Prototyping Your New Electronic Product Idea

Do you have an idea for an electronic product, the next must-have gadget, music or video system, time saver, or greatest problem-solving device that was ever invented?  Even if you have the electronics product design expertise available, there are a number of tasks that you must complete and issues that you must resolve before you have an actual product design that can be produced, marketed, and sold.   Once you have completed a product specification document and a marketing study, you should be prepared to have the product electronics and packaging design processes begun so that a prototype unit can be assembled and tested.


One of the first choices that must be made in the electronics design is which microprocessor or microcontroller architecture will be utilized if your product idea requires processing capability.  Most microprocessor or microcontroller devices are available in a variety of configurations of internal memory sizes with some including non-volatile Flash memory for program storage, quantity and types of input and output pins, package types for surface mount or thru-hole applications, clock speeds, and interfaces that are supported by the processor without having to add additional devices.

Once a microprocessor or microcontroller family is selected, additional decisions must be made on which system clock frequency to use, how much processor and system memory will be required for the application, and how the software development processes are to be supported.  The choice of processor architecture must consider the available software development and testing tools and the software design resources that will be required for your product’s software/firmware design.  Additional decisions must be made on how the software/firmware will be loaded into the processor’s memory during the manufacturing process.  Will the design allow the finished product to accept field or user initiated software/firmware upgrades, or will the product be a one-time programmable unit?

Before the processor portion of the design is completed, you must also define which types of interfaces to external systems will be required (serial port, parallel port, USB, Ethernet, wireless connection such as 802.11x or Bluetooth, infrared, etc.) and the minimum interface bandwidth rates required.  All of these factors will play a role in choosing the best processor product to use in your design application.  Some microprocessor/microcontroller product examples that you can research are the MicroChip PAL series and the family of products from Atmel as both of these suppliers provide some very powerful but low cost processor solutions.

Electronic components, including microprocessors and microcontrollers, are typically available in both surface mount and thru-hole versions.  Some electronic components may be available in only one format (such as some transformers, relays, capacitors, power resistors, or connectors being available only in thru-hole packages).  Surface mount components are preferred for any volume level production as they are usually less expensive to purchase, more readily available, and allow for more compact printed circuit board designs as the components take up much less space and can be applied to both sides of the board if necessary.  Using surface mount technology may allow the printed circuit board design to use a smaller size and/or fewer layers, thus reducing raw board costs.  However, surface mount components can make in-house assembly and soldering difficult if not impossible if you do not have the proper equipment and expertise.

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