Students guide to electronic product design

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For many university and college students, designing and producing electronic products can be a daunting task. Making a product which will really impress can be tricky, but the process is much easier if you stick to a well-planned product development cycle.

We’ve laid out the key stages you need in order to deliver a quality design first time round.

Ten steps in the electronic product development process

Concept

PCB prototype for universityThis is almost always the hardest part of any product development job, but your future self will definitely thank you for doing it later on. The best products address everyday problems in innovative ways. Think about something you find annoying in everyday life. Alternatively, try to improve on an existing product by making it better or more efficient.

Make sure you define a need, a product, a market and how you will approach the process of bring it to life (most importantly make sure that it’s achievable).

Research

 At this stage it is important to take off your ‘blue-sky thinking’ hat and dive head first into the gritty details. Research your concept to identify relevant technologies and methods which will be involved in your production process.

When you’ve finished you should have a detailed design specification as well as a good idea about the costs involved.

Circuit Design

As a student of electronics, this stage should be the most familiar. Draw up your schematic with whatever software is available to you and draw up a parts list to better cost out your product.

Packaging Design

 All too often, a brilliant circuit design is let down by sub-par packaging. Remember that customers rarely judge a product on (or even understand) the quality of your circuit, instead they will most likely be swayed by how your product looks and makes them feel.

Steve Jobs and Apple cemented their electronics empire by creating iconic product casings and focussing on the customer experience (think how you felt when you took your iPhone out of its box).

Printed Circuit Design

 This is where you need to turn your up-in-the-air circuit designs into workable PCB files. Being a PCB manufacturer we might be biased at this stage, but we think this is one of the hardest sections to get right.

Make sure you think about your layout placement and always consider the optimum layout of your board. If your product ever goes into mass production then those saved millimetres can mean huge cost savings.

Prototyping or Trial Production

Use a trusted PCB prototyping shop like Hi5 Electronics to print your computer-aided design. It is important not to leave this until the last minute, because prototypes have a unique tendency to identify problems which need resolving before your final hand-in.

In our experience, and depending on the complexity of your design, it can take between two and ten prototypes before a product is absolutely ready for judgement.

Review

Evaluate your prototype for function, appearance, build-cost and any possible enhancements and only when you are absolutely ready should you proceed.

Wrap it up

Once you have successfully built your product, and it satisfies all of the goals you laid out in your concept then you should prepare for the great swathe of documentation. This will vary depending on your course but many universities and colleges require you to assess how the product would be brought through to mass-production.

Evaluate areas where you could generate cost-savings, think about any laws or compliance regulations you would have to achieve and try to project some sales figures based on the size of your target market.

Things to bear in mind

Keep track of time and cost at every stage of the process

Embrace the designer’s mantra. Think: good, cheap, fast

Always make a mock-up, they have a habit of revealing things you might not have thought about

Leave time to test

Only use trusted suppliers – every year we work with loads of University students and help get their prototypes ready for action.

Talk through your PCB needs with an expert today. Call: 01706 647 006. If you already know what you need you can use our bespoke PCB prototype shop.