Technical Insights - Embedded

Challenges in typical embedded product design

1. Domain knowledge:
It is difficult the und...
Technical Insights - Embedded

some pricing power due to strong brand but you still need to worry about the production cos...
Technical Insights - Embedded

7. Third party dependencies:
You are absolutely dependent on your eco system partners to de...
Technical Insights - Embedded

12. Product certification:
Almost all embedded products have to comply with regulations sti...
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Embedded Product Design & Development Pre- Requisites


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Domain knowledge, Project Management Methodology, Heterogeneous, diverse teams, Product Resource constraints, BOM cost targets, Parts Obsolescence Management, Third party dependencies, Distributed Teams
Test Infrastructure, Manufacturing interface, Reliability
Product certification, Product warranty issues, Import/export rules.

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Embedded Product Design & Development Pre- Requisites

  1. 1. Technical Insights - Embedded Challenges in typical embedded product design 1. Domain knowledge: It is difficult the understand end user context and build quality product unless you have domain skills and end user perspective in your team. The embedded devices interface with other devices in their environment. To facilitate such interoperability the standards bodies in different industries have come up with the plethora of standards often specific to that industry. Same goes for regulatory and certification needs. Prior knowledge dealing with such industry specific needs can, to some extent, avoid project delays and risks. 2. Project Management Methodology: It is a challenge to use newer methodologies like Agile project management methodology if hardware design and development is involved. It is not possible to come up with functioning deliverable every 3 to 4 weeks unlike software development. The hardware board design and development follows waterfall method by its very nature. If hardware design is part of your embedded project then either you use hybrid model – agile for software and waterfall for hardware OR settle for waterfall model for entire project. Many product companies follow the gate process during the design phase. At every stage key stakeholders thoroughly review the state of the readiness before the design team can proceed with the next phase. These gate reviews call for lot of documentation and presentations. Safety critical systems may need to comply with the rigid standards defined for those industries. Something which is contradictory to agile method. 3. Heterogeneous, diverse teams: In embedded product teams you find variety of folks- hardware designers, firmware engineers, middleware engineers, embedded application engineers, remote web client designers, industrial designers, mechanical fabrication engineers, usability experts, test engineers of various hues- software, hardware, certification lab, reliability testing etc. Such diversity calls for some real people management skills on the past of project manager and also team members. In common the way of thinking and perspective is so different between software engineers and say hardware/industrial designers. The first is focused on quick fixes and releases. They know they can resolve any bugs quickly. While other ones understand the cost of mistakes. They tend to take slightly longer term view. Bugs in hardware often result in long delays and often additional cost due to retesting & reproduction. 4. Product Resource constraints: Every electronic product has limited internal resources- memory, CPU power, display size, enclosure space, communication options etc. These become constraints when you design your product. It is usually a tradeoff between the features you want to add Vs internal resources available in the product. And what puts the constraint on the choice of internal resources? Often it is cost, size, weight, power consumption etc. 5. BOM cost targets: Today almost every product needs to compete with other products in the market. The customers often do apple to apple comparison between two competing products on Cost Vs Features basis. You may have FossilShale Embedded Technologies Private Limited - Page 1 of 4
  2. 2. Technical Insights - Embedded some pricing power due to strong brand but you still need to worry about the production cost of each unit. Each cent you squeeze out of the production cost it goes directly to your bottom line. The component engineering and supply chain advantages are crucial here. One of the strong competitive advantages that each country vast and deep linkages they have over there, across the entire value chain in electronic product manufacturing. Some countries can offer cost advantage like no one else in the world. For example, the cost and choice of type B and C hardware components that they can offer due to local availability. They pass this cost advantage to their MNC customers resulting in even more business for them. This has resulted in massive scale of economics. 6. Parts Obsolescence Management: The useful life of your product might be longer than the availability of individual parts in it from the supplier. You may be obligated to support your end customers far longer than your parts supplier might promise to support you. The selection of right parts, especially type A components, is crucial to mitigate future support issues. This issue is important aspect of warranty management for any product company. The designer may be asked to get written communication from the supplier on the availability of the critical Type A parts before the design is approved. Even then the companies might decide to purchase in bulk and keep inventory of parts to handle estimated warranty issues in the field. FossilShale Embedded Technologies Private Limited - Page 2 of 4
