Reduce Development Time for Electronics with Modular Design Tools

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: October 21, 2019  |  Updated: April 5, 2021

Blue circuit board with connectors and ICs

If you want to get to market quickly, you’ll need to reduce development time for your new product


If you’re an entrepreneur and you have a great idea for a new product, it’s in your best interests to get through the development phase and bring your product to market quickly. The challenge is to quickly create a new system that provides the functionality your target market demands without sacrificing quality. With software development, it’s quite easy to strike this balance and quickly create a working minimum viable product.

When it comes to hardware, getting to market with a working product without breaking your budget and development schedule is more difficult. This means hardware designers need to adapt their workflow and find design tools that help them reduce their time to producing a working prototype and get to market quickly without sacrificing product quality.

How to Reduce Development Time for New Electronics

Keeping development time low without sacrificing quality requires the right prototyping platform, components, and design tools. Here are just a few ways you can reduce development time for a new hardware product.

Development Boards

Using a development board like an Arduino is a great way to build an advanced proof of concept for your new product and test your embedded software. Development boards come packaged with a decent chipset and some standard functionality, allowing you to experiment with new prototypes and refine your functionality to your target market.

While development boards are great for creating a simple prototype that provides basic functionality, these boards are limited to the components that appear on the board and are difficult to customize. If you want to expand your development board’s capabilities beyond its existing functionality, you’ll have to buy or design a shield board that includes your desired components. This forces you to compromise form factor and even forego desired capabilities. As a result, your product will bear less resemblance to your desired product unless you build your own customized development board.

Reduce development time with a shield board

Shield boards can help you reduce development time and expand the functionality of your development board.

In order to customize a development board, you’ll have to download schematics (if they are available) and import them into a PCB design tool. If you don’t have significant PCB design experience, then you’ll spend a huge amount of time adding functionality to these boards. You’ll have to design your board so that it complies with standard DFM checks, as well as deal with repeated design, build, and test iterations to ensure your product will function as desired.

Leverage Integrated Chipsets

Integrated chipsets can be thought of as a large number of integrated circuits that are packaged in a larger integrated circuit. System in package (SIP), system on a chip (SoC), and system on module (SOM) packages are designed to be mounted on larger boards and provide a significant level of functionality in a single chip. Using an integrated chipset reduces the number of discrete components you need to place on a PCB as they are already integrated into a single module.

Many electronics companies sell integrated chipsets for specific applications. These modules allow an engineer to quickly add advanced functionality to their system without reinventing the wheel. Manufacturers of these chipsets will also provide layout guidelines, which helps inexperienced designers get through the PCB layout process. When you eliminate the need to repeatedly layout circuits from discrete components, you can reduce development time while ensuring your new product contains the functionality you need.

Reduce development time with an SoC

This SoC integrates different circuits in a single package for a specific application

Modular Electronics Design Tools

Modular electronics design mimics the process used in graphical software design. In graphical or modular software design, large groups of code are linked together graphically into a larger application. The links between inputs and outputs in each block of code are already well-defined, meaning that a system designer does not need to worry about writing large blocks of code for their system. Modular electronics design takes the same approach, where the electronic connections between hardware modules are predefined and can be linked together graphically.

Taking a graphical approach to electronics design at the PCB level is a great way to reduce development time. Using integrated chipsets is a step towards modular design, but you’ll still have to define electrical connections on a PCB if you go this route. In contrast, modular electronics design tools define electrical connections between each module on your PCB, allowing electronics designers without PCB experience to build production-ready boards with reduced development time.

Not all modular electronics design platforms offer these capabilities, nor do all modular platforms include design data for every popular development board. However, if you use the right modular electronics design platform, you’ll have access to a broad set of standard development boards that can be modified to suit your needs. As the electrical connections in a layout are already defined in a modular platform, you can rest assured that your design will be production-ready and will have greater resemblance to your finished product.

How Modular Design Tools Reduce Development Time: Foodduck

Foodduck is an excellent example that shows how modular hardware design tools help product developers reduce development time. A prototype of the Foodduck system was originally built by customizing a Pepper 43C board in Upverter, which was later used as the basis for further customization. Because the Pepper 43C board was already available as a modular design for customization in Upverter, the company was able to quickly modify the layout and adapt different modules for use in their system.

With a modular electronics design platform like Upverter (previously known as Geppetto), the SBC for the Foodduck system was easily customized to meet specific form factor and functionality requirements. Taking a Pepper 43C and modifying it into a custom board for an IoT device significantly reduced the company’s development time and ensured that their system would be manufacturable at full scale. This is preferable to designing a custom board from scratch.

Pepper 43C single-board computer

This Pepper 43C board formed the foundation for the Foodduck system. Starting with this type of board and using modular design tools can help you significantly reduce development time.

The modular electronics design tools in Upverter allow entrepreneurs, new hardware designers, and experienced engineers to quickly build custom single-board computers from standard COMs. With the Foodduck system, the company was able to significantly reduce development time as the electrical connections and PCB layout for COM modules, power regulation unit, memory, and network connectivity are already defined in Upverter. This allowed the Foodduck developers to focus on customizing the functionality and user experience they needed for their product, rather than getting lost in the finer points of PCB design and manufacturing.

Pepper 43C layout in Geppetto

Starting from an existing single-board computer and customizing the board with modular design tools helps reduce development time when transitioning from prototype to full-scale production.

Pepper 43C layout in Geppetto

Foodduck dispenser models

The modular design tools in Upverter are unique in that they allow designers with any level of experience to reduce development time and create customized, cutting-edge products. You’ll have access to a broad range of industry-standard COMs and hardware modules in a browser-based design interface. This design environment is ideal for creating fully functional modular hardware systems and quickly planning for production.

Take a look at some Gumstix customer success stories or contact us today to learn more about our products, design tools, and services.



About Author

About Author

Zachariah Peterson has an extensive technical background in academia and industry. He currently provides research, design, and marketing services to companies in the electronics industry. Prior to working in the PCB industry, he taught at Portland State University and conducted research on random laser theory, materials, and stability. His background in scientific research spans topics in nanoparticle lasers, electronic and optoelectronic semiconductor devices, environmental sensors, and stochastics. His work has been published in over a dozen peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, and he has written 2000+ technical articles on PCB design for a number of companies. He is a member of IEEE Photonics Society, IEEE Electronics Packaging Society, American Physical Society, and the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA). He previously served as a voting member on the INCITS Quantum Computing Technical Advisory Committee working on technical standards for quantum electronics, and he currently serves on the IEEE P3186 Working Group focused on Port Interface Representing Photonic Signals Using SPICE-class Circuit Simulators.

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