⚙️ Product Development & Engineering
Q1: What's the Product Development process?
The Product Development process for a Hardware Product refers to the complete process of taking an idea from concept to engineering, manufacturing, delivery and beyond.
Whether you are delivering a brand new offering or enhancing an existing product, the product development cycle begins long before anything gets built by analyzing your target market, ideating, strategizing and crafting the ideal Product Requirement Document PRD.
Within this process, two main engineering activities take place:
Electronic Engineering EE
Electronic Engineering encompasses:
- the macro definition of the underlying technology that will be used to deliver the expected features & performance according the constraint expressed by the Magic Triangle of the product.
- the resulting choice of the main electronic components leading to the construction of the eBOM (electronic Bill of Materials),
- the drafting of the diagrams & layout of all the electronic cards of the product (schematics & gerbers)
- the writing of the firmware flashed into the product & test benches (firmware & software).
Mechanical Engineering ME
Mechanical Engineering encompasses:
- the dimensioning of all mechanical parts by calculation & the tests of the various components,
- the choice of materials and manufacturing processes,
- the design of all the mechanical design files according to the above.
Q2: What is the Firmware?
Firmware is the software that's embedded in a piece of hardware. You can think of it simply as "software for hardware" (even if not interchangeable terms).
The firmware is the piece of software that put the object in action by operating the designed electronic card and providing the link with the application or the cloud.
Over-The-Air OTA Update
If your product has connectivity features (Cellular, WiFi, BT, IoT), just as your smartphone, firmware updates will then be able to be remotely and (often) in the background pushed to your device. It’s called OTA updates and they need to be included into the Product Development process at the design & engineering stage.
Q3: What are the main PD steps?
1. Ideation & Strategy
- Ideation & Product Requirement Document PRD
- Feasibility & Proof-Of-Concept POC
2. Design & Engineering
- EVT: Engineering Validation Testing
- DVT: Design Validation Testing
- PVT: Production Validation Testing
3. Manufacturing & Delivery
- MP: Mass Production
- Logistics & Fulfillment
Each of these steps have clear entry & exit requirements with criteria to meet in terms of features & performance and different validation & testings procedures.
If the criteria are met, the Product Development process can advance to the next steps which will have new sets of requirements and testings.
If the criteria are not met, the validation cycle loops back to the beginning with corrective actions to be implemented & validated.
Q4: What is the Product Requirement Document?
A Product Requirement Document is a key input document used to define a product’s Magic Triangle. The goal is to define a Market - Product (Magic Triangle) Fit and to educate your design house or manufacturing partner about your requirements. It usually lays out:
- The complete list of features to be included in the product
- The specific performance metrics each feature must meet
- Estimated production volumes
- Target costs
- Target product release timelines
- A product roadmap (not compulsory if you start off with a one-product range)
Q5: What is the product’s Magic Triangle?
We call “Magic Triangle” the high-level mix of 3 components that will ultimately defines your business success once you put your product on its market. Think of it as the way to define your Product-Market Fit. It is composed of:
- The Features of your Product
- Its Price
- Its Lead Time to Market
The success of your product depends on the set of Features you put on a Market at a given Time for a given Price. This mix will make or break your business so it is crucial that you reflect on it right at the beginning of your Product Development process together with us.
- we’ll build the technological solution that will back your Product Development process.
- we’ll validate that the design and the prototypes deliver on this plan during Design Validations.
Q6: What do Supernova need to get started?
The entry data can be:
- a Proof-of-Concept POC prototype and/or,
- a detailed specs list in a PRD and/or,
- a functional flow diagram
All need to lay out clear function and sub-function acceptance criteria as input in order to build the qualitication plan (includes all the testings) & counter-validate the prototypes later down the road as output (plan your validation loops).
Q7: What is Design For Manufacturing DFM?
When manufacturing products at scale, it is necessary to include manufacturing constraints and processes into the design of the product.
The objective of the DFM is to have a high yield during the sequences of manufacturing, assembly and tests with a perfect control of the quality.
