How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

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tripalways1978
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How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

Post by tripalways1978 » Tue Sep 17, 2019 11:32 am

Hola !, I am an computer engineer by profession and have been working on the software side for over 20 years . over the past few weeks I have been thinking of developing a product ( thinking of patenting it too) based on an idea that I have. Though i have a fairly good idea about circuitry and have done some bread boarding in the past I would like to know how to go about building a prototype and whats the best way to get related hardware/software (open source, Arduino ?) and related documentation ? . I will need active RFID, accelerator/gyroscope and other sensors with a programmable interface . I am hoping that if i am not successful at the very least it would be a great learning experience .

I would love to hear from Bogleheads who are into this have succesfully tried to build a product

MotoTrojan
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Re: How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

Post by MotoTrojan » Tue Sep 17, 2019 11:38 am

For the physical hardware side a plastic (if that material works) 3D printer and basic CAD (computer aided design) package would be great for rapid/cost-effective iteration. Arduino sounds like a versatile way to tie in the sensor/controls aids.

Topic Author
tripalways1978
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Re: How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

Post by tripalways1978 » Tue Sep 17, 2019 11:46 am

Thanks Moto , I am currently focused on getting the hardware build together as I am not sure what the eventual size of the package would be . I am hoping once i am able to get a good idea of the size i can use the 3D printer to build some enclosure around the circuitry.

pqwerty
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Re: How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

Post by pqwerty » Tue Sep 17, 2019 11:53 am

I mean you will want to prototype something i would just go to sparkfun and buy the stuff you need to make it work.

To build something from scratch like the PCBs I use to use EAGLE and then send the files to Sierra Circuits to have the PCB printed.

Topic Author
tripalways1978
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Re: How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

Post by tripalways1978 » Tue Sep 17, 2019 4:20 pm

thanks pqwerty. is applying for patent a good idea given the fact that i might be a year from building an actual prototype.

DVMResident
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Re: How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

Post by DVMResident » Tue Sep 17, 2019 4:44 pm

For the 3D printing, there are a number of online services (e.g. ShapeWays). This will let you prototype with larger sizes and different materials than you’ll gain access to compared to a home printer. For CAD programs, Solid Works has a number of tool to help optimize the designs (e.g. thermal loads, CFD, etc). Solid Works is expensive and has a longer learning curve but is the most capable for serious design work.

On the filling the patent, you can file for a provisional as a stop gap measure while finalizing the claims. Also, a preliminary search to make sure that someone doesn’t already have one (a IP lawyer will do a more extensive search, but you can screen out the obvious ones).

assadshafie
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Re: How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

Post by assadshafie » Tue Sep 17, 2019 6:22 pm

1. to save money, I believe you should still go with bread board to prove that your concept works. Making a PCB is going to be expensive (in thousands).
2. as far as enclosure is concerned, you can go to Digi Key, Macmaster Carr or other online retailers and find an off the shelf enclosure and just modify it to fit your application. That's what I would do.
3. You should at least file for a patent to protect your idea. But If I were you, I would document my Idea, put it in an envelop, and register mail it to myself. And when I receive it, I would not open the envelop, and save it, and hope that I you never need it. That would be the cheapest way to protect your idea and it would hold in the court of law if anyone tries to steal you invention.

The most important thing is the idea itself. If your idea is a good one producing it is the easy part.

Good luck.

CppCoder
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Re: How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

Post by CppCoder » Tue Sep 17, 2019 6:46 pm

assadshafie wrote:
Tue Sep 17, 2019 6:22 pm
3. You should at least file for a patent to protect your idea. But If I were you, I would document my Idea, put it in an envelop, and register mail it to myself. And when I receive it, I would not open the envelop, and save it, and hope that I you never need it. That would be the cheapest way to protect your idea and it would hold in the court of law if anyone tries to steal you invention.
What good is that? All countries are now first to file for patent rights. The U.S. was the last holdout, but the U.S. moved to first to file in 2013.

randomguy
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Re: How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

Post by randomguy » Tue Sep 17, 2019 7:09 pm

assadshafie wrote:
Tue Sep 17, 2019 6:22 pm

The most important thing is the idea itself. If your idea is a good one producing it is the easy part.

Good luck.
Ideas are worthless and actually building a useable product is the hard part. Look at all the Kickstarter projects with ideas that can't make anything. Executing is really hard.

As far as prototyping it depends. Some products need to be close to actual product to be usable(think a wearable) for prototyping. Others just need to work and can be 10x bigger , use 100x the energy, and so on. You need to figure what your prototype is for. Is it to test your idea(can sensor x do y) or are you farther down the actual product path (I can do it but need to be able to it for 50 bucks an a package y big). I am guessing(not knowing details) there is some combo of ardunio modules that do roughly what you want That would be my starting spot for research.

