A Quick Guide to Building and Testing Prototype ElectronicsFollow article
Building and testing prototype electronics are two crucial steps in determining whether products in development will work as well as the designers and engineers expect. Here are some essential things to keep in mind when planning both of these matters.
Decide What Kind of Prototype to Build
Electronics prototypes fall into several categories. For example, teams usually show proof-of-concept prototypes to investors to determine a product has technical and economic feasibility if given the resources for further development. They typically lack full functionality.
In contrast, functional prototypes show a final product’s intended appearance, plus all its functionality. The prototypes in this category may use cheaper materials to save on the overall costs.
There are also virtual prototypes, where the building process involves using options like computer-aided design tools and modelling software. The potential advantage of this type is that people can share the models with investors or design team members that are not physically present.
Selecting the best prototype for an electronics project requires understanding what the investors or other parties involved hope to see. The stage of production can also affect things. For example, at an extremely early stage, it’s not feasible to build a functional prototype yet.
Consider the Number of Prototypes Needed for Testing
Engineers often need dozens of identical prototypes to use during the testing and feedback stages. For example, depending on the specific product and the required tests, creating 30 to 50 prototypes may be needed for all the people involved in testing the electronics.
Moulding is a production method that could help achieve these low-volume quantities. 3D printing is another possibility. That’s because the speed it offers could allow the building and testing phases to happen almost simultaneously. In the case of a printed circuit board, using a 3D printer could enable rapid prototyping where people could test and redesign the component several times per day.
Once people determine the number of prototypes needed for testing, they should explore the most cost-effective ways to make them. The conclusion depends on numerous factors, including the budget and the resources a company has available.
Explore Agile Prototyping and Risk Mitigation Methods
The agile methodology has a long history in manufacturing plants. However, there’s a more recent push to apply it to prototyping specifically. That approach concerns creating prototypes with just enough functionality to compare design alternatives and test the unknown or riskier aspects.
One smart factory that offers agile prototyping takes three days or less to ship a model after initially receiving the design files. The company claims that the combination of automated processes and agile methodology allows it to fill client orders twice as fast as competitors.
The company counts aerospace brands among its clients. In that industry, mistakes in building or testing prototype electronics could result in fatal consequences once a product becomes available for use. However, there’s a three-step process for managing risks:
- Risk identification: Naming and categorizing all risks affecting the development
- Risk analysis: Reviewing the overall impact of each risk and its control methods
- Controls implementation: Applying corrective action to minimize or eliminate risks
Those steps can help you decide what to test, too. For example, the risk analysis may bring up new threats you hadn’t considered before, making it necessary to formally examine how your product would behave or perform in certain situations or conditions.
Find Specialists to Support Your Efforts
Once the design and engineering teams figure out what’s needed to build and test their electronic prototypes, outside support may be required from companies that have worked with clients that needed similar assistance.
That may mean choosing a company that can design new prototypes as the development process continues. Alternatively, it might include selecting a partner with in-house testing equipment. For example, one critical step in testing prototype electronics involves assessing how well the components tolerate vibrations and shocks.
One available solution for multiaxis vibration testing is a hydrostatic table with six degrees of freedom. It allows for a 500-hertz response via six integrated shakers. Digital controls enable testers to mimic virtually any type of vibration.
Utilizing the services of companies that specialize in electronics prototyping and testing should help keep efficiency levels high while managing costs. That’s because those entities already have the in-house equipment and expertise to meet a wide range of needs.
However, before choosing partners, take the time to research several of them. Determine how they compare with aspects like price, turnaround time and experience. Assessing the providers like that will help in making the most confident decisions about working with third-party companies.
Allow Personal Experiences to Shape the Processes When Applicable
When evaluating the best ways to build and test prototype electronics for an upcoming project, the people involved will undoubtedly weigh numerous factors and consider things that investors, stakeholders and other parties would want to see in a finished product.
It’s also often worthwhile to consider whether the personal experiences of people working on the product may affect its development. For example, Dr. Victor Henning is the entrepreneur behind the Fjorden. It’s a piece of hardware that gives an iPhone the functionality of a DSLR camera.
Henning explained the inspiration behind the product and how items he’d used before shaped the development.
He noted, “I bought pretty much every iPhone camera grip out there, but they all fell short in some way. Either they were too bulky and wouldn’t fit in my pocket, so I’d have to carry them separately and attach them when I wanted to capture something, by which time the moment had passed, or they were too simple, with only a shutter button.”
He continued, “Many of them only fit a specific iPhone model, so if I upgraded my iPhone, they’d become electronic waste. What I wanted was a camera grip that was both pocketable, had multiple physical controls, yet was detachable and usable over several iPhone generations. So I started sketching and building cardboard prototypes until I had an idea that I thought might work.”
This example shows how it often pays off to think about what worked well or didn’t with products that people have used in the past. Those insights could steer prototype developments and testing procedures as team members determine the best ways to make a product as appealing and functional as possible.
Take Prototyping and Testing Seriously
These suggestions will get engineers and other team members thinking about which aspects to prioritize while creating and testing prototype electronics. Besides being mindful of these tips, people should stay aware that neither process is quick, and together, they could take months to finish. However, being thorough in your prototyping and testing approach improves the likelihood that your electronics will be market-ready and meet customer expectations.