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How to Turn Your Concept Into a Prototype?

Cliff posted more than 8 years ago | from the from-design-to-device dept.

55

Synced0 asks: "Like a lot of people who post/read on this site, I am a software developer. I have experience developing handheld applications and am quite knowledgeable about the hardware that are in various handheld devices , these days. I have been toying around with the idea of building a device that is based on a handheld platform. I have the basics for what I need such as what OS, and platform I will base it on (motherboard, CPU, storage, display panel, etc). The biggest question in my head is where do I go for the actual design of casing, and who I can get to do the final hardware design. I have never designed hardware before, but now that I have my platform and such, where do I go from here? I have some ideas on what the device should look like, but I have no skills of molding plastics. I have all the pieces working on the desk but am clueless how I progress from this stage.Is it very expensive for someone to take concept into a prototype?"

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Here's a partial answer (5, Informative)

UncleFluffy (164860) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710230)

These people can help with part of your problem: http://www.emachineshop.com/ [emachineshop.com]

Re:Here's a partial answer (2, Informative)

senatorpjt (709879) | more than 8 years ago | (#15711687)

I noticed emachineshop doesn't list example prices for any of their example parts. A simple washer came to $130. They wanted something like $800 for a steel plate with holes cut in it (for a test tube rack). I guess it's still useful, but I find it hard to believe I couldn't get a better deal talking to a machinist in person. In fact, considering I would need two plates, it would be cheaper to just buy a milling machine [grizzly.com] .

Re:Here's a partial answer (1)

blakestah (91866) | more than 8 years ago | (#15714117)

Talking to a machinist in person will usually result in cheaper prices than emachineshop, for single one-off parts or multiple parts. Buying a mill is great, but you will also need a wide range of accessories, and a lathe, bandsaw, drill press, grinder, belt sander, etc. A typical non-CNC machineshop probably costs $100,000 to fully equip. But you need to have some savvy, machinists run from $100+ per hour down to about $35/hr, and some of the $35/hr guys are much better than most of the $100+/hr guys.

The really nice thing about emachineshop is you don't actually have to talk to a machinist.

Re:Here's a partial answer (2, Interesting)

sm4kxd (683513) | more than 8 years ago | (#15713085)

I've thought about using emachineshop.com a few times on a few other projects and specialty car parts. I have been quite satisfied with the work I have had them do in the past.

However, the issue that may arrise here is (at least at the time I was going to use them for a unique project) in the process of using them, you agree that the designs you submit to them become their property. If he is trying to build a prototype, using emachineshop.com effectively hands the rights to the design to someone else.

I can't seem to locate the fine print on the site now, maybe their policy has changed. Worth a phone call, at the very least.

Re:Here's a partial answer (1)

SagSaw (219314) | more than 8 years ago | (#15715893)

However, the issue that may arrise here is (at least at the time I was going to use them for a unique project) in the process of using them, you agree that the designs you submit to them become their property. If he is trying to build a prototype, using emachineshop.com effectively hands the rights to the design to someone else.

Here is what is in their current (or close to current, I haven't installed the latest update):

Customer retains all rights to submitted designs and emachineshop retains no rights to submitted designs.

Four Easy steps (2, Insightful)

Freaky Spook (811861) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710233)

1. Patent the idea then forget about it.

2. Wait for some unsuspecting party to develop prototype.

3. ???

4. Profit.

Thats what I was going to do (1)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710478)

I have a design for a device that is inevitable, and could be made with today's technology. The problem is that I have no idea how to get a patent, it just seems to complex for me to figure out.

Re:Thats what I was going to do (2, Interesting)

Osty (16825) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710503)

I have a design for a device that is inevitable, and could be made with today's technology. The problem is that I have no idea how to get a patent, it just seems to complex for me to figure out.

Assuming you're filing in the US, you can do it all online [uspto.gov] . I've not done it personally, so I have no idea how easy or difficult it actually is, but you should be able to find enough information [uspto.gov] to get it done if you really wanted to.

Re:Thats what I was going to do (1)

poot_rootbeer (188613) | more than 8 years ago | (#15712950)

I have a design for a device that is inevitable, and could be made with today's technology. The problem is that I have no idea how to get a patent, it just seems to complex for me to figure out.

You could always hire a patent attorney...

Re:Four Easy steps (1)

pookemon (909195) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710576)

I'm sorry, but I already own the patent on 4 easy steps...

Time to profit... :P

Re:Four Easy steps (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15711102)

You almost got it right.

1) Talk to an intellectual property lawyer (look in the phone book or get a personal recommendation). There is more to IP than patents, he or she will be able to advise you on patents, design rights, copyrights, trademarks et al.

