Successful Endeavours - Electronics Designs That Work!

Product Development


What is a Prototype?

A Prototype is done in order to explore some aspect of a new opportunity without having to fully commit to it yet. Prototype has a number of potential meanings including:

  • the original or model on which something is based or formed.
  • someone or something that serves to illustrate the typical qualities of a class; model; exemplar:
  • something analogous to another thing of a later period:
  • Biology. an archetype; a primitive form regarded as the basis of a group.

So a Prototype is either an early model or a smaller scale development to test a new idea.

Why Prototype?

So for engineering, we Prototype to reduce risk, and we learn from Prototypes to improve the likelihood of project success by being better informed for the next round of design. So a Prototype is a core Product Development Process Risk Management strategy.

Product Development Process

Product Development Process

A Prototype can also reduce other risks such as financial risk or market risk and isn’t always done for technical risk reasons.

Financial risk can be managed by breaking a project up into a series of stages and only committing funds to a stage when its predecessor has been successfully completed. A Prototype is often done ahead of a major block of Product Development to test whether the technical approach is likely to succeed and provide early warning of unexpected problems or interactions.

Market risk can be managed by trialing a new product idea with a smaller group of candidate customers to gauge their acceptance of the product. This has to be well managed however as history has shown that this approach, especially in the case of focus groups, can often just elicit the outcome the company hoped for and not a real example of how the market will react. Just look at all the failed Coca Cola new flavour launches.

And of course, technical risk can be managed by making Prototypes that implement the highest risk features as early as possible. We covered this in Improving Product Development.

A Prototype can often be used during Engineering Analysis in order to evaluate the effectiveness of different options for addressing the Requirements. This is covered in Electronics Design Process.

Successful Endeavours Development Process

Successful Endeavours Development Process

And then having designed a product it is normal to build a Prototype to ensure the final solution works as expected. This manages the risk that production tooling might need rework or even redesign.

How to Prototype?

This depends on the problem you want to solve. For this section we will focus on technical risks. A Prototype is very useful to allow you to measure some essential elements of the final product without committing to a final solution. So you can explore:

  • modelling a problem and simulations
  • noise and interference
  • power consumption
  • performance versus cost (compare several different prototypes)
  • responsiveness
  • system resources required
  • hardware versus software solutions
  • temperature rise
  • materials properties
  • shape and usability / ergonomics
  • fit (especially PCBs in mechanical housings)

And the list can go on. The key is to determine where the risk is and manage that. In Project Management Pre-preparation we looked at using a Prototype to reduce both technical and financial risk at the same time. In this case, other developers hadn’t been able to produce a working product so the client had a clear risk to manage. And our approach was to make a jig that allowed us to explore the sensing that was needed and get real data to then analyse and develop a solution. The same jig allowed the solution to then be tested before we designed the Electronics PCBs and Embedded Software needed for the final product. And the client was able to authorise each next level of expenditure with confidence based on us having delivered against the requirements for the previous stage.

Simulation

Simulation

And of course, 3D Printing for Electronics has enormously expanded the possibilities for mechanical prototypes by allowing anyone to quickly build and test the fit of objects together. It is also a viable option for low volume manufacturing.

3D Printed Spacer

3D Printed Spacer

3D Printed Spacer Fitted

3D Printed Spacer Fitted

 

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Voltera V-One

The Voltera V-One is a PCB Prototyping system from voltera.io. And we just got one having put in a pre-order in April 2017. So we made the default “Hello World”project to make sure it works. And it did. Now the first serious assignment is making a single sided PCB with 8 channels of 3rd order active low pass filtering on it. Although it can do double sided PCBs there are extra steps so I started with single sided and we will run a few jumper wires to stitch the GND and VCC nets together. Everything else I was able to route fully through on the top layer. You can watch it in action below.

And this is the design it is printing. Below is the schematic for 2 of the low pass active filter channels.