The DFM therefore includes:
- choices of manufacturing parts in order to develop specific tools
- the optimized design of the electronic card to be able to easily control the quality from an automated test bench
- choices of the type of assembly to facilitate the work of the operators and thus improve the quality of the product
Working with other design houses, the DFM validation of the original design made by your design house partner is usually carried out after the fact by the future production center which can lead to unnecessary back-and-forth causing delays & over-budgeting.
Working with us, part of a 50-year-young manufacturing group, the DFM constraints will be integrated into the original design from day 1.
Q8: How to choose the right Connectivity?
When choosing the best communication protocol for your product, we usually need to “strike a balance” between 4 main constraints:
- Bandwidth. What is the type of data your device will send? Sending simple temperature measurements once an hour is very different from exchanging continuous voice conversations between devices.You need to choose a network that can receive and process the required amount of data for your needs.
- Coverage range. What distance is required to allow for your product to deliver on the required performance? Any obstacles?If your devices are spread across a fair distance, you’ll want to keep coverage range in mind when choosing a network.
- Power consumption. What frequency will you send data at? What is the required time between 2 charges? What environment will your device be used in?Many IoT devices are battery-powered which means that an in-depth power consumption analysis needs to be done to size the battery correctly & make sure your intended use can be fulfilled.
- Cost. This one seems obvious but different communication protocol do come with a different price tag so it is important to validate your choice against your original target price.
We say strike a balance because there is no obvious solution that maximizes all four so it is truly important to understand what is your use case requirements before selecting one.
Below some of the most famous options when it comes to choosing a communication protocol for your project:
Q9: How to choose the right Power Supply?
The right type of power supply for your product depends on the battery-life you’re willing to reach & the type of use your product will be subject to.
What’s the environment your product will be used into? Do you product need to be used on-the-go? What’s the power consumption required for your device to operate normally? How many hours of continuous use do you need to achieve?
Once again, you’ll have to dive deep into your product strategy to understand your use case and choose from readily available power supply solution:
- Socket-type power supply. Usually the most durable & cost/power effective solution but with higher operating temperature & severe limitations to the possible use cases.
- Primary Battery - non-rechargeable (alkaline-like). Inexpensive, simple & ubiquitous solution but with short life span & real environmental impact.
- Secondary Battery - rechargeable (lithium). A rather powerful, moderately-priced & flexible solution bu with real environmental impact, even if reduced compared to primary battery thanks to increased durability & re-usability.
- Energy harvesting. Long life span & lowest environmental impact but quite expensive & low power efficiency limiting its use cases. Bare in mind that your energy harvesting solution may also need to be coupled with an energy storage solution depending on your use case.
Q10: Can you make Eco-friendly Products?
As an industrial company, we always push our boundaries to integrate environment-friendly best practices in our operations.
As it is the case for product’s quality, the eco-friendly character of a product is decided at the initial stage of product development during product’s design & engineering.
The whole life cycle of the product needs to be analyzed - from raw materials, manufacturing, transportation to handling of its end-of-life - in order to measure & lower its environmental impact by designing a better product.
Designing a better product means activating a lot of different levers:
- Recyclabilility. Creating a circular loop where your product can be partly or fully recycled after the end of its life cycle. It means that, by design, your product should be easy to disassemble in order to separate the electronics from the mechanical parts; the type of materials used should be reviewed & aligned with the recyclabilility objectives; the use of glue, stickers or markings should be controlled; a simpler packaging design may be used etc. We can also source & use recycled materials (recycled plastics for example) in the manufacturing of your product to avoid using non-renewable resources.
- Repairability. Increasing the lifetime of your product by allowing for easy repairs to be performed on your product. For example, design your device’s casing in a way that reaching for its PCBA board or key components is a lot easier during after-sales service.Having a simpler design for easier repairs can help you tremendously when setting up your own after-sales repair service on your distribution market - we can provide additional support by releasing the assembly & testing SOP documents to your after-sales service partner.
