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How to turn an idea an electronic device?

| PODCAST 10.03.2023
What is the episode about?

In the second episode of the podcast, we will talk about how to turn an idea into an electronic device, what challenges await engineers in designing new devices, and how clients cope with preparing a brief. We will also talk about examples and find out what is unnecessary in the design of the device.

If you would like to check out other episodes of the podcast, please visit below:

Odcinek 4 - 5 błędów w projektowaniu nowego urządzenia

Odcinek 1 - Czym jest zewnętrzny dział R&D?

For those who prefer to read rather than listen, we have prepared a transcript of the entire episode.

Welcome to Inquel Talks. If you're listening to this podcast, you're probably looking to increase your competitive advantage by using technology, electronic devices, and software. If so, you've come to the right place. In this podcast we will talk about the latest trends and technological solutions. Thanks to them, you will be able to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your business. This podcast will also include practical tips and advice that will help you fully use the potential of technology in your company. Inquel Talks is conducted in simple language, so you don't have to be an engineer to use it. Our goal is to help you better understand how technology can help you build a competitive advantage. Well, let's get started.

[T]: Good morning, welcome to the next episode of Inquel Talks. Today my guest is Jarek Cichorski, hello Jarek.

[J]arek Cichorski: Hello, good morning, hello everyone.

[T]: Jarek is the R&D director at Inquel and deals with building competitive advantage through the use of electronic device software technology. Today we will talk about what is important in the design of new electronic devices. Jarek, I would like to start by telling me what the biggest challenges are as a person who has designed not one, not two, not five devices, but definitely more. What are the biggest challenges in designing new electronic devices? Let's start with generalities.

[J]: I just wanted to say that it's not only me who deals with this design, but we have a whole team responsible for it, so these competences are divided. It's not like I'm inventing everything from start to finish. I wanted to make a nod to the band here. But yes, of course the biggest challenges that arise in design are that we have to design for production. So of course it imposes some rigor and imposes some requirements. This, of course, may also pose a certain risk that we may be overwhelmed by our own experience. This also needs to be avoided. Well, these are our own limitations, and on top of that, a client comes and we have to know his expectations very well. He does not always come with well-defined expectations, i.e. with the so-called product brief. Only sometimes he comes with an idea in his head or a piece of paper and a drawing. So the challenge is, of course, to translate this idea into an action plan, i.e. a recipe, a description of what we want to do, so that at the end we come up with something that will satisfy the client and satisfy us. Of course, there are more challenges. They appear during the design process, because sometimes they are challenges related to the fact that we have to figure out some new technology, or we have to test some solutions that we have not tested before, or that have appeared and will only need to be implemented. Sometimes it's a matter of, I mean sometimes, it's always a matter of us thinking about it from a perspective perspective. That what we design and perhaps today will be produced in the amount of 100 pieces per month, in six months will be produced in the amount of 10,000 pieces per month.

[T]: This is where Jarek, I'm sorry, I'll come in because…

[J]: I'm a talker.

[T]: It's great that you're talking. However, I would like to ask about some things. You said you have to design with manufacturing in mind. Can you say in practical terms what this means?

[J]: This means many elements and, as I said, it involves a certain risk that when we talk to the client or when we conduct certain workshops with him to help us select this product brief, we cannot impose too much pressure on him. many limitations. I mean, we have to learn to listen to this client before we tell him what it would be better to do, or give him some solution or direction in which we can go, but generally…

[T]: So tell me, what does it mean that you design with production in mind? What kind of challenge is this? I don't know if this is obvious to everyone.

[J]: Yes, yes. This is related to minimizing production costs. Sometimes certain operations that will be required to produce a given solution at all are very expensive. Either because we will invent a very expensive element, or because we will invent a very complicated casing, or because we will put so many different elements inside that they will have to be connected, right? So, in general, this is a path that is supposed to lead to simplifying everything that can be simplified, minimizing costs, producing everything that can be minimized. And then, when it comes to scalability, we think about, for example, automating certain processes. It is known that when production is not yet fully developed, we can perform certain elements of this process manually. Maybe the hand is the most perfect tool, and then it may turn out that we need a robot to program the boards, because there are so many of them that it can be robotized.