2) Avoid "Invention promotion" companies who promise to put you in touch with "teh profit". Again just look in the phone book, trade journals or ask for a recommendation for proper product development companies.

3) Ensure that the development company respects your intellectual property from step 1. There are likely to be contracts and non-disclosure agreements (especially useful if your patent application hasn't been searched and published yet). Again your lawyer from step 1 can help you.

4) Depending on who develops your prototype there are likely to be many false starts, iterations and evolutions. This will take time. Keep an eye on the competition. Develop unique selling points. Measure the market. What are the costs of manufacture? What is a likely selling cost? Will a big name be interested in a license?

5) Profit is never guaranteed!

Re:Four Easy steps (1)

Pieroxy (222434) | more than 8 years ago | (#15711252)

You actually forgot one very important step, which mislead you through the rest of your steps.

0. Check in all the patents ever filed to the USPTO for a patent that may cover part of your idea.

1. Too bad. It is a chance you have found that and were able to pull out before any harm was done. The fact is that people violating other people's IP are more and more considered as having links with terrorists. Of course, since they are actively trying to destroy the american capitalist economy (who could deny that?), they HAVE to be some terrorists of some sort.

/rant ;-)

It doesn't look insanely hard or expensive (5, Informative)

petard (117521) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710244)

I was looking into something similar for a Soekris-based project recently. ProtoCase [protocase.com] looks promising. I haven't actually placed my order, so I can't comment on quality just now. I did download their software and do a quick design to estimate costs. Looks like, for a typical soekris-sized project with a couple serial ports and a couple ethernet ports I'd be facing approx. $130/unit in very small quantities with about $70 in one-time setup fees.

These guys [emachineshop.com] have also occasionally been recommended on soekris-tech, and also offer free software to help you design and submit projects to them.

Good luck!

Casing... (2, Informative)

Chapium (550445) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710269)

This isn't necessarily a specific organization, but for casing, you might need to find someone with Industrial Design [wikipedia.org] background.

Re:Casing... (1)

PixelJonah (182936) | more than 8 years ago | (#15746252)

It sounds to me like you have some basic hardware specifications and some ideas of how the device will be used - which will influence the hardware design. But need guidance in getting it from a rough pile of wires to a slick finished product.

Unless you have all the skills - board design, human factors, industrial design, materials engineering, etc. etc., you're best served by working with some professionals. Try Nectar [nectardesign.com] , Frog [frogdesign.com] , or IDEO [ideo.com] for starters.

Some answers (2, Informative)

mnmn (145599) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710304)

Sorry for not giving you a link, but there are plastic moulding companies that offer samples albeit at high prices. You'll give them an Autocad drawing with all the specs. They will clarify the tolerances they can offer. Now before you go off and pay for a mold, they commonly have this device that can create any solid plastic shape in 3D using lasers.

Re:Some answers (5, Interesting)

WhyCause (179039) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710444)

One thing to note, here.

Before you submit your plans to a molding shop or machine shop. have someone who knows something look at them! Yes, it is easy to draw something and have it made, but someone who has gone through this process a couple of times will be able to spot common pitfalls that most new designers fall into, namely:
  • Tolerances far too tight - nothing will move if you have everything too snug, and machine shops start doubling prices for every extra significant figure on those tolerances.
  • Your parts may not actually be manufacturable - if a machinist or CNC machine can't get to a place to cut away material, you just plain can't make the part.
  • You have more than one part to be made - one case is likely composed of multiple 'parts', at the very least a front and back half, and if you don't split them out, you'll get one solid chunk back, not the smooth open/close mechanism you expected.
  • You might not be able to put everything together - Tab A might fit into Slot B in your head, but if the tolerances aren't correct, or if you just goofed, the real parts won't go together like you think.
  • Your cool design might be buildable, but not manufacturable - rapid prototyping machines can easily make things that are otherwise unmakeable; everything looks great for real production until the machinist/molder laughs you out of his office.


...they commonly have this device that can create any solid plastic shape in 3D using lasers


mnmn is referring here to a rapid prototyping machine, which is a really slick option for early prototypes because of the rapid turn-around time. CNC machines might be a second option, since the parts they make will be durable and very solid (unlike a rapid prototyping machine's output). At my undergraduate institution, we had a rapid prototyping machine (one of the first in the nation at university, by the way), and they would sell time on the machine to individuals/companies who wanted to have things made (Remington Firearms was a steady customer, if I recall correctly). I would suggest asking around at the local Mechanical Engineering departments if I were you, since they are likely to be much less expensive than a professional firm, and much more forgiving of design errors. They will also have access to CNC machines that they may be willing to sell you time on, provided you buy the materials and have everything ready to go (CNC machines don't just take 3D model files, you have to specify cutting paths, depths, and cut orders).

