Time to Market vs Common Sense

Designing for the Internet of Things

Alasdair Allan

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This is the fifth article in a series of six on designing connected devices, the previous article in the series is “Remember the Physical Environment,” and discusses deployment issues. The next and final article is “Security is Your Job,” and talks about security and the Internet of Things. Links to all six articles can be found in the series overview.

For many startup founders coming to hardware manufacturing with a software background the time to market for a product can come as a shock. Used to agile development methodologies, with significant product milestones at the end of a one or two week sprint, the timescales it takes to develop a hardware prototype can appear stretched. A consumer electronics product, like a wearable or connected device, can take six to nine months to move from concept to the start of production. It can take longer.

Manufacturing as a Startup

Electronics factory in Shenzhen. (📷: Steve Jurvetson)

Startups are under-financed, and usually short on staff. Lack of capital, and time, makes manufacturing the most dangerous periods in a startup’s life. Even very small mistakes at this stage — in design, tooling, or even in quality control — can lead to large cost and time overruns that can kill a early stage company.

Perhaps the most important lesson to learn as a startup looking to manufacture a hardware product is that you are not Apple, and you can’t manufacturer like they do. Apple products are held up as examples of amazing design and manufacturing quality. You will not be able to duplicate it, because almost no other companies (no matter how large) can.

Perhaps the most important lesson to learn as a startup looking to manufacture a hardware product is that you are not Apple, and you can’t manufacture like they do.

When Apple runs into a manufacturing problem, they often fix the problem by buying whole companies. For instance for one revision of their MacBook Pro laptops they needed to drill a 20 µm holes in aluminium for the sleep light, and only one company made a machine that could do that. Apple solved this bottle neck in their manufacturing process by buying…

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