- Durability. Making design & supply choices that will ensure your product can be used on an extended period of time. For example, as we strictly reject planned obsolescence, we never cut corners on components selection & use the best available quality to maximize length of use. Likewise, we also produce, test (by aging) and validate robust electronic & mechanical designs so the performance of our products routinely exceeds customer’s expectations & market standards.Optimizing the electrical consumption of your product or using energy-harvesting solutions when possible is also a great way to make sure your device is only using the energy that it actually needs.Finally, another great way to ensure your product can be used for a longer period of time is to design its firmware so as it can be wirelessly updated over distance & time - through OTA updates we mentioned earlier.
- Supply Chain. Throughout our 50-year history as a manufacturing group, we have built databases of validated components, design blocks, materials & suppliers that we know are reliable for products required to operate at the highest levels of quality for the longest time at the biggest scale. We select suppliers that align with our vision.
- Ethics. All of our suppliers are verified by us to ensure they are compliant with regulations and are operationally sound. Our commitment is to help you manage risk & ensure you are working with companies that share the following similar values across the supply chain: eradication of child labour, safe and hygienic working conditions, appropriate pay and working hours, humane and non-discriminatory treatment, anti-bribery and corruption & environmental awareness.
Q11: How long does product development take?
The duration of the engineering & product development process depends on the complexity of the product & the maturity of the choices made when launching the product (specifications available, POC produced, etc.)
A mechanical and electronic design can be divided into 4 stages:
- Product Specs Validation
- Electronic & Mechanical Engineering
- Testing & Validation
These four stages usually take 4 to 8 months to complete.
Depending on how complex the product and especially how readily available the underlying technology is, some products my required several engineering cycles.
Q12: What deliverables will be provided after the PD process? Does the resulting IP belong to me?
All documents, design files & tools designed and made for a project are the property of our customer. We understand that these key elements are part of your company’s valuation so we sign agreements helping you protect them.
You’ll find standard project deliverables & their usual format below:
Q13: What's the customer role in the PD process?
You define the Feature - Market fit
Making a successful product isn’t necessarily about having the longest list of features.
Making hardware must start by making non-hardware related prep work:
- It always starts with the market: what is the need expressed by a particular market & how a hardware solution could help solve it? What are the must-have features? What are the nice-to-have ones? Build a product roadmap against your need.
This preliminary work will be very helpful to prepare your product go-to-market strategy by prioritizing & rationalizing the most important investments first:
- go faster, go cheaper & with lower risk on your market with the must-have features packaged into a V1.
- stay ahead of the competition by re-investing the proceedings from V1 into the nice-to-have features packaged into a new V2 according to your roadmap.
- It always ends with the right balance: even when you’ve well defined your market need, you still need to narrow it down to the best version of the solution according to what your customer will be willing to pay for. That’s what we talk about when we mentioned the “magic triangle” (Q5: What is the product’s Magic Triangle? Why it’s important?).
You define the Scope of Work for the Project
There are a lot of important works & validations that need to be carried out for a complex hardware project to be taken to completion.
“Who does what?” becomes an important question:
- Most of the time we take on the full process & responsibilities to deliver the desired product from concept to mass manufacturing through product development & validation. That’s the most common procedure.
- However, in specific cases, we can also share those responsibilities with your team:
- say if you have your own hardware or software engineering team for example.
- or if you have another partner taking care of the front end APP design or its back end & data server side.
- industrial design is also quite subjective, you may already have a great ID designer you’d like to have work on your product’s outer appareance. We can accommodate for that & integrate him in our design process.
- We can also contract on a first set of tasks keeping some for a later date:
- say if you want to kick-off the product development engineering stage first in order to get look-like-work-like prototypes (for fund raising or distribution deals for example) but cannot fully commit to the manufacturing stage until then.
- or when some budgeting cannot be provided from the get-go when contracting for the first stage of product development engineering because fully dependant on the design that will be produced in that stage, we can keep those pending to be quoted later - although budget ranges can always be provided to help you with decision-making.
Working with Supernova, you will take part in defining the scope of work. This is an important conversation that must happen for the sake of your project’s success!
Below an macro-example of how it could be drafted:
You take part in the whole validation process
Working with Supernova allow you to work with one single partner from concept to mass market but it does not mean that you’ll be left on the side of the road of your Project.