[T]: So, in one sentence, design for production means to create a device in such a way that the unit cost of production is as low as possible, yes, do I understand correctly?

[J]: Yes, to meet the customer's requirements and at the same time not to create a product that is a beautiful work of art, but completely impossible to produce.

[T]: Ok, so the second issue is that in addition to minimizing production costs, we are also talking about the possibility of translating it into series production, right?

[J]: Yes, this is a very important element. We must always keep this in mind and constantly maintain this balance between the limitations it imposes on us and, on the other hand, the creativity that must be put into creating a new product. This is a challenge not to be overwhelmed by your experience and to take advantage of the freshness that the client brings. He always brings some freshness, an idea, a solution. Sometimes, during brainstorming, people who have absolutely no idea how to create certain technical solutions without these limitations come up with brilliant ideas. It is very important to have the golden mean, to keep the golden mean between… Balance between what we would like to do to make it as simple as possible and what the client would like to get to make it the coolest, right? And it could be produced.

[T]: Great. Jarek, you also said, I think, an industry term like a product brief. What is it and what is it for anyway?

[J]: This is a very important element, because it is actually a description of what we will get at the end of this project. That is, we must describe what is to be created. These product briefs, of course, can be constructed either more in terms of marketing or more in terms of the product to be created. Here we are talking about a brief that is designed for the specific product that is to be designed. But of course it should also include these marketing elements.

[T]: Let me ask you a question here, for a moment. So a product brief is in fact a challenge, you could say that it is a challenge for designers? Such a challenge understood as collecting requirements, describing user needs…

[J]: This is collecting requirements and describing them. It must contain some basic elements. We have to include information.

[T]: Exactly, what does it have to contain?

[J]: Must contain information about our client's client. It is not the final customer who comes to us, but the customer for whom we make the product that will be sold. So about this customer, about the user of this product. It is good if it contains information about the competition, so that we can refer to the solutions that are already on the market. And possibly try to find some marketing advantages or advantages that this product should have in order for it to stand out. This brief should also include what we would like to do that will make us stand out. The purpose of the device we design is important. That is, where it will work, whether it will be an indoor, outdoor, more industrial or more utilitarian device. This is very important. It is important that we also somehow face the cost of this device. We need to position it somehow on the market, so we also need to know how much it should cost to produce, right? So that when the customer receives the device from us, he is not surprised that it costs too much. When designing this device, we must keep these costs in mind. We have to stay within some range or propose a solution to the client and tell him, listen, you'll pay PLN 3 more, but you'll get something. So this is obviously very important here. All parameters, including what power supply it should be, interfaces, what keys, whether it is battery or mains powered, what the casing should look like. These are all things that should also be there, because the customer may have the idea that he wants it to be a wooden casing, a plastic casing. And of course, deadlines and budget.

[T]: Jarek, that sounds like quite a challenge. What does this look like in practice, in your experience? Are clients good at preparing such a brief? Doing well to throw this challenge right, solution designers?

[J]: It varies, because sometimes the client, intuitively knowing what he expects, writes down all the elements and comes with complete information. He can… It's not like this brief has to contain some very rigid form to be called a product brief. It simply needs to be a written list of expectations and requirements that includes the elements I mentioned. Often we simply write them down over time, or during a conversation with the client, but of course it should be in a form that is sufficiently structured and written down so that we know what we are agreeing to when the client… We then calculate the cost of implementing this project . So sometimes a client who doesn't have this, can work it out with us, for example during workshops, right?

[T]: Okay. So if there is a problem with answering these many issues, the client can count on help in creating such a brief, for example in the form of workshops, right? Do I understand correctly?

[J]: That's definitely true. Because we must remember that sometimes we are approached by an experienced client who has already implemented many products on the market, so he is looking for someone who will make this product for him and has specific expectations and requirements, these are clearly written down. Sometimes he does it intuitively, as we said, and sometimes he doesn't do it at all because he doesn't even know how to do it. He comes with an idea, but doesn't think about the other elements at all. And then the responsibility rests on us to make him aware of it. I don't want to say bring it down to earth or cut off its wings, because that's not the point, but we must remember that we live in some economic reality. And the product that is created must also sell for it to have a rational, economic raison d'être.

