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If you’re creating a new electronic device it’s important to map out the steps of your design. Having a fully functional prototype ready for demonstration is always impressive. Here’s how to design the electrical components that will get your device up and running.
1. Concept, Research and Pre-Design
The development of a new electronic device begins with conceptualization and research. Start by developing an idea for a new product or device, or an idea for a device that builds on an existing product. After committing to the idea, start pre-designing the device's circuits and list the components necessary. Create a cost estimate for the final prototype and identify the major risks the project will face in manufacturing.
Unless you are yourself experienced in electronics circuit design, 3D modeling and injection molding, you will probably need outside help with at least one step of the design process. At this point, you should begin searching for people who will be able to help you bring your project from design to completion. If you don't have experience with circuit design, you'll likely need to find someone skilled in circuit design before you can move on.
2. Circuit Design
Once the research is complete, you'll need to design a circuit diagram that will allow you to manufacture printed circuit board. Use computer drafting software to design the PCB. The circuit design is usually accomplished via computer drafting software. Once designed, run all necessary simulations to ensure that the board will work properly before you move on to PCB design.
3. PCB Design
During this step, you'll need to pick out the components your circuit will use, which will help you cost the product. If you need help with component research and cost estimate, you can use an online tool to plan and estimate how much your finished boards will cost.
During this step, you'll need to take into account all the different ways that PCB design can fail. For example, PCBs have trended more dense over the years increasing the potential for electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) failure, where different components in the PCB interfere with each other, degrading their ability to function and send signals.
A number of different components — like those that send and receive radio signals and high-speed processors like microprocessors — can all increase the possibility of the PCB failing in one way or another. Be sure to run relevant tests before prototyping so that you can avoid potential circuit board failures.
4. PCB Prototyping
After finalizing the design, you'll need to print the prototype boards so that they can be tested. PCB costs can vary significantly, with simple boards being as cheap as a few cents and some of the most complex boards costing hundreds or thousands of dollars. Board manufacturing time will also vary. It may be anywhere between one or two weeks and a month or more before you receive your PCBs after placing your order. Start testing the PCBs after you receive them. If your boards incorporate microcontrollers, you'll need to program them first.
5. Microcontroller Programming
When your design contains a microcontroller, you’ll need to program it to make sure the device runs. The microcontroller in a PCB serves as the "brain" of the chip and controls the function of different embedded components in the PCB. It is also where the memory on the chip is stored if the PCB needs on-chip memory. After programming this it’s time to move on to testing.
6. Design Review and Testing
Review the board based on its functionality. Debug any problems that arise. Take this opportunity to see where the board could be improved and where there may be opportunities for cost reduction.
7. Enclosure Prototyping and Manufacturing
Now, you will need to develop the enclosure that your PCB will be housed in. For prototypes, this doesn't necessarily need anything professional — just enough to keep the circuit board safe from damage while providing access to any I/O switches or ports that you need for the device to function properly.
Prototypes often use simple project boxes that you can manufacture yourself with simple tools. You can buy a project box that more-or-less fits your project and drill openings as necessary to fit the board and provide outside access.
If you plan to manufacture the device at scale, you will need to plan for a more robust housing design. You can design the enclosure with 3D modeling technology and use injection molding to manufacture the device in bulk. Alternative manufacturing methods, like 3D printing, are also an option. After designing the enclosure, you will need to manufacture it in order to have a good idea of how it appears and to assess its functionality. Next, you will need to prepare for manufacturing and plan all of the manufacturing tests needed for the manufacturing process.
8. Documentation and Manufacturing
Pull together all of the completed diagrams and design, as well as relevant schematics or design documents for your product's housing. Prepare documentation that shows what tests your boards' manufacturer will need to perform in order to ensure that the board is functioning properly. Once this step is complete, your product is ready for manufacturing.
Designing Electronics for Your Device
The design, testing and prototyping process for new electronic devices can be complicated, but they all come together to ensure that your product is as functional as possible once it goes to manufacturing. The most important steps of this process will be research, design and testing, as these steps will ensure that the electronics will function as desired.