It is important for us that you be active throughout the product development phase & that you intervene at each validation stage, in particular at the end of the study and during the various prototyping & validation phases.
Developing a new hardware product is made of several development cycles. Each of these cycles have clear entry & exit requirements with criteria to meet in terms of features & performance and different validation & testings procedures.
You and your team will be fully integrated into the validation process so not only will you know of each step but you’ll also understand the purpose of these, how they are an important build-up towards KPIs completion & you’ll be able to weigh in on important project decisions.
🏭 Industrialization & Manufacturing
Q14: What is the "Product Industrialization"?
Why it is important?
Industrializing a product doesn’t mean manufacturing a product, it means getting this product ready for manufacturing. Starting from a finalized prototype or golden sample, it involves designing the product in such a way that it can deliver on its KPIs but also producing & testing the reliability of all the tools, assembly lines & test benches that will ensure mass production is a success.
Here, let us debunk some stereotypes: not all engineering outputs were created equal.
There is a difference between investing money on engineering and investing money on good engineering.
Hence, you may think you have done your part by investing large sums of money on in-house or 3rd party engineering. Heck, you may already have some drawings & designs lined up.
But will these engineering outputs allow you to successfully deliver your product at scale?
Digging deeper, the designs you’re being presented with must allow your product to:
- be purchasable: meaning that selected components & manufacturing techniques are readily available & cost-effective.
- be manufacturable: meaning that assembly is optimized, fast & fool-proof.
- be testable: meaning that quality is easy to check & quality yields are acceptable.
- be shippable: meaning that your SKU is optimized for your desired means of transportation according to your logistics & distribution strategy.
- be certifiable: meaning that your product can successfully comply with the local regulation of the market where it will be put on for consumption or use.
Although the above happens during manufacturing but it is actually decided way before anything is produced during the engineering phase. There is little you can do at the factory if your product has been engineered poorly. That is why industrializing a product is so important: it is the difference between having a working prototype & having a full-fledge scalable design & supply chain for a product that will reach your market at the right time, for the right cost and with the expected features.
If your manufacturing output can allow for the above to be true, then only will you be able to fulfill your product’s Magic Triangle & overall business KPIs. That is the reason why at Supernova we define those KPIs even before receiving a penny from you, before any engineering is done & we fully commit & contract on their delivery.
The main levers?
- Electronics: production of steel masks, assembly of components on electronic boards (SMT engineering, DIP)
- Mechanicals: design and implementation of all the tools (molds, dies, etc.), decoration tools, assembly plan.
- Test Benches: design, production & reliability.
- Techniques: the realization of the elements of the manufacturing file.
⚙️ You haven’t started Product Development - we can take care of engineering a ready-for-manufacturing product & supply chain from the get-go.
🏭 You have already started Product Development - we can make a DFM evaluation of your existing engineering outputs to make them ready for manufacturing.
Q15: What is the Manufacturing Plan?
The Manufacturing Plan means all drawings, planning documents, work methods, design of tools, lists of parts, software, encoding and burning files, instructions and procedures related to the manufacturing, assembly, quality inspection, acceptance tests and inspection of the product.
The Manufacturing Plan consists of:
Consists of all the Design For Manufacturing files:
Bill of Materials
- General BOM: plastics, metals, glass, wood parts
- PCB drawings & specs
- eBOM list for PCBA components
- battery, screen, speaker, cables, charger, washers, etc...
- Electronic part schematics & gerber drawings, 3Ds & spec sheets
- Mechanical part drawings, 3Ds & spec sheets
- Packaging & user manual design files
- ID & CMF requirements
- Spec Sheets of the key parts & components
All Assembly SOPs files - Standard Operating Procedure - which explains how to assemble & test the product from start to finish as well as the organization of the assembly line.
- Assembly SOP
- Testings SOP & PASS/FAIL Standards
- Jigs design
- Labelling Requirement
A set of documents that describe the standards, quality practices, resources and processes pertinent to your product.
