Author Topic: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market  (Read 7292 times)

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Online Simon

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EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« on: August 22, 2010, 07:09:54 am »
Well thanks Dave for tackling a subject I started on the forum with a video post.

Now that I know how patents work, yea agreed a waste of time. I found all of your comments interesting and probably true. I don't think though that open source is always the way to go. In my case I'm designing for a few old boys that can't get enough of their vintage cars. So opens source is no help as really they just want to buy the thing knowing that it is bullet proof end of.

I'm actually aware that there is another person who has been trying to do the same thing as me but has never achieved it so really the last thing I need to do is "give it away".

I did cling to the idea of a MCU, in the beginning I had the choice of analogue or MCU and while I did throw an analogue version to paper I always preferred the MCU version as i knew it was more difficult to duplicate and it left more headroom for development. That headroom has already been taken up and now MCU control is the only way. Having said that it's not a complex design and really if a chinese manufacturer got hold of it (not that it's worth them bothering due to the tiny market) it would be easy to guess the basic principles the circuit works on and rebuild it.

I think my main advantage is touching on the "national pride" (ahem ahem do we still have that ?) in having a product designed and built in the UK.

Advertising yes a waste of time (baring a bit of fun) if you hit a niche market I think word spreads.

Well thats all from me, anyone else got experiences with designing something they want to market or have any ideas on copy protecting
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Offline jahonen

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Re: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« Reply #1 on: August 22, 2010, 08:00:51 am »
I posted this some time ago. But, in the end, if someone really wants to make a copy, he eventually will, regardless how much effort you put to the copy protection.

Cyclone III LS seems pretty good, but I think that in this case, the cost increase is not justified. Multilayer board with all the critical traces buried inside is also a nice obstacle for average hacker, and it becomes even better when using "BGA"- or "QFN"-style components.

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Re: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« Reply #2 on: August 22, 2010, 08:31:22 am »
Now that I know how patents work, yea agreed a waste of time. I found all of your comments interesting and probably true. I don't think though that open source is always the way to go. In my case I'm designing for a few old boys that can't get enough of their vintage cars. So opens source is no help as really they just want to buy the thing knowing that it is bullet proof end of.

Sure, no point in open source if it offers no advantage in your particular market.
Markets are as infinite as products are.

Dave.
 

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Re: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« Reply #3 on: August 22, 2010, 08:32:19 am »
@ Jahonen

Yes I remember that post. The 4 layer board is a good idea, but then that certainly means having it made by a board manufacturer and i expect more complex assembly ?
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Re: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« Reply #4 on: August 22, 2010, 08:34:36 am »
Now that I know how patents work, yea agreed a waste of time. I found all of your comments interesting and probably true. I don't think though that open source is always the way to go. In my case I'm designing for a few old boys that can't get enough of their vintage cars. So opens source is no help as really they just want to buy the thing knowing that it is bullet proof end of.

Sure, no point in open source if it offers no advantage in your particular market.
Markets are as infinite as products are.

Dave.

I just have to hope the guy that is also trying to build the project is not savy enough to understand micro controllers, hopefully he's some old boy to whom transistors are a novelty
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Offline jahonen

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Re: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« Reply #5 on: August 22, 2010, 08:46:33 am »
@ Jahonen

Yes I remember that post. The 4 layer board is a good idea, but then that certainly means having it made by a board manufacturer and i expect more complex assembly ?

Yes, you have to usually order the PCB from a manufacturer. Expect 2x cost relative to 2-layer one, although the difference in money units is not necessarily prohibitively high at the end if it gets the job done, especially if you have moderate production volumes.

Assembly is usually quite the same, although if you have pads connected to big copper areas, then they are sometimes a pain to solder properly (good heat conductivity).

Regards,
Janne
« Last Edit: August 22, 2010, 08:48:06 am by jahonen »
 

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Re: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« Reply #6 on: August 22, 2010, 09:07:48 am »
hm so if I have a board that is mainly through hole with a couple of SOIC IC's and surface mount resistors am I looking at any complication of design/assembly ?, the idea is VERY appetizing and having 2 layers in any case (am now using single) will greatly compact the layout leaving more room for future improvements, the only thing is that power carrying tracks mu remain on the surface for heat dissipation
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Re: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« Reply #7 on: August 22, 2010, 09:20:46 am »
hm, express PCB seems to have the inner layers locked as power and ground, might have to wait until i get around to KiCAD before doing 4 layers, i've got a year or so of testing to do anyhow
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Offline mikeselectricstuff

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Re: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« Reply #8 on: August 22, 2010, 10:20:38 am »
Totally agree with most of this blog, except I think sanding off chip numbers is a total waste of time and just makes you look like a complete amateur.
Unless you are using an EXTREMELY obscure chip, it won't take anyone with  half a brain more than an hour or two to figure out what it is.

