Designing a wireless product is unlike designing any other type of product. From the solution’s very reason for being to every stage of the design, prototyping, and manufacturing process, working with a wireless product means paying attention to unique steps and stages that aren’t part of “usual” product design.
Fortunately, there are a few signposts to be heeded along the way that will help smooth the path from idea inception to the final manufacturing and marketing of your product. Whether you’re new to wireless product design or want to make sure your teams are covering all the right bases, here are the steps of the process that are key for the timely and cost-effective delivery of your idea from prototype to finished product.
Signpost 1: Is Wireless Functionality Necessary?
In the idea phase of product design, it might seem that anything and everything would be enhanced by having wireless capability, from coffee pots to keychains, to garbage cans.
But before you let your idea generators get carried away, take a step back and think about which questions or problems can best—and sometimes only—be answered with wireless technology and their accompanying connected capabilities.
To successfully navigate this stage of the wireless design process, encourage your innovation teams to continue to refine the idea until they can clearly and concisely explain why the product's wireless functionality is needed, how it would be used, where, and by whom. Could the product satisfy the user needs just as well if its connection were wired?
Creating these real-world use case scenarios can force teams to articulate why wireless connectivity to the Internet or a paired device makes a product better and more valuable to consumers than a highly functional wired version of the product. In addition, it forces teams to think about the product’s value proposition and how it will be positioned in the marketplace once the design-to-manufacturing process is complete.
This is also a good time to eliminate any overly complex ideas. As much fun as extra bells and whistles are to dream up, now’s the time to streamline the design to save headaches once you get to the prototype and manufacturing phases.
Signpost 2: Know the Wireless-specific Requirements and Certifications
Do you know which certifications are required to vet your product with the FCC, PTCRB, and UL designations? If not—or if you aren’t even sure what those acronyms stand for—it’s a good time to get to know the regulatory bodies that govern the wireless product space.
Each entity will have certain requirements your product will have to meet, so it pays to have these in mind before you step away from the drawing board. Be sure to budget for the fees associated with pre-testing and formal testing. You’ll also need to provide product samples or prototypes for each level of testing, so schedule your prototype development and manufacturing accordingly—realizing that time for re-tooling or repins of PCBs may be needed between phases.
Now’s also the time to figure out which certifications your product will need, based on its function and even the countries where you intend to sell it. For example, for devices intended for pharmaceutical and medical applications, certification from the FDA is important. For cellular radios, PTCRB and FCC certification helps ensure that they will work with a specific carrier, such as AT&T, as well as testing the limits for radiated power and spurious emissions. SAR testing is required for any wearable device, to test absorption of energy into the skin.
To pave this part of the path, research the possibility of purchasing pre-certified wireless modules, as those can save you cost and time in testing. However, keep in mind that if you combine two, separate, pre-certified wireless modules in your product (such as Bluetooth and WIFI), you will need to get it re-certified as one solution.
Signpost 3: Concepting, Designing, and Prototyping
With initial product ideation complete, it’s now time for concept development and design work to begin in earnest.
This phase of the process includes conducting trade studies, architecting the overall electro-mechanical system, capturing the design drawings, coordinating and testing the fabrication of prototypes, and finally, finalizing the design and associated documentation for transitioning to a manufacturing facility.