[T]: So I understand that it is a combination of artistry and pragmatism on the one hand? In other words, the device must provide enough value to users and be priced well enough for people to simply buy it or know what they are paying for? I'm talking about users, right? Okay, so we have the brief. There is a written document, a challenge issued. What practical challenges do you see in designing a new device? Because, you know, paper will accept everything. But then what does it look like in practice? What are the next important elements to make this process of designing devices and various systems, not to say maximally effective, but to make it effective and move forward, solving real problems?

[J]: Once we have defined these expectations regarding the product, we have to think about how we will make it, right? So then it comes to us, it is our responsibility to calculate and estimate these individual phases in creating this device. And of course, a lot depends on the project, what these phases will be. Because sometimes it may turn out that together with the client we come to the conclusion that we want, need, for some reason, to perform this first phase, called proof of concept. That is, checking whether such a product exists at all, in such a form. is right. And, for example, this is of course done for various purposes, sometimes it happens that the client has a unit in the company that approves new projects for him. And you have to come not only with a project description, but also with a mok or something like that…

[T]: Mok, what does mok mean?

[J]: That is, a physical print, for example of a device casing. It may not work at all or it may have basic functions, for example, you can press keys and something will appear on the display and some LEDs will light up. It won't perform all the functions we want, but you will be able to take it in your hand and say: oh, yes, it looks really nice, we would like to have something like that. Nice shape, we can refine this display a bit, but this is the direction.

[T]: I'm sorry, Jarek. I would also like to ask how or what else to pay attention to? What are some things that can be easily omitted but are very important when designing a new device? What is something from your experience that is really important, that is often forgotten, or is not obvious at first glance? And then it turns out that you can't move without it. Something that comes to my mind is something like certification. Do you need to think about it, what other elements are important in device design?

[J]: Yes, there are of course a lot of these elements. Not all of them are known to the client from the beginning, not all of them are known to the client, and not all of them come from us… Differently. He hears from us during this process, either when we are working on the brief or when we are defining these phases of the project. For example, we say that because the brief states that the device is to operate in domestic and lightly industrialized environments, it must meet certain safety and electromagnetic emission standards. If the device is a radio device, i.e. it either receives or emits radio waves, it must comply with the RED directive. These are slightly different standards. Every electronic device must meet electromagnetic compatibility standards. This may seem like an unnecessary procedure or an unnecessary element. And we can always say: the market will verify whether the device is well made, because customers will either buy it or not. Well, this type of approach may result in, for example, three users dying before the device is withdrawn from the market, right?

[T]: We don't really want that.

[J]: We don't want that. So that's why safety research is obviously very important and safety comes first during design. We are, of course, talking about mains-powered devices, because sometimes they are devices that are powered, for example, by a power supply. Then safety is also very important, but it is approached differently. It is known that this device will not shock with high voltage, but, for example, if it has a battery, then if the charging system in this battery is poorly constructed, it may, for example, catch fire. We know cases of cell phones that caught fire while charging, right? So this is a classic example of this security problem not being treated and solved well or well enough. These are very important elements. There may be various other elements that are somehow imposed by the client or the recipient. This user who will use it. Ease of use, i.e. how many keys there will be, what batteries people will want to use it with. How long do we have to take into account that the device will operate autonomously on batteries, right? We must remember that the device cannot hang. There are many such elements.

[T]: Ok, what if I am an entrepreneur and would like to create a device that automates a certain work process? I have my own systems, you know, in which I collect various data. How important is it, or how possible is it to integrate or create a device that automates certain work? I don't know, uploading data. What is important from your perspective to create such a device?

[J]: From my perspective, of course, or from the perspective of our team, the approach here is, I don't want to say slightly different, but in fact it is slightly different. Because we define this product brief differently. We already know who the customer is. We know the answer to some of the elements. And here it is more important to precisely define and, of course, define the client's requirements, but they come down to knowing exactly what is the input, what is to appear at the output, what we will process and how, with what interfaces we will communicate.

[T]: We're complicating things, Jarek.

[J]: We're complicating things.

