What it Takes to Develop a Smart Product

As the Internet of Things has grown over the years, smart products have become a pretty hot item. Many people have product ideas for turning a “dumb” product into a “smart” one. It’s great, I love that we are improving our tools and gadgets in so many new and interesting ways, technology is something that amazes me, and will probably continue to do so for the rest of my life. For a lot of people, it might seem like a fairly simple task to just add some electronics to a product and make it smart. While I don’t want to discourage you from having “smart” product ideas, you should understand what you or your business will need to be putting into developing such a product. You might have gotten an idea about what it really takes in our post a couple weeks ago Time, Budgets, & Luxury, but I’d like to dive more into exactly what it takes to create a smart product. There is a lot of time and effort that is beyond what low-tech products need to become a reality.

For us, “smart” is anything that contains electronics that can connect to other electronics, so wi-fi, Bluetooth, NFC, USB, etc, usually there are sensors or other input points that collect data to be shared with other devices. Putting a motor into a mower doesn’t make it “smart”. Putting sensors and a computer on board that then connects to an app on your phone, that would make it “smart”. In no particular order, here is a breakdown of everything that goes into developing a “smart” product, and what you can expect if you choose to dive into this process.

Disciplines required – Most “dumb” products can get away with just an Industrial Designer or Mechanical Engineer, you can read more about the differences in our post 3 Things You Should Know About Designers & Engineers. No electronics means no coders, no electrical engineers, and many others. Even if you were putting in basic electronics, such as motors, switches, etc, there are many mechanical skilled people who can make that happen. Now, if we’re creating a “smart” product, we will need these:

  • App Design & Development
  • Electronics Design
  • Electrical Manufacturing
  • Web Design & Development

There are possibly a few others depending on how big you go, such as database development, but these areas would cover most of the work needed to get the project done.

Time – It can easily double the amount of time to design and develop a new product by adding in electronics that would make a product “smart”. Does this mean it would take longer on a calendar? Not necessarily, when we can, we prefer to do side-by-side development of the mechanical and electrical parts of a product to make sure projects keep moving. The collaboration between mechanical and electrical can also really build some synergy with the project and keep issues from popping up super late in the process where it’s harder and more expensive to fix.

Cost – Double the time, at least double the cost. Electronics are usually more expensive to prototype, but the manufacturing is there on the back end to make super cheap components and board, even fully custom ones. These products also sell for a higher premium than their “dumb” counter parts.

Planning – Working on more complex projects such as this involves a lot more planning and project management. Here at the Peterman Design Firm, that is one of our core competencies. You need to make sure the firm you work with has experience Project Managers on its team and can handle the load required to bring such a product to life.

Network – We’ve talked about how important your network is in our last post Building Your Network for Success, this is a place where it really matters as you need so many resources to get the project completed. If you are working with some of the very large and expensive firms out there, they probably have such a large in-house team they can handle most things, but you pay for it. Medium sized firms like the Peterman Design Firm are much more flexible, are more reasonably priced, but still have the resources to complete a large project.

Feasibility Study – I put this here because I know people like to sometimes skip to the end, and this part should not be skipped. A feasibility study is very important to do at the beginning of your project, and the firm you choose to use should be able to offer this service without forcing you into a full project proposal. A complete feasibility study from the Peterman Design Firm will give you some cost expectations for the entire project, time frame, potential issues, project duration estimation and breakdown, and some market information on competitors. If you’d like to learn more about feasibility studies, check out our post What’s a Feasibility Study?

If you have a great idea for a “smart” product, it’s at least worth getting a consultation on the idea and possibility a feasibility study, then if it looks good, invest the money. The great thing with “smart” products is that they are in high demand, and we seem to be on an exponential growth with them, it’s a trend I feel will stay with us for some time, if not permanently.

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