The Quality Specifications document which brings together the quality criteria for acceptance of the finished assembled product.
- Product Validation Checklist
- Golden Sample (if available)
The Control Plan which will make it possible to carry out the daily report of each production line with the detail of the non-compliant products (NG) by station and by type of non-compliance.
- iQC standards
- IPQC standards
- OQC standards
How your business plans to deliver your product to its customers.
- Packing SOP which explain the procedure to package the product in the boxes then the boxes on the pallets.
- SKU List - Stock Keeping Unit - which explain what is included in one packaging box: product, accessories, user manual, etc
- Define your preferred Means of Transport (Air, Sea, Rail)
- Define your shipping unit: individual cartons or pallets
- Carton Markings
- Transport Label
Q16: What are the main Manufacturing Tools?
Some processes require to have a mould tooling in order to be manufactured at scale.
This is the case for example for plastic injection: the mould allows the mass production of one or more plastic parts in an efficient, fast & reliable manner. Each mould requires significant design & production time and it is not unusual for the whole process to take between 8 to 12 weeks between the actual mould production & trial runs.
On top of that, it is a complex technical element from a mechanical standpoint which explains why it has a fairly high cost - from several $10,000s to even $100,000s depending on the design complexity.
Assembly jigs are mechanical tools used to facilitate, speed up & increase assembly process accuracy. They ensure the accurate position of various components: for example inserting bolts, placing stickers or sealers for example. They guide the operators to the correct tasks & ultimately “fool-proof” the assembly process, de facto optimizing the on-line quality yield.
A PCB Stencil is a sheet of stainless steel with laser-cut openings used to place solder paste on designated places on a bare PCB board so that components can be placed and perfectly aligned on the board during surface mount component placement.
Its main function is to accurately deposit the right amount of solder paste on SMT pads so that the solder joint between the pad and the component is perfect in terms of the electrical connection and mechanical strength.
Test benches are used during manufacturing to check whether the quality of the PCBA assembly is consistent - by performing ICT In-Circuit Testings & FCT Functional testings for example. At the end of said testings, the production firmware is usually flashed into the device before final product assembly.
AOI & AXI
Automated optical inspection AOI is an automated visual inspection of a PCBA manufacture where a camera autonomously scans the device under test for both catastrophic failure (missing component) & quality defects (component skew, misplacement etc). It is commonly used in the manufacturing process because it is a non-contact test method. It is implemented at many stages through the manufacturing process including bare board inspection, solder paste inspection (SPI), pre-reflow and post-reflow as well as other stages.
Automated X-ray inspection AXI is a technology based on the same principles as automated optical inspection AOI but it uses X-rays as its source, instead of visible light, to automatically inspect features, which are typically hidden from view. In that sense, it is a great tool used to check assembly consistency for Ball Grid Array BGA components - where soldering pads are located under the component making it harder to check from the outside.
Q17: What are the main Industrialization steps?
A good Industrialization & Manufacturing process should be like a well-oiled machine, it should run smoothly & its performance should be predictable. Unfortunately, a lot of externalities can come & disrupt it so there is no one-fits-all planning:
- poorly made product engineering requiring an in-depth DFM prior to manufacturing - if not a complete re-design...
- stretchy purchasing lead times making time-to-market unbearable - actually linked to the previous point.
- quality issues during manufacturing because of poor engineering or production management processes.
- logistics glitches like we have experienced during covid 19.
Well-managed engineering and manufacturing processes & resources should get you out of the weeds though & below macro steps shall then be achievable:
- DFM. It should take no more than 1 week if the engineering is on point but can drag over a few months if that isn’t the case.
- Mould Tooling opening. Depends highly on the complexity of your design but usually takes 8 to 12 weeks.
- Purchasing. Depends on design & market conditions but can usually be completed within 15 weeks in normal conditions. During covid 19, we have experienced exceptional lead times stretching up to 70 weeks for some components - or even dry shortage. We usually solve that during product engineering by carefully selecting risk-free components and by launching purchasing POs prior to industrialization to avoid scheduling issues.