All in all, I'd suggest going to a bar near the local university on a Friday afternoon and waiting for the Mechanical or Industrial Engineering graduate students (they won't be hanging out together) to show up. Start talking with them or buy a few rounds, and they'll have better specific information for you.

Re:Some answers (2, Interesting)

Xiroth (917768) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710946)

Or better yet, see if you can find where the Industrial Design students hang out. You can either chat with them or even pay one to design it for you - most of the time, the competition for jobs in the field is fierce, so you should be able to pay a graduate student peanuts for reasonably good work.

well.. (1)

KnowledgeFreak (528963) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710309)

Granted, I have no idea what I'm talking about, but isn't this what venture capitalists are for?

Spooky you forgot (2, Funny)

eronysis (928181) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710310)

He said HANDHELD and device. So step one is LICENSE patent from cybernaut...

My problem (0, Offtopic)

mbstone (457308) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710317)

The problem I always have is how to turn my prototype back into a concept.

Re:My problem (2, Funny)

Fullhazard (985772) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710377)

Simple. Just say that in addition to doing whatever it actually does it also allows cars to use no gasoline, it cures cancer, it allows people to access the internet without paying any telco/ISP, and it can break DRM. Make this publicaly known in a press release, get it slashdotted/dugg, and within 24 hours your prototype will be turned back into a concept.

Re:My problem (1)

TechAdd (963866) | more than 8 years ago | (#15720690)

What prototype do you have? I would always go to custom manufacturer as 'petard' has suggested above. Like, take help from http://protocase.com/ [protocase.com] , if you want custom metal case/s. Ask for questions you have through forums, friends, among others. Hold on, is it how do i turn concept to prototype? :-)

Prototype? (0, Flamebait)

Digitus1337 (671442) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710516)

I'm Ron Burgandy?

Two words... (1)

notanatheist (581086) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710558)

Radio Shack. Or Radioshack.com. Maybe their sales people don't have a clue but rummanging through the drawers will find you what you need. Breadboards, project boxes, LEDs, switches, resistors, zip ties, electrical tape. You need at least a rough mock-up eh? Here in Oregon we have an even better shop called Norvac. Ah, shrink tubing, fiber, every connector known to man, motors, and more.

Re:Two words...(also) (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710750)

Fry's. The local Fry's has a LOT more stuff along these lines than any Radio Shack you're ever likely to see.

Re:Two words... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15710793)

Mouser Electronics Inc. www.mouser.com

They have about everything you need, most of it dirt-cheap (not everything though!) Make sure to look at the catalog page (PDF, or hard copy) and not just the website, since prices on idential items will range depending on the manufacturer.

Identical quad op-amps could cost $0.07-3.00 as i recall (different manufacturers, same specs)

they don't have minimums to order on most parts, and the shipping is flat.

Re:Two words... (1)

bky1701 (979071) | more than 8 years ago | (#15711353)

And for casings - cardboard does wonders. Really! If you must, get some metal duct tape (they sell it in home depot and places like that) and warp the cardboard in it (AFTER cutting it...), it will make it much stronger, heat tolerant (more or less non-flammable if you are dealing with high heat), water proof and look shiny.

Re:Two words... (1)

DrLang21 (900992) | more than 8 years ago | (#15711706)

He wants a handheld computer. Radio Shack can't even begin to touch what he needs.

Re:Two words... (1)

poot_rootbeer (188613) | more than 8 years ago | (#15712981)

He wants a handheld computer. Radio Shack can't even begin to touch what he needs.

He wants a project box. RS has plenty of basic project boxes in stock, even if the sales staff has no idea what they are for.

Check the yellow pages (2, Interesting)

MadEE (784327) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710560)

When I have been on projects where money has been an issue I typically go to local plastic injection mould manufactures, usually the smaller the shop the better luck I have and simply talk to them about the project. Unless they are swamped with work they are usually very helpful and I have even on a few occasions had them make me a prototype case for next to nothing. After all these guys know you do need financing make things a reality. A single injection mould will cost you around $250,000 depending on the size and complexity. Really nothing beats being able to meet someone face to face with your ideas and concepts you will be surprised at all the cool stuff these guys can do with plastics.

