Product engineering is about developing an idea into a commercially viable product for the market. It refers to a set of processes ranging from product conceptualization to designing, developing, testing, deploying, and later to sustenance and re-engineering. It can cut across different aspects of mechanical, hardware, embedded, and software components of product design.
A typical product engineering stages involve
Engineering Services Outsourcing (ESO) refers to the outsourcing of certain product engineering activities, such as product design, prototyping, processes, testing, quality control, product lifecycle management etc. It can even be consultation with specialized product engineering service providers (like eInfochips) to gain the advantage of expertise, cost arbitrage, faster time-to-market and enhanced value engineering etc.
An embedded system can be defined as a combination of computer hardware and software, which is designed to carry out a specific set of functions within a larger system. As embedded systems are engineered to perform only a defined set of tasks, design engineers can optimize their size, reliability, power consumption, performance, and cost. These systems are produced on a broad scale and share functionalities across a range of applications and environments. Industry machines, medical equipment, household appliances, cameras, vending machines, wearables, and mobile devices are all examples of devices that use embedded systems.
Embedded systems mainly consist of two major elements such as hardware and software.
When we talk about hardware requirements for embedded systems, it is developed either by using a microcontroller or by using a microprocessor.
Software is one of the key elements to run the microcontroller of any embedded system. The operating system and software requirements for embedded systems are different from a conventional computer-based system.
On the hardware side, designers need to check the voltage requirements, power availability (know if the system would be always connected to a power source or can run on a battery), the architecture of the controller/processor according to the processing speed and memory available on board. Next step would be to check the ICs for conversion from analog to digital and vice versa. Additionally, designers should also look into network modules if the device is going to be connected to the internet. To put it in simpler words, the steps involved in hardware design vary based on the requirements.
Embedded software engineering is the procedure of creating specialized software to regulate machines and devices that are different from traditional computers. Embedded systems are formed due to the nexus of non-computer based devices with software engineering. The software has to adapt and work within the constraints of the hardware specifications.
Looking at the software end, designers need to understand the current design and get a clarity on what additional features are required to improve the end product. Based on the final list of features, they need to decide if the device requires an operating system. Next step is to decide if the system requires GPOS (General Purpose Operating System) or RTOS (Real Time Operating System), decide the bus structure, number of controllers/processors to implement parallel processing, memory, and connection to the server using internet or intranet.
Firmware is much more than the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) or the bootstrap. In more sophisticated applications, firmware can do way beyond just loading the code to get things started. Such applications can be designed to perform multiple parallel operations such as address routing, math coprocessing, timers, signal processing, power and reset sequencing, LED controls, and relay controls.
In simpler terms, the firmware is a piece of code that is stored in the non-volatile memory. In embedded devices such as printers and home appliances, the firmware is responsible to load and manage the operating system within the device. The operating system, on the other hand, provides the applications with an execution context to perform on some set of peripherals. Therefore, it is the operating system’s job to carry out the actual task.
Design Thinking is a newer approach to problem-solving. It is a strategic design methodology that provides a user-centric and solution-based approach to solve complex problems. It allows the blend of technology and business models to solve customer problems or to find better solutions to the existing approach, by putting the customer at the center of the entire product development journey. With an ever-increasing demand for better user experience (usability and value) from consumers, product companies are compelled to continuously experiment and innovate, in quick cycles, for increased consumer adoption and competitive advantage in the market. That is where the concept of design thinking came into existence.
Product design can be defined as the process of identifying a product opportunity in the market by clearly defining the current challenges, coming up with a precise solution for those challenges, and then validating the solution from real users.
Product designers work with engineers and marketers to develop the core design that includes the technological and mechanical aspects of the product while considering the usability of the product.
The framework follows an overall flow of four key components such as 1) Empathy, 2) Collaboration, 3) Interactive Thinking and 4) Experimentalism. Within these four components, there can be six different stages involved: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test, and Implement.
To create a perfect solution, product designers need to understand the user experience of the product and not just the visual elements of the product.
Following are the steps of design thinking that can be taken to find a fitting solution:
Empathize: Designers need to put themselves in the end-users’ shoes to understand their expectations and concerns.
Define: After learning about the pain points of the target customer, define the challenges that need to be addressed.
Ideate: Think about all the possible solutions and then check its feasibility.