- Manufacturing. The actual manufacturing run usually takes around 2 to 3 weeks.
- Logistics. Obviously depends on your selected means of transportation & Port of Destination POD but, in normal conditions, it can take from a few days (Air) to 50 days (Sea). We can support you on designing bespoke logistics strategies in order to help you achieve your TTM (Time-To-Market) while keeping cost reasonable.
Q18: What’s the Quality Control Dept role?
The QC department drafts & implements the Quality Plan in order to make sure that the testings are relevant & results are dependable prior to & during manufacturing.
It oversees the whole manufacturing process to make sure that each QC steps are efficiently implemented (iQC, DUPRO, QA).
Finally, it audits & validates sub-suppliers within the product’s supply chain to make sure that Quality Yields can be met consistently according to the expressed need and that Ethical, Social & Environment standards are strictly met.
Q19: How do you handle Certification?
Electronic products sold globally must be compliant with various legislations and regulations. Compliance means that the product has undergone the correct assessment criteria and meets the general requirements for safety, health, and environmental protection in order to be placed on its destination market.
Some of the most common certification marking required to access markets:
- European CE marking is a mandatory conformity marking for any products manufactured, imported, or sold in the EU market.
- RED directive applicable for the certification requirements of electronic devices and radio equipment that are manufactured, imported, or sold in the European Union.
- EMC directive designed to ensure that the device doesn’t disturb or create interference on other radio and telecommunications equipment. It is also designed to protect electrical and electronic devices from potential hazards such as electrical fast transients, lightning strikes, and electrostatic discharges.
- RoHS & REACH directives designed to set protective measures for both people and the environment from banned, hazardous chemicals and substances which are found in devices.
- the American FCC marking is designed for electronic products manufactured or sold in the United States. It certifies that the electromagnetic compatibility and interference from the device adheres to limits approved by the FCC.
- UL1642, UL2054 & UN38.3 are standards used for battery safety assessment & safe worldwide transportation.
The certification process usually follows below main steps:
- Pre-Qualification during Engineering to ensure technical choices are in line with Compliance standards.
- Certification is usually made with products made from first-runs.
- The Certification process takes between 6 to 8 weeks.
- Registered Name is yours but as your manufacturer, we follow-up & support the whole process on your behalf.
Q20: What is an SKU?
A Stock Keeping Unit (SKU) is a scannable bar code, most often seen printed on product labels in a retail store. The label allows vendors to automatically track the movement of inventory. The SKU is composed of an alphanumeric combination of eight-or-so characters. The characters are a code that track the price, product details and the manufacturer.
As much as the SKU is used on the retail or distribution side of the supply chain - after manufacturing, it is actually quite an important notion to integrate early in the manufacturing process because behind an SKU number usually lies the composition of said SKU. In fact, SKU numbers will change depending on the product bundle handled in the inventory so it is important that your manufacturing process mirrors such inventory management, especially if you are shipping your product directly to fulfillment & distribution centers!
🚀 Who is Supernova?
We love unlocking growth with next-level hardware products & technologies.
We've built a 50-year old legacy on that.
Phase 1. Product Development Engineering.
Customer brings the concept & required features for its market, we build the tech solution then engineer & validate it.
- Electronic Engineering
- Mechanical Engineering
- RF & Antenna Design
- Firmware Engineering
- APP development
- Back End development
Phase 2. Contract Manufacturing.
Customer brings the designs for us to manufacture at scale or we use the one we engineered in phase 1.
- Mould Tooling
- Plastic Injection
- Metal CNC & Stamping
- PCBA SMT & DIP
- Product Assembly
- Product Test Lab
Sounds cool but what’s in it for you?
Growth. Engineered & Manufactured for Scale.
Working with us allows you to create a competitive advantage on your Market by delivering the best product at the fastest speed for the fairest cost.
You will reach your macro Business Growth targets - revenue, profitability & KPIs - without the risk & cost of managing complex hardware engineering processes & manufacturing supply chains.
We are the only Design-to-Purpose Design House & Manufacturer.
- Design to Specs
- Design to Target Price
- Design to Lead Time