And  as for potting, it really isn't worth  the hassle unless it brings other benefits like environmental protection. Potting is a messy, time-consuming and expensive process unless you can afford the kit to automate the mix/dispense process. Don't think for a minute it will stop someone finding out what's inside, as a can of paintstripper will remove most compounds in a day or two.

And don't forget that X-Ray machines are as close as the nearest vet or dentist. I've done this once, and it was invaluable in determining where to start with the Dremel.

Microcontroller based products are by far the best way to add value while being relatively hard to copy. The great thing is that once you've spent the time writing software, and cramming in as many features as you can, it costs nothing to manufacture.

Niches are definitely the  way to go. You will never make a penny selling to teh general public unless you get very lucky. Here's a nice niche I filled a few years ago. This started off as a solution to a problem I had, Once I figured out a neat solution, I put out a few feelers on some forums to see if there was a demand, &  ended up selling something like 3000 of them over a few years with zero advertising.
This was pretty much the perfect niche - not big enough for it to be worth anyone else copying, pretty much all of the value was in firmware, which costs nothing to manufacture. As with all these things there was also some luck involved, like MS launching Media Center.
Having a product out there can also lead  into other products or consultancy work as you become known as an expert in hat particular niche. For example the above product led to me doing some custom hardware for companies testing set-top box software, and a lot of consultany in the area of infra-red comms. 

I'm not yet convinced about the 'open-source everything' argument - It is very dependent on your target market as to whether it's a benefit, non-issue or potential liablity, but at the very least there is rarely anything to lose by having fully open APIs, interfaces etc. to allow other people to interface/expand/adapt your product. Someone may move your product into a market you never knew existed!

OK ready-made CC licenses are there, but you still have exactly the same problem as with patents when it comes to enforcing them - you might be able to persuade ebay to take down listings for infringers but any more than that you need to pay a parasite lawyer, so I think that when deciding to go this route you pretty much have to assume people will disregard any licensing terms.

 



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Re: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« Reply #9 on: August 22, 2010, 10:29:03 am »
yea I sold some parts to a guy locally on ebay who makes remotes for old studio tape recorders, they used to have a wired remote so he taps into the same socket but with an IR receiving box that can be controlled from a standard remote, he was selling them for £60 and I know there is not a lot to them.
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Re: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« Reply #10 on: August 22, 2010, 11:32:01 am »
I will be blanking the chips on my project, don't care how amateur it is, until I get someone bent on seriously trying to copy it it will fob most people off
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Offline JohnS_AZ

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Re: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« Reply #11 on: August 22, 2010, 04:59:59 pm »
Back when I worked at Motorola (in manufacturing engineering) we used to reverse engineer all sorts of boards. Not to steal designs, but to allow us to do component level repair of boards in equipment we had bought. The point is that we NEVER came across a board we couldn't crack. Potting, sanding part numbers off, multilayer boards, don't care. There is nothing you can do that a dedicated solitary tech, or a team of underpaid Chinese engineers can't figure out.

Worst case I ever saw: A small company sanded off part numbers, and then somehow printed new INCORRECT part numbers on the chips. They also painted new stripes on some key resistors, and had a half dozen chips and transistors that did absolutely nothing. I took us three days to develop a schematic, and we never EVER bought another thing from that company.

Short of putting your ENTIRE design into a custom ASIC, if someone wants the design, they'll get it.

Another thing about multilayer boards ... bear in mind that if you use the most popular discount board houses, you are actually handing your design to the Chinese with a bow on it.
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Offline JohnS_AZ

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Re: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« Reply #12 on: August 22, 2010, 05:03:35 pm »
About open source hardware ...

This article from Wired is a couple years old but still a good (and for me, inspiring) read ...
"Build It. Share It. Profit. Can Open Source Hardware Work?"
http://www.wired.com/techbiz/startups/magazine/16-11/ff_openmanufacturing?currentPage=1
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Re: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« Reply #13 on: August 22, 2010, 05:05:58 pm »


Another thing about multilayer boards ... bear in mind that if you use the most popular discount board houses, you are actually handing your design to the Chinese with a bow on it.

well they have to know what it is and what it does, they have no info in the parts and naturally access to the software, if I'm doing one layer which is most likely I'll make my own
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Offline mst3klives

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Re: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« Reply #14 on: August 22, 2010, 05:15:36 pm »
Dave,

Flying Spaghetti Monster ..... big thumbs up :)
 

Offline LumpyGravy

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Re: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« Reply #15 on: August 22, 2010, 08:08:20 pm »
Probably the biggest motivator for making a small low-volume product open source is that it goes hand-in-hand with selling in kit form.