Active Low Pass Filter Schematic

Active Low Pass Filter Schematic

The layout that was then converted to gerber plots (only needed the GTL top layer) and printed. You can easily see where I allowed for the jumper wires. The ones on the left are GND and on the right are VCC.

Active Low Pass Filter PCB

Active Low Pass Filter PCB

This technology is the equivalent of 3D printing for circuit boards. But wait, there is more. You can use any substrate so this can print on glass or a flexible medium such as Kapton. And it is worth noting that it is a printer and so can handle more than just conductive ink. You can also use it as a general purpose printer. It will even dispense paste on standard HASL finish production PCBs so you can do stencil free reflow of standard PCBs.

They are also working on a milling attachment and we plan on getting that as soon as it is available.

Voltera V-One Review

Here is a review put together by Andrew Walla, one of the staff here at Successful Endeavours. I’ve added a few comments of my own so here it is.

Voltera V-One Pros

  • Voltera have done an exceptional job with the software user interface and look and feel of the product. In much the same way that the Arduino platform makes embedded microcontroller technology accessible to the masses, I feel the V-One does the same for PCB prototyping.
  • The printer has everything you need to get started to print your own ‘Hello World’ project. Batteries are included.
  • The printer allows you to fabricate single layer PCBs in less than a day, even on unusual substrates such as glass or flexible polymers.
  • Double sided PCBs are supported. There are extra steps such as drilling the through holes after curing the first side then aligning the second side then print and cure. A simple double sided PCB could also be done the same day. You manually fill Via holes with paste so they plate through.
  • The printer accepts standard PCB file formats (GERBER) and doesn’t appear to have any difficulty reading them correctly.
  • The printer allows for aligning different designs over pre-existing prints or for double sided PCBs.
  • It also has a paste dispenser so you can lay down paste and then hand load components.
  • The heated bed, used for curing the conductive ink, will go hot enough to reflow the paste once you have parts loaded. You can even modify the temperature profile to behave in a custom manner.
  • If you have standard PCBs with HASL finish then they have a specific paste you can use with them and it will reflow those as well. We are likely to make a lot of use of that feature. And the machine is faster at this than printing because the ink curing time is an hour but paste is ready to go the moment it is dispensed.
  • The conductive ink seems to live up to its promised conductivity.
  • And the biggest Pro of all: if you need a PCB today, then you can have your PCB today, as long as it is within the process capabilities of the Voltera V-One.

So lots of positives there.

Voltera V-One Cons

  • Don’t expect this printer to make production quality PCBs for you.
  • It doesn’t support solder masks. Plus that would take up a lot of ink. So you will want to think about whether you want to coat the PCB after assembly with a varnish.
  • And there is a lot more work to getting a double sided board together.
  • You also won’t end up with as neat a result as you can get from production PCBs hand loaded. However the paste dispenser is definitely going to get a lot of use on HASL finish PCBs so we see that as a major win.
  • Because the PCB sits on top of the rails when it is being cured, you can’t run tracks out to the edge of the PCB.
  • We made some cardboard spacers to allow us to position the blank PCB in the center of the bed. Otherwise it can be awkward to get the printing aligned with the PCB. So this is an area that needs improving.
  • And while they do intend to release a milling accessory, it isn’t ready yet. That is also on our “to get” list.

Overall, I have been quite impressed and look forward to seeing what this printer will have to offer in future.

This post was jointly produced by Ray Keefe and Andrew Walla.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

arcHUB

Tonight I was at the CleanUp 2017 conference awards dinner. We recently learned that the the  arcHUB Smart Cities device was a finalist for the Agilent Award for Innovation in Analytical Science. This award was presented tonight.

 Clean Up 2017

Clean Up 2017

The arcHUB Smart Cities device measures multiple data types that are useful for the management of Smart Cities including particulates, gases, micro-climate, pedestrian traffic, water level and supports a host of other sensor types.