[T]: But that's good. Can you describe this with an example where the device connects to the software, automating work in some way?

[J]: Well, yes. We have had several such implementations. I will mention one of them. This is a solution where we have automated or, as it were, introduced supervision of vehicle traffic at the plant of one of our clients. It consisted in the fact that the client had quite big problems, let's call it, I don't want to use the word dishonesty, but I guess that's how it should be called.

[T]: Let's call it straight, like business problems, whether we sugarcoat them or not, we have them. Dishonesty is dishonesty.

[J]: It's dishonesty. And now the point was to have precise supervision over what cars enter the plant and what they are supposed to collect or leave at the plant according to the documents. And whether they follow the path that is planned for them. Therefore, there were many different elements there, we let these vehicles in using identification cards. Then we identified their license plates, downloaded information from the system about what materials they should take or leave, collected information from the automatic scale that weighed the vehicle at the entrance, and photographed these vehicles so that we knew what they had in their truck. Then we tracked their movement, the movement of this vehicle by identifying license plates at particular places on their route, we measured the travel time and saw where the vehicle appeared and for how long. Does he follow the path that is intended for him, because he is, for example, supposed to leave a given type of material in this place or collect it from this place? We collected all data as if for each vehicle departure, and then analyzed whether they went beyond any pattern. If unusual events occurred there, the plant's security was alerted to determine why the vehicle had gone off the route, why it had stopped, why it was in a different place than it should have been.

[T]: Impressive. Okay…

[J]: This is an example of such a solution where the customer comes… This is not a product that we produce in hundreds of pieces, it can be scalable in the sense that we can also implement it in a similar customer's plant. Of course, it requires separate work, but…

[T]: Absolutely, but I really like this example because it illustrates in a non-obvious way how a real business problem can be solved. This means that there is potentially dishonesty, literally by a few people, which may result in losses of tens or hundreds of thousands of zlotys in large plants. If it can be automated and improved, as it were, in the way this product is transferred and received, it can solve many problems.

[J]: It was a purely business decision, because this system paid for itself very quickly for the client, right? It turned out that suddenly the very fact of preventing this type of abuse virtually eliminated it.

[T]: I'm very happy. I would like to move on to another question, because I am asking what is important in the design of a new device. However, it is often worth asking yourself what is not important? You know, my question will be this: what do customers often pay attention to, what is, I don't know, unnecessary, or what is worth the minimum at this stage of designing a new device? Do such things happen and if so, what kind?

[J]: This is a very difficult question, because it is difficult and easy, yes. You could say that nothing is unimportant. If a customer says that the color of the housing, pink, is very important to him, we cannot say that it is unimportant, because it is important to him, right? We can think about it for the last time… We know that, for example, it is not a problem, so we tell him: don't worry about it at all, because we will design a device that will make it known that we will be able to make the casing from this type of plastic. But of course sometimes things happen that are not obvious. Because it may turn out that plastic colored with some dye changes its properties and may affect flammability, for example. So there are many elements that at this first stage, we have to keep an eye on them throughout the entire stage. For example, to ensure the appropriate thickness of the walls of this housing to guarantee appropriate flammability. Sometimes it happens that the client has a requirement that we know that we will be able to implement programmatically and at this stage it is not important whether the list in the menu will have 5 or 7 items. Maybe I would turn this, this information, this question of yours around a bit and answer it this way. Nothing is unimportant, but sometimes this weight is distributed completely differently on the client's side and on our side. It means things that seem obvious to the client and therefore irrelevant, because it is known that it can be done, and in turn he lists them and passes over them as something completely trivial. And then he says that he thinks that some function or some element will probably be very difficult to implement, so he would not like to add it if it would somehow make the project significantly more expensive. And then we tell him and make him realize, to his great surprise, that, for example, the first thing, which seems to be very simple for him, will take us the most time, and he will have the other one for free. Because once he has this, these things are, I don't want to say free of charge, but can simply be realized automatically. So sometimes it's good… I mean, it's also important to establish with this client what is important or, I don't know, something that is important for him may be irrelevant for us at this stage and vice versa.

