or with an outsources partner.
        1. Keep updating your test requirements and new findings and review these with the manufacturers often.
    9. Specify the BOM (bill of materials)
      1. Start your BOM as early as possible
      2. Divide your BOM into sections
        1. Mechanical Parts
          1. Plastics
          2. Metals (screws, battery holder, other metals)
        2. Electronic Parts
          1. PCB
          2. Passive components
          3. Active components
          4. Screens / Displays
          5. Batteries
          6. Speaker Drivers
        3. Assembly fees
          1. SMT
          2. Product assembly
          3. Product packing
        4. Logistic fees
          1. Internal fees
          2. FOB charges
        5. Quality control (QC costs money)
          1. SMT QC
          2. Part QC
          3. Assembly QC
          4. Final QC
          5. Random inspection
        6. Failure rate (scrap)
        7. Margins
    10. Change logs
      1. Keep all changes for all parts written down. Make sure to implement change management and know what changes are implemented and still under testing. Know or research what each change will have of effect on the total product development timeline and costs. This includes all the above mentioned parts.

Above is a quick list and not a in-depth look at what it takes to start your consumer product development process. I will go into more details on some of topics in later posts. Below you can have a look at what is coming up during the next many months. If you want to know any part in more detail feel free to contact me and our team at info@nomenta.com

Whats coming next:

Above was a brief introduction to the starting points of any electronic consumer product development. In my next articles I will address the following points: DFMA (Design for manufacturing and assembly / CMF (Color Material and Finish) / Locking parts in place / Getting quotations / Getting tooling quotations / The importance of Packaging and Manual making / Traceability / Markings and label / Assembly cost / Pilot run / Cost down solutions / Certifications / Mass productions / Quality Assurance and Quality Control / Logistics / RMA procedures / Long term partnerships / Resource allocations /Specific details when developing connected products / Specific Details when Developing Audio Products

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