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The Hardware Product A-Team

Building successful hardware products from scratch has always been an exciting dream that wakes me up every morning. Such products which are made to solve real world problems and touch a million hearts will need an efficient, passionate and dedicated tech team.

Legends

C.M. — Contract manufacturer who builds products in volumes on cost plus certain margins

N.R.I — Non recurring investments like die tooling, mould making and manufacturing charges

P.O. — Purchase orders that guarantee a volume of goods to be bought before certain time frame.

Product ‘Architect’

This guy is the beginning and end of everything, a mechatronics guru who understands a little of everything, just enough to smartly navigate the project to its finish line. A product architect can dream and perceive a product before its even made and has a strong understanding over the user requirement, market trends and is a numbers engine when it comes to understanding costs and margins. Often found churning out deadlines and running behind product teams and interfacing among departments. The product brand language has to be clearly understood and the understanding of the limitations and possibilities of the team must be at the back of his hand.

“A great product manager has the brain of an engineer, the heart of a designer, and the speech of a diplomat”

Deep Nishar, LinkedIn

Electronics and Embedded Firmware ‘Prototyper’

This guy loves breadboarding! Every connected hardware device today requires electronics backend and there are tonnes of hardware solutions available for end use and prototyping, however a basic knowledge of how all the individual hardware blocks affect the device as a whole and how to quickly pick up existing blocks and build a hardware POC which runs the final code is very important. She can also design prototype PCB’s for testing the code framework on scalable electronics system. However the changes in the physical form and shape of the PCB can be taken care of by a mass manufacturer under the constrains given by the electronics design and industrial design team.

Industrial Designer — Sketch ‘Artist’

Industrial designer by degree, this one can sketch concepts which look no less than photo realistic renders when it comes to detailing, forms and proportion. Above all the concept creator must have strong understanding in the manufacturing processes of the industry and knowledge on materials available and their characteristics.

This is very important as all manufacturing processes must comply on scale as well. A prototype can be built out of foam or blocks of wood, but when the same has to be produced in thousands then things like the rate of production, costs of the non recurring investments come into play. If the designer himself understands the limitations strongly then the entire process of building the product becomes seamless.

Product Designer — Mechanical ‘Engineer’

From class A surface modelling to complex Computer aided design assemblies she would be a one stop shop who will take the idea to production and handles the limitations of manufacturing processes and saves costs on the NRI’s. She should have knowledge about Manufacturing processes and must keep in constant touch with the CM, An understanding of developments and techniques of manufacturing. Good documentation skills and stringent standards to transfer design ideas to the CM are key to efficiency, maintaining a repository with files and revisions is essential. Allowing scope for future improvements in the design must be understood and is a thought process she should follow.

Software integrator/ App developer

Well, I don’t have to explain the importance of her role. Many a times, an embedded OS, a web backend and a mobile based app are to be integrated for the best of the seamless user interfaces. Design of portable consumer devices today comes with lot of limitations like battery, processing power and size. In such situations, it becomes really important to efficiently use the resources, most of which comes through the software that sits on the hardware, commonly called as firmware.

This is now getting tricky. Firmware should justify the limitations of the hardware as well as leverage the complexity of cloud. Once we have that ready to go, next piece of puzzle is cloud back-end, which can be thought of as central repository for all the data being collected from all IOT devices. It is here where most of the intelligence sits. It is then up to the user requirement which decides the front-end, whether it be mobile app or web app.

Interaction designer

Ideally a designer by degree, she will define the user interaction of the device through the mobile applications or a software interface that is involved. The creative backend of all things that are front end. When it comes to all the digital and physical design involved in a hardware product development cycle, this resource is extremely important. Not often people realise the importance of those intuitive icons that go on the control panel of a complicated device or the way the visual interactions enhance the entire product experience. However this subject is way beyond a single paragraph, we often fight over the significance of interaction design in our “intellectual debates”

“Think of this, the interaction designers work replicates the function of a translator between the product and the user.”

Supply Chain ‘manager’

Putting things together, choosing the best of the vendors to maximise profitability over inventory, raising P.O. financing with C.M.’s, this guy is the key. A negotiator and event handler, this guy needs to be extremely disciplined in follow ups and task management. Think about saving a 10 bucks over each part over a volume of 10,000 units, thats a lotta money!

Originally published under Fracktal works blog.

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