Agilent Award 2017 Announced

Agilent Award 2017 Announced

The Agilent Award for Innovation in Analytical Science presented during the CleanUp 2017 conference awards dinner.

arcHUB - Agilent Award Presentation

arcHUB – Agilent Award Presentation

The arcHUB Smart Cities device was runner up with the University of Newcastle winning the award.

arcHUB - Agilent Award Certificate

arcHUB – Agilent Award Certificate

Above we have Brian Oldland and Richard Dluzniak of The Active Reactor Company with Ray Keefe of Successful Endeavours at the CleanUp 2017 conference awards dinner with the award certificate as runner up for the Agilent Award for Innovation in Analytical Science 2017.

arcHUB - Agilent Award For Innovation In Analytical Science 2017 for Australia

arcHUB – Agilent Award For Innovation In Analytical Science 2017 for Australia

The arcHUB Smart Cities sensor suite is an excellent example of a designed in Australia, Made in Australia product with massive potential for environmental and Smart Cities monitoring throughout the world.

Agilent

Agilent

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Electronex

Electronex is the Australian Electronics Manufacturing industry annual expo. This year it is at the Melbourne Park Function Centre from Wednesday 6 to Thursday 7 September 2017. You can see all the details at Electronex.

Electronex 2017 animated logo

Electronex 2017

SMCBA

In parallel the SMCBA (Surface Mount & Circuit Board Association) is running their annual conference. This year the primary sessions are:

SMCBA Surface Mount & Circuit Board Association

SMCBA

The program has two internationally renowned presenters for SMT Manufacturing Vern Solberg and Phil Zarrow presenting on the topics.

Vern Solberg

Vern Solberg

Phil Zarrow

Phil Zarrow

And I’m presenting 2 of the open sessions which include a look at the role PCB Design takes in the overall Product Development and the 5 areas of cost you must manage if you want to minimise the total cost of a product.

PCB Design Tradeoffs

This topic looks at the Product Development process and how PCB design fits into that. This is to do with the trade offs between product features, what you do in HW, what you do in SW and how to select the technology you want to put on the PCB based on the combination of CEM or in house capability, component lead time, test requirements and product cost.

CEM of course means Contract Electronics Manufacturing. Also called EMS (Electronics Manufacturing Service) or ECM (Electronics Contract Manufacturing).

Total cost of product ownership

The total cost of ownership of a product is a concept that looks at all the investment required to bring a product to market and manage it throughout its life cycle. It isn’t just a case of minimising R&D spend or getting the Bill of Materials to a minimum. That will usually lead to a higher cost product.
What will be presented is a model looking at the 5 major costs areas involved in the development of a product throughout its life cycle and how taking all 5 into account can enable you to get the best return on the important investment made in bringing new products to market.
It will also examine a case study where a product development delivered a next generation product to market that allowed the manufacturer to lower their price, triple their profit margin and increase their market share, all at the same time.

Successful Endeavours Exhibiting

And we are also pleased to announce that we are exhibiting this year for the first time. So if you are coming then we are at stand C1 next to Duet Electronics.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Project Management

This post will look at an aspect of managing projects that is often overlooked. These are the steps you need to take prior to project commencement. The idea for this came from a presentation by Graeme Joy to the Casey Cardinia Business Group covering his expedition to the North Pole.

Graeme Joy with Australian Flag

Graeme Joy with Australian Flag

Planning a Project

The thing that stood out the most from his presentation was how much of the project depended on the up front planning, and how little they could do to influence the final outcome once they set foot onto the ice.

On The Ice

International North Pole Expedition On The Ice

So how did they do it?

Pick the right team

If you want a High Performance Team, then every member needs to be able to carry their weight and to be able to continue to do so during the whole of the project and in cooperation with the rest of the team members. So friction is OK as long as it leads to a good outcome. In fact you need divergent view points to prevent group think settling in.

So how do you pick the team members?

