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Electronics design process for hardware products.

1. The good starting point for development of electronics for a new hardware product is a creation of a functional block diagram. It helps to structure the design process and think about by what means the functions could be implemented.  

2. Do a research, find out what could be the building blocks of your new product. The components from big vendors like NXP, TI, STM32, Nordic are usually well documented and vendors provide a reference design that could be very helpful and save a lot of time.

3. It’s always a good idea to test chosen platforms using available evaluation kits from vendors. Very often the solutions have undocumented limitations and you have to undesratnd them befor jumping into a custom design.

4. Once the components are chosen, build a debug board first and test your design before creating the boards that fit your mechanical design. The debug board could be much larger than your final product, use larger component packages, it makes debug easier. Add test points for all critical and boot signals. Add ground points scattered all over the board. Add JTAG/UART connectors and debug LEDs. Don’t neglect a good and accurate silkscreen. The bad silkscreen leads to the confusion of engineers who write firmware and delays the whole project timeline.

A good article about debug boards used at Apple. https://www.theverge.com/2019/3/19/18263844/apple-iphone-prototype-m68-original-development-board-red

5. While you work on debugging boards, build a simple fixture to avoid accidental breaks and damages. 

6. Having a full BOM list allows you to calculate the potential cost of your electronics. The resources like https://octopart.com/ might be very helpful in cost estimation. If you already have a contract manufacturer partners, check the lead time of chosen components with them. The lead time of components could also influence your design decision.

7. When it’s time to move to the design of PCB that fits the mechanical design, the first step is agreeing on an initial PCB outline or MCO (Mechanical control outline). Along with a PCB outline the mechanical engineer should communicate the height constraints and keepout zones. 

8. Once the first layout is ready export the PCB in a 3D file format and check with a mechanical engineer if there is any interference. Be ready to iterate this process over and over again once you find a good fit. For more complex design you might consider many things like the length of wires, FPCs, daughter boards.  It’s good to get your design reviewed by people with fresh eyes.

9. When the design is finished and you’re ready to order PCB prototypes. There’re plenty of fast PCB manufacturers that can manufacture the PCB samples in days and ship directly to you https://www.allpcb.com/, https://www.seeedstudio.com/https://jlcpcb.com, https://www.pcbcart.com. We usually use https://www.allpcb.com/. The PCB manufacturing itself is quite fast.  But if you want to get a PCB assembled, it could take a little bit longer.

10. Nothing is perfect the first time. Be ready that your first PCBs will have mistakes or something just won’t work as intended and new iterations will be required.  In our experience 2 or 3 iterations are enough to get your final electronics design ready.

11.  Certifications.

In order to be able to sell your product, your product must be certified. For electronic products, the essential certificates are CE, FCC, RoHS, UL, and WEEE. FCC and UL are applicable to products that are used inside the US while the rest are European certifications.

We recommend to do pre-certification tests as early as possible, it could help to identify what things need to be modified in design in order to comply with certification requirements. Finding out at later stages that your design cannot pass certification could lead to huge redesign, shipment delays and cost you a lot of money.