Thinking of buying an electronic component ‘off the shelf?' Think carefully

Thinking of buying an electronic component ‘off the shelf?' Think carefully

For many companies saving money when manufacturing printed circuit boards can seem like a good way to manage costs. In the long run, however, choosing the cheapest manufacturer or components can turn out to be the most expensive option. Sadly, this is something that may only come to light once a product develops a fault.

In one instance, the BitBox team was approached by a company that had found faults in a product that had been manufactured overseas. Our electronics design engineers were brought in to troubleshoot the problems, examining several different products to identify the cause and propose a solution. Following their investigation the engineers found that some of the electronic components had been chosen to save money, rather than achieve the desired functions. These components were 'off the shelf', mass produced components that were, it turns out, less capable than the original parts and not fit for purpose. The engineers also identified issues with some of the code. Embedded code used in certain components was so poor that it was rendering the product effectively unusable. These issues were found to be so critical that the proposal was that the product required a complete redesign.

So what are the key things we think that you should consider when choosing a design and manufacturing partner? 

  • Approach to sourcing
  • Quality of code
  • Version control management

Sourcing

How a Manufacturer sources the components it uses can make or break the success of your product. Buying a component in bulk will make the process cheaper. That is a good thing. Buying a cheaper version of the desired component introduces compromises; it is cheaper for a reason, something is not as it needs to be. Manufacturers that take pride in their production process will be able to demonstrate how, where and when any individual component was purchased. Their procurement team is well placed to identify obsolete components and work with the design engineers to find suitable replacements. Sadly, companies can hide a significant mark up by switching out components for cheaper, off the shelf alternatives.

Code

The quality of software code implemented in to a device is essential to the effectiveness of any product. This process is not just about the coding that happens by a developer in a lab; there is a need to create the infrastructure that effectively loads the software on to the product's key components. When code is developed correctly and with the right technical environment to apply the software, future upgrades can be easily managed (and any bugs fixed) rather than having to replace the entire product.

BitBox relies on an extensive code library - functionality that our electronics and software engineers have written and tested extensively over the years. Because we use it, add to it and test it, it is robust and reliable. This ensures that your prototype can be developed efficiently, with costs kept to a minimum. Our approach to Intellectual Property is that we transfer ownership of your application to you once the software development is complete, enabling you remain in control of your product.

Version Control

Version Control is the process that manages the development of software over a period of time or through different iterations. When version control is not adhered to in collaborative environments, problems arise with multiple copies of a project being circulated. Implementing version control for software development (and even documentation and design processes) is essential to ensure that work continues on time and, crucially, for the good of the product. Maintaining a readily identifiable latest version and a change log means that if a fault is revealed, coding can be scrutinised and easily updated.

As an ISO 9001 certified company, version control is integral to BitBox's work. Through the design and prototyping stages and throughout the life-cycle of your embedded electronics product, our version control system and manufacturing database ensures that we can scrutinise every stage of the project.

If you are looking to work with a company that takes pride in its work ethics and professionalism, call us on 01256 799080 and let's chat about your electronics product design and manufacture project.