[T]: The other way around. So I would say that two-way communication is very important as part of the design process? In this sense of transfer on the one hand, from the client's side…

[J]: Basics, I think, yes.

[T]: … requirements. On the other hand, this dialogue is also aimed at optimizing the unit cost of producing this device, time, and level of complexity. In other words, you need to combine the experience and specialization of both parties to create a device that is optimal in terms of functionality and optimal in terms of production cost, right?

[J]: Yes, because we usually don't know the specifics, we don't know the specifics of the market in which the client who comes to us operates. Sometimes it's obvious, but sometimes we don't know it, right? He has his clients and knows what he wants to offer them and tells them what is important to him. And we can help him improve this product or project, simplify it and offer him a solution that will, for example, be revolutionary. Because, for example, in this product area, such a solution has never existed before, right? Or there were known solutions in other fields and they, for example, enjoyed, well, not the best, the best reputation. And it turns out that it works very well in this product group. And here, if you allow me, I will also mention an example of a project that we did with our friend and long-time collaborator… With a client with whom we have been cooperating for a long time. Namely, it was a controller that was touch-controlled. Everyone most often associated touch controls with the unreliable operation of light switches, which either turned on on their own or did not work well. Well, now we have proposed such a solution. Initially, the client was skeptical.

[T]: What solution? It is important for those who listen to understand the whole…

[J]: We're talking about specifics. It was a radiator controller and we solved many different problems using this touch button. Just simplifying the production process. Because we could offer a very nice casing. I mean, we didn't propose it, because to make a nice casing, you have to use industrial design. This means that specialists in the field of industrial design should get involved in this project. And it was like that there too. However, we did not have to install any buttons in this housing and think about making sure that these buttons were hermetic. It is known that buttons increase the entire production cost. And it turned out that using two touch buttons we were able to turn on the device, change the water temperature and start the timer. And this touch button was made in such a way that it worked reliably. That is, accidental touches did not cause it to turn on. It was really safe and repeatable to operate, even with wet hands. And what's more, he behaved well in such a situation, as if someone had covered him with a wet towel. There were built-in special protections that meant that, for example, the device should not be turned on and remain turned on in a situation where someone accidentally touched the device.

[T]: Great, Jarek, because we're getting close to the end. And I would like to ask you to provide such a summary in a few sentences. What would you like to leave our listeners with at the end of this conversation? How would you talk about several conclusions or one most important conclusion regarding the design of new devices? From your perspective, what is most important to effectively create or design a new electronic device?

[J]: If these are comments for the originator, because I understand…

[T]: For the entrepreneur.

[J]: For an entrepreneur who comes with an idea, first of all, I would say not to be afraid or ashamed of this idea. That is, our own ignorance should not limit us. Let's turn to specialists who will help us deal with this issue properly. That is, it is good to define the properties of this future product, based on our idea. And it's not like we require that a professional contact us to do this project professionally. Our job is to guide anyone who has an idea and wants to implement it through this process, right?

[T]: Great, so you can help turn the idea into a working electronic device?

[J]: I mean, there's one thing we can't do. And here I have to worry our potential customers. Well, we are not able to make a perpetual motion machine.

[T]: As far as I know…

[J]: I disappointed you.

[T]: As far as I know, no one has managed to do it yet, and we keep our fingers crossed for the first ones who will. I hope, maybe it will be you, it definitely won't be me.

[J]: I'm not trying, so probably not.

[T]: Well, it definitely won't be you, it definitely won't be me. However, I understand that we can talk about other problems and challenges. Also Jarek, thank you very much for the great conversation.

[J]: Thank you too.

[T]: Dear listeners, if you have any questions, please contact us. We wish you all the best and see you soon. Ciao!

[J]: Thank you.

Episode guest:
Jarosław Cichorski
Dyrektor ds. badań i rozwoju - INQUEL
Konstruowanie urządzeń jest dla mnie pasją, której oddaję się praktycznie od liceum. Znajdowanie konkretnych zastosowań dla nowych technologii sprawia mi wielką satysfakcję. Twórcze dyskusje o każdym nowym projekcie nakręcają mnie do działania, a najlepszą nagrodą jest duma, gdy widzę w sklepie zaprojektowane przez siebie urządzenie.