Suppose you need to develop an electronic device that solves a highly specialized problem. The more innovative the idea, the lower the likelihood of having analogues of such a device, and there are no ready-made circuits for assembly.
Therefore, when the market opportunities do not match the demands, all that remains is to plunge into hardware on your own, obtain a patent and break into the market with a unique design.
Where does the development of an electronic device begin?
First step hardware development starts with a simple question – what task does the device solve? A detailed answer to this question will give an understanding of how occupied the niche in the market is, whether the finished product will reach its consumer, whether it is worth investing resources in the development of the project – in general, it will allow us to initially weigh the risks.
After assessing the risks, it is necessary to determine how the development takes place: with your own hands or with the hands of specialists. Both options are equally good, the main thing is the pleasure of the process.
If the tedious technical part is not for you, the specialists of the KLONA studio will provide a ready-made solution.
We schematically design architectural solutions
On second stage hardware development magic begins. After defining the purpose of developing custom electronics, a stage of numerous questions follows. Where will the device do the job? And in what conditions?
The answers will affect the selection of the element base or case material. For example, under the same conditions, PVC used for hull skin can be both beneficial and problematic.
To avoid future breakdowns and performance problems, you need to draw up a detailed action plan that will start third stage …
Next, there is the development of logical circuits for the future printed circuit board, an estimate of the power supply units, possible weak points of the device. These data form the basis for virtual modeling.
Having in hand several virtual prototypes, you can choose which one is suitable for solving the task at hand.
We select the element base for the future prototype
The drawings are behind, but not quite yet. Now you need to choose whether that logical node needs a 2 miohm resistor or 3 miohm, which power circuits will be used – cheap but short-lived, or expensive but durable.
Fourth stage – this is a stage of compromises, when there is a balancing of an iron solution with a budget one. Here you will have to sweep aside some non-viable ideas, get rid of unnecessary nodes in the power supply chains.
The physical prototype has not yet been created, but it is already possible to roughly estimate its capabilities, characteristics, and design power.
Often, ordering parts for a prototype is made from different parts of the world, which can affect the duration of the solution implementation – this factor should be taken into account when finalizing the cost and timing.
At the same time, the “iron UX” is being developed – user interfaces are being designed: buttons, levers, displays, jumpers and similar elements.
After this stage, you can get a detailed estimate and close the question of the exact cost of developing an electronic device.
We create a schematic prototype
… Or directly about hardware development as it is. On fifth stage custom electronics development identifies and removes barriers to the technical implementation of the project. A schematic prototype is created in a software environment similar to OrCAD, which is necessary for testing a mechanism and its architecture that is not yet living, but no longer dead.
Having a software representation of the device in hand, it becomes possible to make changes with instant identification of faults and test results.
The electronic version of the device fully reflects its physical child, carved in a PCB. There is still a long way to go before printing to a PCB, but the nuances must be taken into account now.
What the development process looks like from idea to soldering using the example of a homemade heater for boards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1iWGyvQcLo
A schematic prototype created in a software environment will show whether the device adequately responds to stress loads, helps to select the correct power supply circuits, and increases the reliability threshold. At this stage, we can already talk about the technical study of electronics.
The simulating software environment is able to reflect the physical ports and the reaction of the device to their operation, to prevent errors with the iron part of the parts.
We design the board and route the elements
Sixth stage consists in the development of a prototype of the drawings of the textolite board, the study of the architecture of the hardware. Here is the calculation of the shielding of the tracks for high-frequency signals, the track width for the power circuits.
In parallel, the strength of the board is determined, the final check of the drawing for possible mechanical or other vulnerabilities.
The process of creating a board looks like this: https://youtu.be/DWQkHZr8cnM
It so happens that there are two tracks next to the device – power and signal transmissions. This can interfere with the operation of the device; at the board design stage, these nuances are taken into account and the original circuit model is revised.
The CNC is almost ready to drill the connectors for the ports, mounts, and track grooves, with a couple of control strokes remaining.
Building a physical prototype
We harness for a long time – we go fast.
On seventh stage there will be soldering at the laser station, fine-tuning of individual units and adjustment of the device operation in accordance with the expected operating conditions.
You can already touch the project with your hands, look at its performance, functionality, press the buttons. But before that – checks. Impact resistance, heat resistance, corrosion resistance.
The finished product has to withstand real workloads with a margin, so during testing, all the flaws of the device are revealed.
However, assembling and prototyping a prototype of an electronic device is not the last stage. Before birth, fine-tuning will be required on the spot.
We develop firmware and software
The sensor must understand what exactly it is transmitting? Ninth stage , namely, the stage of development of electronics and software is necessary when there is a thinking component in the device. The project may be an ASIC, but even boards need programming code for one task.
By the way, we have prepared a material on how to write software for embedded systems: you can watch it here.
So, after assembling and prototyping the prototype of an electronic device, the stage begins when it is necessary to take into account the provision of the device with commands.
Example: there is a sensor for registering signals at the infrasound frequency, it must transmit this data to the computing unit, after which it will give a command to output information understood by a person.
Let it be the meanings “Houston, we have a problem” and “Peace be with you, earthlings.” On the one hand, the sensor itself does not understand what kind of signal it is transmitting – meaningful information or noise. Here we need a software element that understands, “whose house is on the edge, who is to blame and who cares” – the editorial note.
On the other hand, the device will be connected to existing software solutions like Windows or Linux. If the device is peripheral, a separate code is created for its correct operation in an already established ecosystem of devices.
Nine stages of electronics development – is that all?
So, the stages are passed, the physical prototype is in hand, but there are still unfinished business? Most likely, this is the creation of a web interface for remote access, the writing or adaptation of existing drivers, as well as many new stages concerning the software part of the device.