  3. 3. Technical Insights - Embedded 7. Third party dependencies: You are absolutely dependent on your eco system partners to develop these products. It is unlikely that you will have all the skills & infrastructure in-house. Different vendors/partners pitch in at various stages and make their contributions. Some examples are Chip Vendor, PCB fabrication and assembly, development tools, Industrial design, Mechanical fabrication, certification testing and reports, mass manufacturing, shipping, packaging and user documentation etc. The vendor management skills are absolute must in these projects. 8. Distributed Teams: Different parts might be developed by different teams separated geographically. This poses unique problems in coordination, integration, testing during product development. The challenge is more than what is seen in pure software development. When different teams in different locations design various sub systems like hardware board, firmware, middle ware, user application, remote client on web then it poses unique challenges during integration and system testing. You need skilled Coordination at customer site along with sophisticated online issue tracking system, version control and integration and testing methodology to navigate the rough waters in the last phases of the project. 9. Test Infrastructure: Many a times you need sophisticated and often customized “Hardware-In-Loop” kind of test set-up. This is often seen for safety critical & industrial systems. Such test infrastructure can be expensive or unavailable with you. You may have to depend on the external lab and it may not be easy to get the slots as per your needs. The external testing often causes the project delays and cost escalation in embedded product design projects. 10. Manufacturing interface: The development team need to closely wok with production house. This involves educating them on your design, understanding their production set-up and process, design the product for manufacturability (DFM), testability (DFT), Develop production test set-up for quick QA testing during production. The designers may even have to travel to site of manufacturing to support them during pilot production and certification. Typically final product certification can be done only by the manufacturer. 11. Reliability: Reliability of the product can be very important depending on the product. Safety critical products need huge investment in reliability related assurance. Apart from usual functional testing the project team needs to be well versed with aspects like Reliability tools, MTBF, FMEA analysis, HALT and HASS tests, redundancy, fault tolerance etc. Safety critical systems may need to comply with regulatory requirements. For example, avionics systems are supposed to follow DO-178B process for software development and DO-254 for hardware development. These standards define in minute detail what & how reviews should be conducted and what & how testing should be done etc. The compliance is audited by Federal Aviation Authority before you get go ahead to install the system in the aircraft. Else you cannot fly such aircraft above in the world. FossilShale Embedded Technologies Private Limited - Page 3 of 4
  4. 4. Technical Insights - Embedded 12. Product certification: Almost all embedded products have to comply with regulations stipulated by different governments for emission, radiation, power consumption, safety etc. You need to know in which countries the product will be sold and then design the product so it will pass those specific certification tests. 13. Product warranty issues: Unlike software application the quick bug fix may not be an option. Product recall can be very expensive and typically results in massive PR debacle for the company. Try recalling car or consumer products. The cost of warranty should be added in the total cost of designing, manufacturing, marketing and selling the product. The tech support and its cost is also part of this. If the product is not designed for ease of operation, ongoing maintenance and field servicing then it adds into the cost of making & selling the product. One way the companies try to address this is remote upgrade, at least for the software. Most of devices in the field host short range as well as long range communication options which make such remote upgrade of software feasible. The software in the smart meters installed in millions of homes cannot be upgraded on site one at a time. That would be too expensive. The remote upgrade is only viable choice here. But this choice is not available for any hardware bug. The stakes are indeed loaded against the hardware folks. They are expected to be perfect. 14. Import/export rules: Depending on the country this can become important issue. In many countries we have many controls and you cannot freely important and export electronics parts or goods. At least in some countries It helps if you execute your projects in designated Software Export Zone. If not then you are dependent on your manufacturer (with SEZ permit) for all import and export. FossilShale Embedded Technologies Private Limited - Page 4 of 4