Prototype: Create a product prototype to see how the final product would look and feel. A product prototype can also be made to showcase the primary features of the product.
Test: Test the product and get users’ feedback.
Before the design process starts, the product team needs to define the product vision and create a product strategy. Before starting the product development, the designer should understand its purpose of existence.
Some of the things to consider when defining a product design strategy are:
Information Architecture can be defined as the structure of an application, website or a product. It allows the end users to get an overview of where they are in the structure of things and where they can find the information that they are looking for, in relation to their current position. The aim of information architecture is to make the website or software or product more usable for the product by providing details about navigation, hierarchy, and categorizations.
There are four important principles to implement a design-thinking approach successfully for any kind of problem-solving and product development.
Though converting your company from a traditional approach to design-centric approach can be a time-consuming and expensive task, it is necessary in order to provide the best product experience for the users and to stay ahead of the competition.
To develop a design-centric culture in your company, it is essential to identify the right leaders, who value design and can drive the culture of design thinking across your organization. It is imperative to form smaller collaborative units, with stakeholders from every department to involve in the product journey, right from the conceptualization stage. The leaders should be given the autonomy to experiment with ideas, define progressive goals, and to set the right design thinking approach, that will suit with the organizational dynamics.
Design thinking approach requires long-term investment in infrastructure for design, training, and support across the company. To make it a driving force in the organization, proper training is required for everyone – by the way of in-person training, workshops or online courses.
To survive and grow in today’s competitive market, it is required to produce good quality products on-time, and software testing plays a very crucial role in it. Software testing helps ensure the working of a software as per specification, detect defects in the software (if any), reduce development and maintenance cost and avoid any possible failure because it can be very tedious to fix the errors in the later stages of the development lifecycle. When it comes to embedded engineering, software testing helps maintain the quality of each embedded app since bugs or errors in these embedded applications can cause a huge performance and monetary loss. E.g. April 1999, a software bug caused the failure of over $1 billion satellite launch, considered as the costliest accident in the history.
There are two different approaches followed in embedded software testing 1) Manual Testing and 2) Automation Testing.
There are many different tools used for automation testing to test any embedded software product.
The testing phase of the product is required to ensure its seamless operation as expected. Different testing methods are employed by testing groups that ensure a product’s functioning. Waterfall, Agile, V model, spiral model, RUP, RAD methodology can be used based on the requirement in different phases of the testing. Let’s understand two majorly used methodologies as below:
Here are some of the prevailing software testing trends in the embedded product development industry.
A product prototype is a fundamental working sample, mock-up, model or a simulation of the actual product that gives your ideas a tangible form. Sometimes, prototyping is also referred to as materialization as it is the first step towards transforming a concept or vision into a real physical form.
The motive of prototyping a product is to validate the design of the final product. Based on this prototype, different observations will be made and numerous product variations will be discussed before starting the production.
Some of the factors that create a good product prototype include:
Representation: A good prototype perfectly represents how the actual product will look and work like.
Accuracy: A prototype with higher accuracy will help the manufacturer to receive better feedback and response.
Functions: An ideal prototype will be capable of performing the basic functions of the actual product.
Upgrade: A good prototype offers the ability to improve many of its aspects with minimal efforts.
Various types of prototypes are developed for different purposes; here are some of them:
Functional Prototypes: These prototypes are developed to imitate the functions of the envisioned product. The functioning of the prototype should be as close to the product as possible, even if it looks different from the actual product. Such prototypes are created for products that are more function-oriented rather than being display-oriented.
Display Prototypes: These prototypes focus more on the visual appearance and product look and feel rather than focusing on its functioning. The prototype is created to look like the actual product minus the functions that it is supposed to perform.
Miniatures: Miniatures are smaller versions of the product that are usually made using 3D printing. They focus on both the display as well as the functional aspects of the product, however, they lack a lot of qualities that the final product might have.
If we categorize product prototypes from a usability perspective, it can be classified into the following types:
Throwaway Prototypes: These prototypes are developed just with a purpose to represent what the actual product can do. Rather than becoming a part of the product, these prototypes are eventually discarded. Throwaway prototypes are also referred to as close-ended prototypes.
Evolutionary Prototypes: Instead of being discarded, these prototypes are built to be robust so that they can be enhanced and built upon to form the final product that the customer sees. Such prototypes present a great way to avoid wastage of resources.