Here in the EU, the electronics markets are very tightly regulated. Any new product needs to be certified EMC compliant, CE marked, ROHS compliant, and then if you're even thinking of producing a product for safety critical, automotive, medical markets or similar then there are a whole bunch of SIL type certification to go through as well (and you won't believe how intensive, laborious and expensive that is). It's just not worth the money, effort and tears.

I believe (but don't take my word for it) that some of this can be circumvented by selling in a kit form. Selling any safety critical stuff is still playing with fire though, don't even go there, it's a legal minefield.
 

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Re: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« Reply #16 on: August 22, 2010, 08:24:13 pm »
yea my idea being my friend will try my product out and extensively test it. after which his boss will buy if from us and at that point takes responsibility for it. Anyhow this is not a market that cares about regulation too much and vintage cars are exempt from many (they are allowed illegal powers of headlights)
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Offline mikeselectricstuff

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Re: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« Reply #17 on: August 22, 2010, 09:31:37 pm »
Probably the biggest motivator for making a small low-volume product open source is that it goes hand-in-hand with selling in kit form.

Here in the EU, the electronics markets are very tightly regulated.
In theory, but in practice it's complaint driven, and in the UK at least policed by council Trading Standards depts who have their hands full with dodgy takeaways, fake goods and rogue traders. 
Quote
Any new product needs to be certified EMC compliant
But can be self-certified
Quote
CE marked
Add it to the PCB or panel artwork.
Quote
ROHS compliant
No big deal, and anyway who's ever going to notice the odd bit of lead
Quote
and then if you're even thinking of producing a product for safety critical, automotive, medical markets or similar then there are a whole bunch of SIL type certification to go through as well (and you won't believe how intensive, laborious and expensive that is). It's just not worth the money, effort and tears.
I don't think anyone's seriously suggesting marketing DIY medical devices out of their garage....
Quote
I believe (but don't take my word for it) that some of this can be circumvented by selling in a kit form. Selling any safety critical stuff is still playing with fire though, don't even go there, it's a legal minefield.
A kit is just a bunch of parts, and you have no control over how it's asssembled. hard to say where a bunch of maybe pre-assembled PCBs and bits changes from a bunch of parts to a product, but in practice most niche stuff will be well below the noise floor unless you kill someone with it.
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Offline Zad

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Re: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« Reply #18 on: August 23, 2010, 03:10:34 am »
I totally agree about patents being a waste of money for the "little guy", but I'm not sure I totally agree with the concept of making the design free and open. Arduino apart (and that was down mostly to Make taking it onboard - plus it hasn't generated much cash for the designer) pretty much all the products seem to be ephemeral "hey wow" products, and good ideas that don't really go very far. You would need several new ideas constantly being developed to pay the rent, let alone make a good living.

Don't bother making a multi-layer board to make it less copyable, that will slow them down by all of an hour or so. If you can make it 2-layer and knock 5% off the cost, do that instead.

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Re: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« Reply #19 on: August 23, 2010, 06:38:36 am »
actually for EMC I should be compliant, because first off I don't want to kill my own project with spikes so in protecting itself it will also stop it making any EMC noise and will actually make the whole system better.
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Offline jahonen

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Re: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« Reply #20 on: August 23, 2010, 08:14:16 pm »
actually for EMC I should be compliant, because first off I don't want to kill my own project with spikes so in protecting itself it will also stop it making any EMC noise and will actually make the whole system better.

I would not worry not so much about voltage spikes EMC-wise, if you are dealing with a control system (measurement + analog stuff), I would worry about RF-field immunity (that is part of EMC compliance). Unexpected resonances can drive otherwise good system in bizarre state.

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Offline jahonen

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Re: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« Reply #21 on: August 23, 2010, 08:21:04 pm »
And for the topic, I have personally not much experience about trying to sell stuff. I have published many (most) of my personal projects openly (schematic and layout) in hope that someone will found them useful. At least they have been nice cookbook collection of circuits I tend to reuse. But I have found out that most people seem to think that they are overly complex and seek other simpler solutions :) That can be also thought to be some kind of copy protection, isn't it? :P

Agilent has published schematics of many of their measuring equipment, but there are still not much pirated copies around (there must be some, I think).

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Janne
 

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Re: EEV Blog 106 - Top 5 tips to bring your product to market
« Reply #22 on: August 23, 2010, 09:08:50 pm »
Well for EMC I am planning on doing a better job than current competition as that's a major complaint about the competition, but yea some people will assume you've made something so complex or not bother to copy something so simple. My design in effect is very simple, but also cunning and based on a thorough understanding of what I'm replacing and it's working environment (ie all ambient factors and weathers). I think there is an element of creativity to engineering.  ???

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