International North Pole Expedition Team

International North Pole Expedition Team

Step one is that a High Performance Team needs a High Performance Leader or leadership group. The High Performance Leader has to be able to set the scene for the purpose the team exists for and also gain commitment from the team members toward that purpose. The steps include:

  • Vision – Create and Develop commitment within your team. Defining success and the
    measurement of performance.
  • Empowerment – creating leaders within your organisation.
  • Urgency – A Sense of Urgency is critical
  • Communicate – You have to be an excellent communicator
  • Attitude – a positive attitude is more important than skill
  • Empathy – understand who your team are and what they are going through

Attitude is the one I want to focus on here. You can learn skills, but if your Attitude is not right, you can still fail. One example is the likelihood of survival. A trip to the north pole is entirely carried out over ice floating on top of the Arctic Ocean. Unlike Antarctica, there is no rock underneath. This carried with it 2 things I hadn’t considered until I heard Graeme Joy‘s presentation.

Progress

How do you measure progress. Easy, my current position and how much closer to the North Pole am I today compared to yesterday. Seems OK. Except I am on drifting ice. They planned on making 36km per day. One day, they travelled the distance but actually went backward by 6km due to the ice drifting. It takes quite a lot of resilience to handle that. So they made sure everyone knew in advance that it was going to happen. On the plus side, one night they got 12km closer while they slept.

Dragging Gear Over Arctic Ice

Dragging Gear Over Arctic Ice

Survival Belief

The Arctic is harsh. Temperatures are low. Down to -55C. There are polar bears. There are ice floes and high winds and the real danger that their tent could be damaged. To emotionally prepare for this they practised sleeping in the open in just their sleeping bags in the high Swiss Alps so they knew they could survive in the event their tent was ripped.

Arctic Ice Tent

Arctic Ice Tent

Engineering Application

So how does this apply to Engineering, and in particular what Successful Endeavours does, Electronics Design and Embedded  Software Development? The point about Attitude is everything. Henry Ford once said, “The man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can’t are both right“. And I agree this is the case. When we take on a project, it isn’t that we necessarily know exactly how we are going to do it, but it is with the Attitude that we will find a way. And we do. IBM statistics show that 80% of R&D projects fail. Yet we routinely succeed. It defies the statistics so how do we do it?

We recently took on 2 projects for a client who had not been able to get a solution from their current engineering services suppliers. In one case we were the 3rd business to look at the project and the project was running more than a year late. They needed to present to their end customer in 6 weeks. So how can we take on that risk given 2 other teams have failed and with a lot more time to work with?

Looking at the risks for the North Pole Expedition, surviving if the tent was damaged was managed as a psychological risk by trialling the risk management strategy before the expedition set out. This way they knew they could handle it.

In the case of the project we took on (I can’t say more because the product isn’t on the market yet) we did a quick trial and created a test rig and measured the physical parameters we would be working with and then analysed them using excel and then a program written to run on a Windows PC and trialed the solution outside the embedded environment using real data pulled from the test rig.

Simulation

Simulation Example – click to see full size

So we were able to see the data we would be working with and determine that a solution could be developed based on fully understanding the problem that needed to be solved. Then we started the main development phase knowing we would be able to get to a solution. And our client had confidence to authorise the additional expenditure knowing it was likely to be a good investment this time. End result, our client was able to take a working proof of concept prototype to their end customer on the expected date. And we were able to utilise most of the mechanical engineering work already done as well as the LCD panels so they were also able to leverage some of the historical investment.

So that was the process: understand the problem, manage the risk, do the required homework, then execute with confidence.

When we hire (we are hiring now), Attitude is one of the key things I assess for. Because we can teach skills. And provide experience. But I can’t overcome a defeatist or overly risk averse mindset. And I won’t hire someone who doesn’t have a hunger for the client to succeed. We exist to support Australian Electronics Manufacturers and the primary outcome I want from each project is a local manufacturing success story.

The man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can’t are both right“, Henry Ford.

Graeme Joy Bio

So who is Graeme Joy?