You need a "Product Development House" (3, Informative)

EmbeddedMan (189952) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710592)

One example is Logic Product Development. (My employer - shamless plug) We do exactly what you are asking for. Sometimes (when everything is custom) it is expensive. Sometimes it is not. There are many other product development houses out there (also called contract engineering houses) that can take your prototype and turn it into something that can be mass produced. You'd then have it manufactured at a CEM (Contract Equipemnt Manufactuer) either here or overseas.

online RFQ (3, Informative)

jayrtfm (148260) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710631)

mfgquote.com [mfgquote.com] lets you put your job up to get bids from 1,650 suppliers performing over 200 manufacturing processes

local high-school? (2, Interesting)

corychristison (951993) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710679)

I'm not sure about anywhere else in the world, but in the city I live in [in SK, Canada] we have a high-school that offers Machining and a school that offers Plastics. Generally you can go to the school and get what you need done [assuming you can do the CAD side of it yourself]
Just go to the school and see if they have any students looking to make a bit a cash. :-)

Big Blue Saw (2, Interesting)

chroma (33185) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710716)

You should check us out. We currently offer waterjet cutting, which is cheaper than many of the processes listed in this thread.

Re:Big Blue Saw (0, Offtopic)

Yakman (22964) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710834)

We currently offer waterjet cutting,

The OP is talking about an electronic device, all that water will ruin it!

Re:Big Blue Saw (1)

chroma (33185) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710968)

I didn't want to mention it, but since you brought it up, waterjet cutting [bigbluesaw.com] makes use of a high pressure stream of water and abrasive particles to machine a part. It's effective on almost any material, including plastic, metal, wood, and stone. It's a very versatile technique that offers low setup cost.

mechanical engineer here... (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15710732)

There are three basic levels of plastic part volumes and costing outside the realm of machining from a block of plastic.

Rapid Prototypes: SLA, FDM, SLS, etc. Google those terms to see what they are. No tooling involved. Companies all over the place make them. I'd suggest FDM prototypes from quickparts.com or redeyerpm.com. Probably $25-150 per part. Several days for turnaround.

Rapid injection molding: niche filled by Protomold.com. Cheap tools (between $2k and $10k for most things), relatively cheap parts ($5-$15). 1-3 week delivery depending on price.

Real injection molding: Jillions of suppliers. Tools take 4 weeks or more. Don't count on less than $10,000 for a tool. Parts will be as cheap as they can get.

All three avenues need a 3D CAD model at some point. You can hire a consultant engineer for ~$100 an hour in some areas to model it up if you have decent sketches with some dimensions. How pretty you want it will determine how long it takes. Figure a few grand for something decent. You might be able to find software on the web to do it yourself if you don't have the money.

If you have a big pile of money, you can hire a company to design the parts, order the tools, and fabricate your whole product. Figure many tens of thousands of dollars for labor if you go that route.

Metal machining (1)

danpat (119101) | more than 8 years ago | (#15710843)

Shameless plug for a family friend: http://www.l-m-w.de/ [l-m-w.de] , based in Germany.

These guys can do some pretty amazing things with their equipment, check out the "Produktbeispiel" (product examples). They cut and fold metals with lasers, drills and water jets. No idea what they charge, but you give them an Autocad file and they turn it into something real (if it's creatable). Last time I visited they were doing cases for large-scale image scanners (a-la 10ft by 5 ft).

This isn't a fab problem (4, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 8 years ago | (#15711155)

Actually, at this point you need to build two things. One is a functional prototype that fits in some standard case. The other is a non-functional prototype that shows the desired look and feel of the product.

The functional prototype you put in some standard case. It will be bigger than the final product, but it will work. Get a good catalog of boxes (Mouser and Digi-Key have good selections.) You'll have to drill holes and grind things down, which you do with hand tools and maybe a Dremel tool.

The look and feel prototype you have designed by someone who understands industrial design. It may be a clay model. There are polymer clays that can be fired in an oven to make a hard object. The model is then painted, and perhaps glue-on stickers are applied, followed by a clear coat. There are other approaches; you can machine the mockup out of a block of Delrin, or build it up in a stereolithography machine. Or if you just want to have pretty pictures, you can design the case in some 3D system and generate renderings. But for handheld devices, a solid object is more useful.

Now you can get user opinons on the thing. You'll make some mods, and may do another version of either prototype. Marketing and funding efforts begin.

Once you have a basic design that seems to work, you're faced with designing the real thing. This is a packaging job, and you have to think about things like design for assembly, waterproofing, shock and vibration resistance, interconnects, and similar subjects. If you can get the whole thing on one PC board, do so. If you can't, you get into interconnects, always a big hassle. Try for one PC board with surface mount components and a clamshell case that holds it in place; that's straightforward to fabricate in quantity. If your idea is any good, by this point you have some funding. So you get this done by somebody who knows how.

Incidentally, having custom membrane keyboards [melrose-nl.com] or rubber keyboards like a cell phone [newenglandkeyboard.com] made isn't that big a deal, and you can get much of your job done by a supplier in that business.