2babogle
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Re: How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

Post by 2babogle » Tue Sep 17, 2019 8:44 pm

I recommend you file the patent and get a working prototype for the key functionality using a pi, arduino, etc. However, as was stated earlier, the hard work is the product, the patent is easy (but critical for long term commercial success). Once you get the product technically proven, you can get a hardware company to get it into your form factor and produced.

gnujoe2001
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Re: How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

Post by gnujoe2001 » Wed Sep 18, 2019 6:39 pm

Build and prove out your concept as much as you can with vendor evaluation boards and modules. E.g. ST Discovery boards pull out a lot of I/O to header pins/sockets. Most sensor chip makers will offer a breakout module so that you'll only need to wire power, ground, and signal/data. You can breadboard or solder board other supporting components but that gets tedious if parts are only available as surface mount.

If you're not already familiar and have EDA tools like Altium, there are some PCB companies that offer their design tool for use. Years ago I used ExpressPCB and their tool was easy and good enough for that one off test board. Low qty pricing for small 2 layer board was reasonable.

If you plan to assemble boards yourself be sure to select part packages that match your abilities ...dont pick BGA parts if you're not set up to work w them.


Best wishes ahead!

livesoft
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Re: How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

Post by livesoft » Wed Sep 18, 2019 6:44 pm

How much does filing a patent cost nowadays? $5,000? $10,000? What are the annual fees to maintain it?
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varactor
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Re: How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

Post by varactor » Wed Sep 18, 2019 8:24 pm

tripalways1978 wrote:
Tue Sep 17, 2019 11:32 am
I am an computer engineer ... thinking of developing a product
Hi tripalways1978! I'm a long-time Boglehead lurker but your post drew me out.

The design will be a great undertaking, but a satisfying one if you enjoy learning new skills. A well-designed product can be fabricated and distributed in a largely automated way, leaving you to potentially benefit from a great economy of scale - but it requires a lot of unpaid work up front. If you're going to tackle this yourself, be sure you enjoy working on this project - that way even if the product is a flop it will still have been worth it for the enjoyment!

I do this stuff as a hobby (I have a professional career in an unrelated field) so take my advice with a grain of salt. I can tell you that it's the most enjoyable and satisfying hobby I've ever had, and it's fun making a little money on the side from it. Here are a few resources and tips I hope you find useful:
  • Dave Jones has an insightful video about why he thinks patents are a waste of time for small-run consumer products: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7BL1O0xCcY - The short version is that if your product is a good idea, a Chinese copy will appear on eBay in no time and it will be cheaper than your product. Patents won't help you much because it will cost so much money to pursue the pirates, and likely be impossible internationally. Build a high quality product with good support and good branding, so that people will want to pay more for the real thing, but be prepared for this. I am working on something loosely similar to you and I hedge against the pirate effect by (1) providing great software, (2) providing great documentation so when people google for the thing they find the official website every time, and (3) a web-enabled software component that only works for valid serial numbers (you can get a silicone serial number IC for cheap).
  • Digikey has a great video series on how to make a PCB with KiCAD: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vaCVh2S ... 1L4ZmZVTJS - my advice is to use OSHPark and spin a new PCB every weekend. With their "swift service" you'll have it delivered by the next weekend (if you're in US). Focus on iterative improvements rather than aiming for perfection on your first run. This will keep the ball rolling, make your task feel less daunting, and let you learn from your mistakes as you go (you will make them). It also makes prototyping way easier. SMT boards assembled with a microscope, tweezers, and a good soldering iron are much faster to assemble and test than using through-hole parts on perf-board. YouTube search SMT assembly and you'll find many tutorials. SMT components are also cheaper (especially in bulk) and easier to store. When it's time to fabricate your product professionally, you'll only be working with SMT components.
  • Think about your project as two different projects: (1) create a working development version of your product that does all the things you want it to, then (2) create the product you will provide to customers. Don't waste time making special form-factor boards or picking-out enclosures while you focus on the first phase of your project. It's likely that you'll learn so much during the first phase that it will help you make better design decisions if you save the consumer-facing decisions for later after your project's hardware/software is finished and working well. In my case I learn so much during the first phase that the product usually changes more than I could have initially predicted, so premature consumer-related design decisions are more of a constraint and waste of time than a benefit.
  • Give yourself an allowance. Invest a little money in some equipment up front then plan to spend a little every week (maybe $100). You'll likely need less than this, but super-savers like me tend to get stingy and not order supplies or spin PCBs because we don't like to spend money! I keep reminding myself that developing a product is an investment, and if it's a good investment it's a good investment! It not just prevents over-spending, but it forces me to spend to keep the project moving forward. Divide that $100 by the number of hours a week you work on your project, and you'll realize it's pretty cheap entertainment!
  • If you seek advice or collaboration, prepare a NDA. You can find them online and modify them as needed. It won't prevent sharing/stealing, but it will give you a little recourse if you decide to pursue it legally (unlikely because that's so costly). Realistically having the other party sign a NDA conveys you're serious, and it is most likely more of a deterrent than something that will actually be used.
  • By the time your device is fully working you'll be an electrical engineering expert on your niche field! But now it's time to focus on supply chain management, and you go back to being a total novice! This is a danger zone because to be cost-effective you have to produce and scale and mistakes suddenly become extremely costly. At this time seek advice from someone who has successfully done this part before. Between now and then your mistakes won't cost much (messing up a PCB will only set you back the price of a pizza!) so YouTube videos, EEVBlog forums, and trial and error are great resources at this early stage.
Be sure to revisit this thread in a couple years and let us know how your journey went!