Graeme Joy

Graeme Joy

Graeme Joy is perhaps best known as joint leader and navigator of the International North Pole Expedition, where he became the first Australian to ski to the North Pole, but he is also one of the most focused, effective and highly ranked motivational speakers in Australasia.
His extensive mastery of essential business principles such as, strategic planning, project management, conflict resolution, defining success, personality types and leadership, will answer any questions you may have and leave you feeling empowered to maximise the performance of your team.
Highly praised for his business applicability, take-home value and ability to deliver key results, Graeme Joy is also keen to share his experience with others and runs a company that conducts specialist leadership and team development programs.

The above was taken from his website. But having seen him in action, it is definitely not an exaggeration.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

 

Manufacturing Profits you can retire on

I was talking with one of our past clients a little while ago. They told me they had a problem. They said, “Ray, I nearly retired“! So I asked them what that meant. And they explained.

We had developed a product for them a decade ago. The total project cost then around $50,000 as it included both the product Electronics Design, Embedded Software and also the Automated Test Equipment (ATE) for Production Test which also had an Electronics Design, Embedded Software and Windows PC ATE Software component to it. And from that product they made nearly $2,000,000 in retained profit. From their perspective, nearly enough to retire on. And since they own the company it is theirs to distribute as they please. Now they wanted to do it again. So we are onto another very exciting Product Development for them. Can’t say any more about that yet.

So I though about the value proposition here. The maths says:

2,000,000 / 50,000 = 40:1 Return On Investment (ROI).

And that ignores the total value of the economic activity and profits their suppliers and customers have made.

Return On Investment (ROI)

Return On Investment (ROI)

Manufacturing Spearheads Economic Growth

The Victorian Government estimates that every $1 spent with a business like Successful Endeavours, there is $100 of overall economic value generated for the state. Makes you wonder why they don’t invest themselves? They used to through things like the Technology Voucher Program but all of that is currently shut down.

And of course there are the jobs this generates. Again, Victorian Government estimates are that every job in manufacturing creates another 5 jobs around it in the supply chain and supporting businesses. That is the highest ratio of any industry.

So what’s not to love about Australian Manufacturing! Let’s look at the benefits:

  • creates fundamental value (so the service sector has something to leverage off)
  • creates jobs and then more indirect jobs than any other industry so it is great for employment
  • creates profits

And far from being in decline, the Australian Manufacturing PMI has been in growth most of the past  2 years so that is also really positive for the overall economy. Check out he graph below from the Australian Industry Group (AIG).

Australia Manufacturing PMI 2015-2017 shows growth the whole way

Australia Manufacturing PMI 2015-2017 shows growth the whole way

The above graph was created by Trading Economics. They provide a a useful way to use the AIG Australian Manufacturing PMI figures to get reports in the format you want. If you explore it more deeply, you can see that we took a hit to Australian Manufacturing during the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) but it has been an upward trend from then on.

AIG

AIG

Go Australian Manufacturing!

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Software Costing

There is an old saying that goes something like this: “hardware is almost free and comes from China; but software is actually free and comes from India”. Actually not such on old saying, and certainly not true. But we do see signs of this myth being alive and well when providing project pricing and estimates for new clients. I covered some of this in Software Estimation.

Software Estimation

Software Estimation

This was about how to try and work out a Software Development Budget in advance. Including forgetting that the entire Software Development Process involves more than just typing. So is it possible to know what it really  costs from real world (non-imaginary) data?

Software Cost

The answer is that it is. My thanks got to VDC Research who recently did a survey of Embedded Developers and made the data available to subscribers of The Embedded Muse, a software development newsletter authored by Jack Ganssle. If you develop software, especially for Embedded Systems, I recommend you sign up if you aren’t already a subscriber.

Jack Ganssle

Jack Ganssle

Here is a summary of some statistics that gave me insights into real Software Development Costs.

Average Median
Project Team Members 19 7
Project Cost $27,000,000 $250,000
Lines of Code 627,000 20,000

So that is a big spread. Our projects are often below the median level shown here so I was interested to work out what these statistics translate to in cost. The $ are all USD$. And the large lines of code average probably represents larger projects using a major Operating System such as Linux as part of the project.