It's difficult (2, Informative)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 8 years ago | (#15711337)

Re:It's difficult (2, Funny)

Jesus_666 (702802) | more than 8 years ago | (#15711549)

Worst. Case mod. Ever.

Just use prototype.js (0, Offtopic)

Isofarro (193427) | more than 8 years ago | (#15711407)

<script type="text/javascript" src="prototype.js"></script>
<script type="text/javascript" src="insertConceptHere.js"></script>

The Prototype JavaScript library [conio.net] .

You have to network, network and make deals (2, Insightful)

Iloinen Lohikrme (880747) | more than 8 years ago | (#15711564)

It might sound very simple advice, but networking (ie. finding people with skills or resources you don't have) and making deals (get them to work for you) are the steps you have to take to get your project anywhere.

Before you jump out and start hyping your project, making connections and start signing people, you have to make your own homework. You have to put your idea of a device and it's usage into an simple and clear message that is convincing, after that make atleast some calculations about the cost of device, markets ie. to get some picture if there is any financial reason to do the project. At this stage you should put the idea forward to your friends who might have something to contribute and to give feedback about the general idea, and have someone of them jump into the project. If you are any lucky, you and your friends can do all the work to make it from concept to proto.

In some time after you have got some ground into your project, you should definately incorporate. Having an corporation shows that you are serious and it makes it more easier to sign "outsiders", ie. not your friends, to the project: rewarding outside work with equity. In example I know one small sports device maker who got few talented people from Nokia to design their devices outlook and casing by promising equity in return of design work. Also having an corporation secures your project by putting all the work of individuals to property of the company, and usually individuals are more willing to sign NDA between the company than straight with you.

Of course, if your project is just for hobby or fun, then my advice is not so usable. But if you are atleast little bit serious, I would definately suggest that you read some books about starting an firm, some books about innovations and basic marketing info.

Case design (1)

DrLang21 (900992) | more than 8 years ago | (#15711689)

Prototyping of small intricate devices can be quite expensive. Especially if you want to design it for commercial viability. For designing the case, you'll want a high end 3d modeling software package like SolidWorks [solidworks.com] . You will idealy want it to be designed to be viable for rapid injection molding, though for a first prototype it isn't neccessary. You will want to design the case around what your electrical engineers can do with your board. Once you have a design, look into stereolythography for the rapid prototyping. It's expensive, but for a one shot deal, you cant beat the price for what you get. Be warned, the resin used in SLA is brittle. I think someone makes special screws for it though.

Doug Hall? (2, Informative)

bluprint (557000) | more than 8 years ago | (#15712575)

He's one of the judges from that show American Inventor. His website is here [doughall.com] . At the bottom of the page, is a link to a company he recommends called Evergreen IP [evergreenip.com] , who can supposedly help with this kind of thing. I have no personal experience with any of this, just happen to know about this guy.

Focus on your customer (1)

Badlands (906315) | more than 8 years ago | (#15712811)

I've read the excellent and informative posts. My comments presume that you have created something and now want to try and sell it. Your packaging choice for the next step, will be dictated by your customers. Who are they? Do you have a contract or a request for this device - if so, go to them to see what they want, and take the steps to package it nicely and as close to their request as you can make it. If this is a speculative venture and you only have a concept that you have implemented in a desktop prototype, then don't worry about the package - put it in a box so that you can take it around to folks and show it to them.

Technologists like to spend time working all the details, but you don't know if anyone is interested in buying it at this point. So put your resources into taking what you have and putting it in the hands of customers, retailers, marketing folks - all the stakeholders that will quickly tell you if you have something that they want. And of course, they each will want to change something about it, so it's easier, faster, and cheaper to put changes into it when it is closer to the prototype stage, than when it has a customized package.

I would go so far as to suggest that if you can not find a sponsor for your product at this stage, then you may not want to continue. A sponsor would be someone that either a) agrees to market your product (after the requested changes are incorporated, of course); b) buy them outright (again with changes); c) buy the rights to manufacture the product (easiest option - you can stop, now, and collect royalties).

Best of luck!

A few additional points (1)

kunakida (886654) | more than 8 years ago | (#15713050)

I don't know if by "I have the basics for what I need such as what OS, and platform I will base it on (motherboard" you mean to say that you already have selected/designed/tested/certified the actual motherboard.

Assuming you haven't done that (since it implies the case size will be constrained by your already selected board), you need to do some serious electronics work to get the circut board to a suitable shape and size for your handheld.

Once you have it working on your desk, you need to do the following to make it suitable for hand held operation.