ocrtech
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Re: How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

Post by ocrtech » Wed Sep 18, 2019 8:45 pm

I have built a couple of different prototypes. Most of the "secret sauce" for mine were in the software. The hardware and sensors were nothing more then a mechanism to generate the data. For my latest prototype, I'm utilizing an older android cell phone with its embedded accelerometer, gyroscope, and gps. I bought a bluetooth pressure sensor that connects to the cell phone using bluetooth. The code is all written in Java using the free editor, compiler, and debugger that Android provides.

For most proof of concepts, form factor, size, and looks don't matter. What is key is whether the concept is valid. Use whatever components and tools you are most familiar and comfortable with initially. Once you have a working prototype, you can start worrying about those issues revolving around manufacturing.

Unless your idea is potentially revolutionary, I wouldn't spend the time and money to patent it initially. You're idea is likely going to evolve significantly during your proof of concept phase. You want your patent to most closely reflect your final product not your initial ideas.

Good luck with your adventure! It's amazing how much time you can sink into these projects but they are usually tons of fun and very fulfilling.

ocrtech
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Re: How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

Post by ocrtech » Wed Sep 18, 2019 9:00 pm

livesoft wrote:
Wed Sep 18, 2019 6:44 pm
How much does filing a patent cost nowadays? $5,000? $10,000? What are the annual fees to maintain it?
It depends on the complexity of your patent and the size of your company. For a individual inventor, with a pretty straight forward and obviously patentable idea, you can file for around $1,500. That is if you do all the work and filing yourself.

Maintenance fees are at the 3.5/7.5/11.5 year marks. For the example above, they would run $400/$900/$1,850.

adamthesmythe
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Re: How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

Post by adamthesmythe » Thu Sep 19, 2019 10:08 am

assadshafie wrote:
Tue Sep 17, 2019 6:22 pm
1. to save money, I believe you should still go with bread board to prove that your concept works. Making a PCB is going to be expensive (in thousands).
Actually designing and ordering a PC board can be quite inexpensive. Around $100 for several. Design software is free from one of the many prototype PC board suppliers. I have done component soldering using a tabletop toaster oven, although applying solder paste can be a bit fiddly.

pqwerty suggests Eagle. I think I remember this as having the single worst bizarre, clunky, inconsistent and frustrating user interface. Good luck.

Jack FFR1846
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Re: How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

Post by Jack FFR1846 » Thu Sep 19, 2019 10:31 am

I'll agree on the patent issues. By filing a patent, you tell the world what you're doing. This helps the Chinese companies to build some new thing, get it up for sale and flood Alibaba with them. If you know hardware at all.....if you put a linear regulator between 2 voltages where neither is ground....I own the patent. (well, my former employer owns it). The patent office will issue patents for anything but protecting your patent costs money and if they have more money to pay lawyers, you lose.

Just build your thing and keep your mouth shut about it. If you get to the point where you have a really good, working thing, pitch it to companies who make similar things and sell them the rights.
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livesoft
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Re: How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

Post by livesoft » Thu Sep 19, 2019 10:32 am

I wanted to post that I've been involved in several such projects both electronic and non-electronic. For the electronic, we just used a breadboard, wire wrap, soldering to prototype. The case and decisions about cables and plug came last. No big deal. For non-electronic, I usually used popsicle sticks, styrofoam, and bits/pieces from places like HomeDepot. Then perhaps 3D printing.