Cost per team member Cost per line of code
Average $1,421,052 $43.06
Median $35,714 $12.50

My first thought is that we don’t charge enough if these are industry typical figures. A bit more thinking shows the process costs of much larger systems. As far as I know there would be few software developers actually getting $1M for their part in the project. And there will be tools costs also included. The statistic missing for me was the duration the money was spent over. We typically budget $5 per line of code for larger projects (20K lines is a decent sized project for a small embedded system) and $2.50 for smaller ones (say 5K lines of code of less).

So there you have a really rough way of estimating cost based on Lines of Code and number of Software Developers involved.

The above is a very small example of the data collected by VDC Research so consider signing up if you want to see all of it.

Software Lines of Code

Software Lines of Code, or LOC, is only one measure of a project. There is much more to consider. We had a recent project where we were asked to fix 50K lines of code for a product that was proving unreliable. So I ran RSM over the top of it to get the average Cylcomatic Complexity and got 6.2! Those who know what that means probably have no idea how you could write code that hard to debug. And no, it wasn’t lots of switch statements. So is the correct answer $250K at $5 per line of code for a complete rewrite?

The answer is a resounding “NO”!

And the reason is because we redesigned the control flow and changed the UI to a table driven design and reduced a spaghetti mess of 50K lines of code down to 10K lines of cleanly designed code. Which is a budget more like $50K. In this case, it was much more cost effective to redesign from scratch than to try and rescue it. We also fixed the hardware design as that was in part responsible for the unreliability.

So the other answer is that good requirements analysis and good design will reduce Software Cost.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Design Led Innovation

Traditional Product Development comes up with the product idea, does the development, gets it into production and then tries to find customers to sell it to.

Design Led Innovation tries to turn that process around so the actual needs of the customer or user become part of both the product definition and the business model development. If you haven’t already heard of it, check out the Business Model Canvas.

I get the opportunity to present on topics like Innovation to Business Groups and even MBA programs and one of the interesting statistics I use is that the number one area for Innovation in the world today is the Business Model.

How Does Design Led Innovation Work?

So how does this all work?

Design Led Innovation

Design Led Innovation Process

In Design Led Innovation, the expected outcome is that when you engage with your customer, and begin to understand their needs, then you can start to offer them something that has much higher value for them and allows you to get a better price for offering that much higher value. The outcome is the classic win:win that great business is meant to deliver. And it is a key factor in not getting caught in the classic commodity service price war with the client’s purchasing officer driving the process.

It is also a continuous process. One description is that it is like “rebuilding the plane while it is in flight”.

Sounds scary, but the results seem to show it is well worth doing.

Design Led Innovation session at SEBN

At a recent SEBN breakfast session we heard from Tricomposite about their  experience of using Design Led Innovation to revolutionise their business and not only service their existing customers better, but offer them products they didn’t even know they wanted and create a much better value offering for them than they had ever considered before. And this has opened up potential market offerings to other customers who they would never have considered they could work with.

Here are the themes they explored in finding this offering:

  • focus on designers, not buyers
  • test is time pressure leads to design mistakes
  • test is rapid full-sized final material prototypes were valuable
  • test if there was room for service level agreements
  • test if there was room for collaborative design

And the answer to 4 of these was a resounding yes. Only the service level agreement test failed. Basically, customers expect service as a given. But the rest has opened up a complete rethink of their business. In fact, they shared that it was their existing perspective on their business that proved to be their biggest limiting factor.

Business Model Canvas

Rethinking the Business Model is a key component of Design Led Innovation. But not as an end in itself. Only after understanding your customer’s real needs can you determine how to make it easier to do business with them.

I recommend getting the Business Model Canvas book and taking advantage of the free downloads at Strategyzer. Here is a example of one of their tools.

Business Model Canvas Example

Business Model Canvas Example

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2016 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Requirements Capture versus Product Specification

In our post on Requirements Capture I looked at how we can go about understanding what a product has to do, who it has to do it for, and how to assess that. The output of this process is often referred to as a Product Specification or more specifically a Product Technical Specification.