Standard disclaimer: IANAEE

1) reduce the size and weight

Select smaller components (like the ones that go into wave solder machines), change the layout, consider a multilayer board (more layers = more mfg cost and more difficulty in layout design) Smaller board = smaller case

Note: remember that anything at the edge of the board can get dinged by the installer as they put the board into the case.

It is good to establish beforehand your desired/target size and weight even if you don't quite achieve it right away.

2) determine the battery/power source that you are going to use with it.

If it is re-chargeable, determine if the charger is ouside or inside the handheld case. Some power sources require additional shielding for safety if the battery contents should leak. You need to be able to provide sufficient operating time and standby time (baterries leak current slowly even when off). Standby time must be at least 1 day or more (ideally 4 days - a long weekend). Standby power needs to account for anything that must remain powered up - such as memory, always on components etc.

3) reduce the power draw

You may need to select low power versions of the components and if you have too many discretes, you may want to push them into a PAL or an ASIC
(note: ASIC design/prototyping can cost quite a bit, so you may want to defer it to version 2.0)

It is good to establish beforehand your desired/target power draw even if you don't quite achieve it right away.

4) design your circuit layouts carefully

You need to account for timing issues due to signal lag, power up issues due to the timing of what power lines come on first (which depends on the load for each line) And you need to measure and reduce signal noise enough to prevent signal interference. You have to account also for any parts that may get hot (nearby parts may not like it) You also need to confirm with you board manufacturer that your layout meets their specifications. And you need to check with the board assembly guys that they can assemble the parts in (by robot) and wave solder the board - otherwise you will need manual assembly or manual soldering (very bad).

5) account for heat dissipation from the case and from the hot parts

Should not too much of a problem for something that should be handheld.
However, if it is warm enough to notice by touch, you may need to insulate the handgrip. If you need to stimulate a part to get it hot, you may need to create a signal gererator or write some testing software to generate the signal to heat up the part. If you can, test the heating of the part until you see its failure mode. Ideally, it should just stop working until it cools down again. A worse outcome is that it lets out the magic smoke or even starts a fire. If this is an issue, you may need to add in some thermal monitoring and regulation (usually, you just select better parts).

6) make sure the circuit board has holes drilled for support

The holes should allow for firm support without twisting or pulling.
Rubber gaskets/grommets can reduce the transmission of shock.
You need to do a drop test (from waist height at least)
The positioning of the supports must allow the circuit board to be inserted into the case without stressing the board or pinching the installer's fingers.
It must also be possible to remove the board.

7) design the case case layout carefully

Displays and keypads/buttons are either aligned from the circuitboard (tolerance will be a little off) or mounted independently (will need a connector with strain relief - which adds to weight and size) Mounting tolerances are an issue because openings allow water to get in and (if your case is shielded) RF signal to get out.

8) account for RF signal so you can pass the FCC test

The usual answer is to put ferrite cores on all wiring that crosses the case boundary and to shield the case (unshielded openings are a real problem),
however, it does add to the volume and weight, so a better answer would be to make sure the circuit board is emitting as little as possible. Also try to avoid emitting in regulated frequency bands.

9) set up a way that you can perform burn-in

You need to connect to an external power source somehow, and possibly add mounting points so you can mount the device onto something while burning in.

You can do this with the case on, or you can perform burn in on the circuit board by itself (in which case the mounting points are on the circuit board)

A) despite all the above advice

As you design all the above, you need to keep your component and assembly costs down as much as possible. Don't over-engineer your design or over-spec your parts. $100 in parts can mean a $500 (or more) selling price. If you plan to sell directly to businesses, you ideally need to stay below $500 USD (you can work down to this gradually as you shift from low volume production to high volume).

Try to make sure you can get more than one supplier for any given part.
Look for volume deals when you buy (you can make one big deal when you buy and pay/get delivery by schedule - so many per week/month/whatever)

Don't get an injection moulded case right away. The template tool will cost $10000 and can't be justified until your volume is high enough.

In the meantime, try to stay with standard cases and machine the openings.
If you need a non-standard case, use a stamped aluminium enclosure (make sure you get the folds right, and try to avoid waste metal) You can machine the aluminium after stamping if necessary. The unit cost will be higher, but it delays the capital investment until you can afford it. You can make a virtue of your necessity by playing up the fact you have a metallic case.

It is good to establish beforehand your desired/target target cost and selling price even if you don't quite achieve it right away.

NB: One way to reduce cost is to hire someone who has been through all of the above a few times and hopefully knows what they are doing.

