Part 1: I Have a New Product Idea – Where Do I Start?
Invention and inventiveness are all around us, but it takes a certain kind of tenacity to get an idea off the ground. Living and working in a technologically advanced society, many of us will have had more than one of those ‘lightbulb’ moments, but few will act upon them.
Robert Webber, Field Applications Engineer at Harwin, has been pivotal in taking numerous projects from their conceptual beginnings right through to commercial availability. In a podcast with Electronic Product News, he recently discussed the question of how to get things going. “Where more than 90% of ideas fail, is that people don’t actually start,” he remarked. Having tried out various small business ideas himself, including new initiatives that evolved within Harwin, he added: “It’s all about getting over that initial stage of thinking – I’m going to dedicate some time to this.” Generally, the more a product idea solves a pre-existing problem, the more it will inspire you to give it the time it needs.
For the purposes of this blog post, we’ll assume that not only do you have a cool new product idea, but that you are also beyond that most common barrier to getting a potential new product out of the ‘ideas stage’. You may also be able to answer “Does it excite others to put in time and energy?” with a resounding ‘yes’. There will be lots of other questions that, in the pre-design phase, you simply can’t answer yet, such as “Is it technically and economically viable?”… “This is your next step,” Robert advises.
Getting your device working as much as possible involves making a proof of concept (POC) prototype. This can be anything from a ground-up electronics design to a “gaffer-taped collection of off-the-shelf electronics systems”, as Robert notes in the podcast. If you have questions about whether your idea will solve the intended problem, then a POC helps to answer them.
These days, the maker culture is booming and there is more choice and guidance available than ever to get a fresh tech project off the ground. However, whether you are an electronics novice with a brainwave, a semi-experienced student team with a tech challenge and a deadline, or a start-up company with its first commercial product, it is important to be realistic about the time, energy and money that you intend to put into this stage.
A common POC solution is to use a platform such as Arduino or Raspberry Pi. Taking time to understand the requirements of the project and flesh out a solid specification is no bad thing, though. Plus, as Robert notes, “The wide availability of these kinds of open-source platforms makes it the easiest time to turn ideas into a physical prototype.”
As an alternative to development kits aimed at makers, you could opt for a custom electronics product design. Necessitating advanced electronics experience, this route will undoubtedly cost more than an open-source platform. It is advisable to find a design house with experience of the technologies that your design will employ, while previous activity within the sector your product is aimed at is a bonus. At a later stage, transferring the development away from an open-source platform to a custom design before production will help protect your intellectual property – an important commercial consideration.
Whichever prototype route you take, don’t forget that a valuable source of advice is the electronics component manufacturers themselves. “There’s plenty of information on the spec sheets, and generally an application example on there,” says Robert. This is also the point at which you can get Field Application Engineers involved. Harwin, and similar companies, provide qualified design-in advice from experienced field applications staff, like Robert. The sales team at Harwin can put you in contact, so don’t hesitate to pick up the phone to discover how they can help you achieve the right solution.