One way to think if this is that Requirements Capture is a pull process, where as Product Specification is often a push process.

I was amused to read Jama Software’s blog on this topic where they show a number of ways to go about writing the Product Specification. My favourite was their description of letting the development team write the specification.

Developers Write the Specifcation

Developers Write the Specification

We see a lot of this with web development where the web developers want to try a particular tool or technique so they use it for your project whether that is good for you or not. Below is a summary  of the other options and some common pitfalls.

Customer Supplied Specifications

If the customer is writing from a marketing perspective or a specific opportunity then you can end up with a very useful Product Specification. But if it purely a sales driven process then you often end up with the following combination:

  • superset of the features of all other products on the market
  • at a price 10% below the cheapest product on the market

This generally leads to a project doomed to fail or at the very least puts the product in a price war with a race to the bottom of the market. At the very least, it can put a straight jacket on the product and significantly reduce the likelihood of commercial success.

A marketing driven process will determine where in the market a product can be and at what price, for who and a clear strategy for competing with the other offerings.

Ask the customer

As Steve Jobs famously said, “don’t ask them, they don’t know”.  This isn’t always true, but the client often doesn’t know what is possible and part of the role of Product Developers is to give good guidance on Technology Selection to give the product an edge in the market.

Otherwise, you just deliver what they asked for without caring about their success. I often think this is one thing we offer. We care about the client’s success.

Analyse across all constraints

This is the process we try and use.  And it is well captured in this image from Jama Software.

Product Specification

Product Specification

To be successful, a product should:

  • be possible and affordable with available technology you can actually buy or deploy
  • solve a well defined problem in an acceptable manner
  • fit within the constraints of either the manufacturing capability, logistics capability or market channels available

The last point is often overlooked. I was recently asked why we couldn’t design a product that cost $20 to make, have the range of a mobile phone, be manufactured in quantities of 100 of on demand, a development budget of under $20,000 and be able to be deployed with no infrastructure costs. This is an example of a wish list that can’t be realised as it is currently expressed. However, when we looked at it from a different perspective, we were able to come up with a solution. The questions we asked were:

  • why do they want it?
  • who do they wanted it for?
  • what problem is it meant to solve?
  • what is solving that problem worth to the end user / buyer?
  • what is the manufactured volume versus unit price trade-off?
  • what can it really cost to develop and manufacture and still be profitable?

And suddenly the impossible can become possible. In this case they knew their market well. It was just an example of the customer starting with a specification rather than using the resources around them to get to a specification that could lead to commercial success.

And ultimately, that is where a Product Specification is meant to lead to: commercial success.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2015 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things, or IoT as it is abbreviated to, is still an emerging trend. But it is driving some substantial changes in some industry areas. This includes the 4th Industrial Revolution, also known as Industry 4.0.

If you are deploying to a factory or industrial complex, then generally the networking and power is already dealt with and you can piggy back off the existing infrastructure. But what about deploying Remote Telemetry? If you wanted to measure water tank levels or water usage in a rural location you might have to use a solar powered or primary battery powered system and 3G or 4G communications to get the data back to a website or server. That can have its own challenges. The typical industrial computer used for these monitoring tasks and posting reports or transactions requires a lot of power to run and is expensive. So can you do it if the budget for the hardware is $600, you don’t want to use solar cells and also don’t want to change the batteries every month?

The answer is YES. Check out this short video to find out how.

The awards referred to are covered in our recent posts on the National Manufacturing Week Endeavour Awards and the Process Automation and Control Electronics PACE Zenith Awards. The applicable categories are:

  • Water and Wastewater – IoT Monitoring Platform
  • Best Fieldbus Implementation – IoT Monitoring Platform
  • Power and Energy Management – IoT Monitoring Platform
  • Australian Industrial Product of the Year – IoT Monitoring Platform
  • IT Application of the Year – Telemetry Host IoT web platform
Endeavour Awards 2015 Finalists

Endeavour Awards 2015 Finalists

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2015 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

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