Re:A few additional points (1)

Synced0 (987967) | more than 8 years ago | (#15713720)

Thanks for the great info! I think part of my problem is I am not a case designer and we don't have anyone on the project that really is. Right now we have all the hardware working, such as 3" display, the motherboard, cpu, battery all these things. The things we don't know and maybe some of these machine shops have consulting for this is how to build a case. If we mockup a general drawing of the device, are they knowledgable to insert whatever supports are needed to hold the boards and plugs and battery and what not if we give them dimensions? I think us designing how things are actually attached to the case would be a mistake as we have no experience in this sort of thing. We have the hardware, we just need to take it to the next step :) Thanks so much everyone for your comments!

Re:A few additional points (1)

kunakida (886654) | more than 8 years ago | (#15714858)

I haven't been involved in hardware since 1991 (I do exclusively software now), so my info is quite dated. I was involved in doing the purchasing and kitting (I dealt with all the suppliers), the hardware/software testing, and some of the software development (we were a startup, and in those days everybody had more than one role). I'm not sure that the small electronics industry has survived in the form I remember.

Back in 1991, one of our (electronics) hardware guys also had a talent for doing enclosure design. But even so, our needs were not as extensive as yours (we were not producing a handheld device)

If you mockup a general drawing of the device, most machine shops won't have the expertise on board to think the rest of it through (unfortunately)... although you might luck out.

It would be better to subcontract to somebody who could do the mechanical design (who was familiar with electronic devices). Meeting the required dimensions and mechanical support requirements is only part of the work. You also need to deal with styling and ergonomics. There are companies out there that specialize in the styling (as your case "look" is one of the components of brand identity)

Unfortunately, I can't really guide you very well on how to go about finding the right sort of person for this. You would probably need at least some face time, to include gestures along with pictures :-) so they should be relatively local.

If you live in the US (I do not), you may want to try some company similar to those listed here (I have no idea if these are any good or if they are capable of delivering the full Monty, they just seem to be in the general ballpark)
http://www.mfgquote.com/profiles/Electronics-Enclo sures-United-States.html [mfgquote.com]

If they are very good (and plugged into the industry), they would also be aware of local fabs that could do the actual work. (be careful if they have their own fab - they will plug it shamelessly and will not mention any serious competitors)

Don't hesitate to ask everyone you come in contact with (in the industry) to let you know who the other players are that they deal with, or have heard of, and what their reputations are.

In any case (pardon the pun) I wish you well in your quest. Hardware is a grand adventure (OK quite a few grand).

Illegitimi non-carborundum.

Hobby or business? (1)

toybuilder (161045) | more than 8 years ago | (#15713442)

If you're doing this as a hobby, and are not looking to make this into a business, I suggest taking balsa wood or modeler's clay and hand build the enclosure to prototype the rough idea. Then, you can sand/smooth/paint it carefully to have a "finished product", or hand your prototype to an art school student (someone that is studying commercial industrial design) -- and ask him to build it in his 3D CAD/CAM class. I knew a guy that made beautiful SLA product prototypes in class - stuff that looked very real.

If you're trying to make real products, you need to get a professional industrial designer and mechanical engineer at some point.

It is just another engineering cycle. (1)

jet_silver (27654) | more than 8 years ago | (#15714771)

OK, you have developed some software and know the hardware you need. Think of how you got there. You had some requirements, you had a budget, you had a schedule. What you need now is to apply the same kind of thinking to your hardware.

Think of -how many- widgets you want to build. If you can make a living doing 100 of them, it's senseless to make plastic parts. If you need to make a million of them, it is senseless to make anything but the minimum plastic part that will satisfy the requirements, even one cc of plastic * 1 million parts = $BIGNUMBER. Tailor the mechanical bits to the number of widgets you're making, just as you tailored the software and electronics to the number of bits/sec of throughput. The more parts you have to make, the more sensitive the profit/loss will be to the cost of each part, but you pay for that kind of value engineering in higher cost of engineering services.

Think of the integration between the parts of the widget. If the parts are very cheap but it takes a long time to assemble them, you are making a trade-off. Is it the correct one?

Is anybody going to drop the product? Spill coffee on it? If so, have someone look at it from that point of view. Designing to environmental requirements (especially aggressive ones) is different from designing for the office.

Look at a product you -know- is good and that has about the volume and usage of your product. Take one apart and see how they did their tradeoffs. Try to explain to yourself what the features are for. Nobody puts "mysterious" parts in, they cost money. Everything in there serves a purpose. See if you understand what it is.

Lots of people have done what you are doing and you can do it. Think clearly and as though you are writing down requirements in a statement of work.

