Considerations for Effective Hardware Engineering


As a software developer, your focus is on creating excellent code. Your time and attention are devoted to optimizing the latest build, testing it and making sure that your software delivers on its promises and your ideals. Of course, what your software runs on is just as important to the final user experience.

There comes a time in the lifecycle of successful software vendors where your attention inevitably turns towards hardware. While many software vendors will engage a managed engineering agency to handle the hardware design and development, you may choose to go it alone. Hardware engineering is a complex process, and before you can start creating and delivering your custom hardware, you need to go through a design and engineering process.

The design and engineering process is focused not just on determining how the final hardware should look and work, but on how to create it repeatedly and efficiently. When you undergo your own hardware engineering project, remember these 10 key considerations:

Cost-Effectiveness vs. Performance

When choosing the components for your hardware, it’s important to select ones that are just powerful enough for your requirements. Hardware that’s more powerful than your software requirements will be more expensive and drive up production costs while hardware that’s insufficiently powerful will… well, you know what it’s like to run your software on an underpowered appliance.

Supply-Chain Risk

Finding the ideal component at a great price is a real boon for your bill of materials (BOM) – but only if that component will be reliably available. When choosing your components, be wary of parts that will be discontinued soon or are built in potentially challenging areas of the world. It may be better to choose a less-ideal, or more expensive component that has reliable manufacturing and logistics than one that will be unavailable when your customer demands are high.

Maintenance and Uptime Issues

The effectiveness of a component doesn’t end with its specifications. It’s important that you research the history of each component you choose and look for documented maintenance and uptime issues. Don’t let a reliably-unreliable component be the Achilles heel of your hardware appliance.

Custom Hardware

Sometimes, there’s just not an off-the-shelf component that will suit your needs. That’s when the time comes to develop your own custom components. Unless you have the facilities and resources to create your own components from scratch, it’s best to outsource this to an experienced firm.

Certifications and Regulations

Before any product can be brought to market, it must comply with a host of regulations and receive certain certifications. To ensure that you do not have any legal challenges down the road, take the time during your engineering phase to:

  • Understand which regulations apply to your appliance
  • Ensure that your design complies with all applicable regulations
  • Apply for any necessary state and federal certifications

Manuals and Packaging

When the design and component selection is finished, your hardware engineering process is still not complete. Your appliance will still need manuals and packaging. The engineering process phase is the time to create both of those.

Of Important Note: This is the time to integrate your branding into your appliance. Adding your logo and distinctive brand elements to your packaging and manuals will help reinforce the professionalism and reach of your brand.

Product Evaluation

Software developers are used to testing and hardware engineering is no different. Like testing software, it’s important to not just test what the appliance does but what the end-user will expect of it. Including prospective users during the engineering phase will allow you to make revisions to your process and BOM before any costly manufacturing has begun.

A Repeatable Process

It (almost) goes without saying, but creating your appliance once is a significantly different animal than creating it repeatedly for consumer delivery. That’s why, during the engineering process, you also need to design a repeatable, (and ideally ISO 9001-certified) process for building your appliance. This process will develop a consistency and discipline when assembling your hardware and help to eliminate systemic breakdowns that come from flaws in the manufacturing process.