Once we had a 3D printed prototype that we sent the specs to a friend in China to see how much it would cost to have it made in metal. They sent us back FOR FREE, two spectacularly built anodized final and functional metal versions in very nice cases suitable for display on your living room fireplace mantel. I was totally impressed. Even if we got these things for free from China because of our costs for people, advertising, video productions, shipping, customer support, sales reps we would have to sell them for at least $500 to not lose money.

I don't know if I should mention that I helped our team earn an R&D 100 award.
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Teague
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Re: How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

Post by Teague » Thu Sep 19, 2019 11:24 am

CppCoder wrote:
Tue Sep 17, 2019 6:46 pm
assadshafie wrote:
Tue Sep 17, 2019 6:22 pm
3. You should at least file for a patent to protect your idea. But If I were you, I would document my Idea, put it in an envelop, and register mail it to myself. And when I receive it, I would not open the envelop, and save it, and hope that I you never need it. That would be the cheapest way to protect your idea and it would hold in the court of law if anyone tries to steal you invention.
What good is that? All countries are now first to file for patent rights. The U.S. was the last holdout, but the U.S. moved to first to file in 2013.
Apparently the postmarked envelope "poor man's patent" was pretty worthless even before the 2013 change:

https://www.legalteamusa.net/a-poor-man ... your-idea/
Semper Augustus

Topic Author
tripalways1978
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Re: How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

Post by tripalways1978 » Thu Sep 19, 2019 12:00 pm

I am very thankful to you guys for the wonderful feedback especially varactor, orctech for your insight. I was able to order my components via spark fun and will begin my build hopefully by this weekend.

I also tried a uspto patent lookup to see whats out there and while I do see some similar ideas which have been patented my idea seems to be more specific to an industry which has not been targeted. The existing patent description seems to be a broad stroke verus a specific industry or product and that's what concerns me as technically its trying to solve a similar problem . Is filing for patent worth the trouble or the focus should be on overall idea/product development ? Also it seems that once a tech component has been developed companies with deep pockets seems to file patents for all possible applications of the component without developing the application or the product themselves . In such a scenario if someone is developing the product is he violating the patent ? and will he be required to license it or share his revenue in some form?

In any case i do intend to move forward to see where this leads me too . its been a while since I have done anything like this so the idea excites me. I will keep the board updated with my progress.

X528
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Re: How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

Post by X528 » Thu Sep 19, 2019 6:16 pm

tripalways1978 wrote:
Tue Sep 17, 2019 11:32 am
Hola !, I am an computer engineer by profession and have been working on the software side for over 20 years . over the past few weeks I have been thinking of developing a product ( thinking of patenting it too) based on an idea that I have. Though i have a fairly good idea about circuitry and have done some bread boarding in the past I would like to know how to go about building a prototype and whats the best way to get related hardware/software (open source, Arduino ?) and related documentation ? . I will need active RFID, accelerator/gyroscope and other sensors with a programmable interface . I am hoping that if i am not successful at the very least it would be a great learning experience .

I would love to hear from Bogleheads who are into this have succesfully tried to build a product
Do you have customers willing to buy your product if it existed? Get customers before you build the product.

iamlucky13
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Re: How to build hardware for a product protoype ?

Post by iamlucky13 » Fri Sep 20, 2019 2:21 am

assadshafie wrote:
Tue Sep 17, 2019 6:22 pm
1. to save money, I believe you should still go with bread board to prove that your concept works. Making a PCB is going to be expensive (in thousands).
There's actually custom PCB services that can make custom boards in small quantities for a few dollars per square inch. I've never done it, but I know of people who have made products like custom drivers for LED lighting, and even shared the designs online so others hobbyists can order the same thing at their leisure.

My understanding is the business model is they wait until they accrue enough orders to fill a whole sheet of the substrate material. Then the tracing, masking, printing, trimming, etc is all automated anyways, so making a whole bunch of different designs in one batch is a relatively reasonable incremental cost.

This is one such service I've seen used on a forum I frequent:
https://oshpark.com/

Note that the product is a naked board. It's up to the user to solder their own components on, which for surface mount components means learning how to reflow. Through hole components means easier assembly, but larger boards with more limited layouts, and if I understand right, slightly higher board cost due to the holes (more features = more cost), and higher assembly costs if eventually mass produced.

I'm sure there are also services for populating PCB's, but I'm not familiar with any of them. I'm guessing they start to make sense versus hand-assembly when talking about quantities in hundreds or perhaps thousands.

That said, typically you'd start with a breadboard, then move to a custom PCB when you want to prototype something closer to final form.

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