TechShop.WS (2, Informative)

mhamrick (513789) | more than 8 years ago | (#15720033)

If you're in the Bay Area, you may be interested in TechShop (http://www.techshop.ws/). They're up in the industrial complex across highway 101 from Menlo Park off the Marsh Rd. exit. Like the Crucible in Berkeley, they're a place with a bunch of tools for prototyping: PCB etchers, 3d printers, electronically controlled lathes, CNC milling machine, etc. They're scheduled to open their doors in August, I think. $30 gets you a "day pass" to use all the equipment in the building. $100 gets you a monthly membership.

Bringing products to market (1)

Engauge (990579) | more than 8 years ago | (#15767336)

These are all good comments/suggestions.

I am currently going through this exact same process. I have no outside investors, so I am 'bootstrapping' it.

Here's what I've learned so far.

There's more details to consider than I would have thought possible. Packaging, technical manuals, repair manuals, software CD's, shipping, warehousing space, final assembly space, not to mention the actual product design.

I have it easy I suppose. My product is relatively simple for an electronic device. Circuit boards cost about $4 each without components or assembly. One part of the unit is in an off the shelf case (about $1.50), and another part is an injection moulded part of my own design, manufactured at emachineshop for about $1.70. Tooling cost for the mould was a little over $400 if I remember correctly. All together, the device costs about $60, and sells for $129. Higher volumes would obviously bring the cost down significantly, but then I would need a distribution network, which generally raises the cost back to where it was for low volume production.

I can conceivably manufacture about 20 or so per day, using my current processes. Better equipment, specifically a professional reflow oven, would increase that number to mabye 50 units per day. My facility is not especially high-tech nor large, and I am the one and only employee (makes payroll very easy). I still have my day job of 40 hours, so I don't see the family much...

It's a tremendous amount of work, and, thinking about it now, it all started out of personal need. Making the first one is what cost so much money, so I figured that with each one that I sell, I can offset the initial cost. In total, to get where I am now, I've spent about $5K, not including the few thousand hours of my own time. If I sell 100 of them, then the whole process didn't cost me anything but time. It's been about a year since I concieved of the device, and to date, I haven't sold a single one. Not that it isn't marketable, but because there's always one more detail to work through. I hope to be unveiling the device in the next few months.

One poster mentioned getting a patent. I researched that option and decided against it. Here's why.

Typical patent fees run upwards of $10K. You can get Patent Pending status quickly, but the actual patent can take years. Then what? Then nothing. Until someone uses your patented idea. Usually goes like this: You start producing the best Widget ever. You have great sales and make some money, let's say $100K. Wong Chow in China sees your infomercial, and using his inexpensive labor, reverse engineers, and then produces your patented Widget for half the price. Your go shopping one day, and see your Widget on the shelf at the local dollar store. You call your lawyers and they start the paperwork. It takes about 10 years, but you win the case. Wong Chow is forced to stop producing your Widget. But wait, your patent ran out 3 years ago. He never has to stop producing. You've spent a couple 100K on the lawyers and associated fees. In fact, you spent most of the money you made in the first place. In the end what did the patent get you? Most likely, a bunch of grey hairs.

Now for the big guys, they have teams of patent attourneys on staff, as well as the lawyers to battle the competition in court. They can get things done far cheaper than the small guys. I'm not saying that there's no need whatsoever for a patent, just that you have to look at the whole situation before you start the process. One thing to note is that once you start selling your product, it gets difficult, if not impossible to get a patent issued on it (after the fact that is).

So, I have no big investors, no patent, no factory, no formal knowledge of any of the required fields, and yet, I'm still plugging along. I have no illusions. I will not be made a millionaire. Will I break even? Hopefully.

Just to make my first point a little more clear, here's a somewhat complete list of the things I have had to learn at least a little about along the way in developing my device.

Software engineering/design
Microcontroller integration
PCB layout/design
Injection moulding processes
Circuit board assembly
Reflow Soldering
Optics (particular to my device)
Ergonomics
Packaging design
AutoCAD (never had to use it before)
Technical writing (manuals)
Web Design and implimentation
ESD procedures
Epoxies (again, particular to my device)
Quality control
Customer service
Warranty writing/procedures
Technical support
Marketing
Advertising

Then, I had to learn about the potential markets for the device. Here are some of those:

Industrial equipment
Experimental aircraft
Agricultural equipment
Process control
Emergency vehicles
Law Enforcement
Marine technology (boats, etc..)
Automotive technology (cars, motorcycles, etc..)
Construction equipment

Those are just some of the market segments that the device applies to in one form or another.

All in all,it's do-able. Just don't underestimate the amount of time involved. Money became a non-issue for me, I wasn't spending a great deal. The time I'm spending on it though, is what's really starting to wear me down.

-EG
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