I swear I clearly heard my son asking for a McFish in his Happy Meal. But when he insisted that he asked for nuggets, I had no choice but to buy another set, although I strongly suspected he was just after the toys. This may not exactly be what you’d call “good parenting” but it is a great example of how misunderstandings can occur when you don’t get requirements jotted down on paper.
While the cost of not paying attention to my son simply cost me another Happy Meal, similar mistakes in electronics design can result in massive financial losses. Before you start an electronics design project, especially for an application you’re unfamiliar with, ensure that you get the complete requirements from your client. Here’s how you can best protect yourself against unforeseen circumstances:
Understand Relevant Applications, Then Move to Product Development
When I started running my own design firm, I thought I could disregard the big picture as long as I understood how the internal logic of the product works. However, knowing which relays are triggered at what time is not enough to create a functional product.
You can’t afford to rely on assumptions when it comes to electronics design projects. Be sure to have an in-depth discussion with your client and take time to understand the project and how the design is being applied. You may need to brush up on basic knowledge of the field that the product is applied in. For instance, if you’re designing environmental sensors for agriculture, then you might need to start looking up optimum climate requirements for plants.
Use a Specific Requirements Checklist
Once you have a general idea of how you will approach the design, you should construct a specific checklist to ensure that every single requirement is confirmed with your clients. Details like the number of inputs, communication interfaces, and memory arrangement should be finalized before designing begins.
Do not neglect common components like power requirement or PCB size limitations. If your design needs to follow any specific mounting hole coordinate, this is the best time to ask. You do not want to end up with hundreds of PCBs that do not fit the enclosure.
Instead of trusting yourself to remember, use a checklist.
Get an Older Version of the Product for Reference
A proper working sample tells a better story than hours of discussion. If you’re designing complex controllers for industrial process automation, you might want to ask your client to let you observe similar controllers in action. It will eliminate any guesswork or future interrogation of clients as questions pop up down the line.
Don’t be afraid to request a sample of an alternative version of the controller that you plan to design. Having a reference while designing is useful, especially for an industry where you have no previous experience. Even without any prior experience in the field, I have built reliable medical gas panels by referring to other models in the market.
Draft a Schematic
Instead of rushing to create the perfect design, quickly draft out a schematic of the electronics product. As you do so, you may discover areas where you are unsure or lack knowledge. As a designer, you are bound to encounter some situations you’re unfamiliar with. If your uncertainty relates to specific industry knowledge, get clarifications from your client before proceeding further.
Create a Complete Project Specifications Document
When you’re sure whether all the project requirements are fully addressed, create complete project documentation that contains the general overview, timeline, technical specifications, and the basic design diagram. Before you start your design, walk through the document with your client and ensure that you are both on the same page.
The worst thing that can happen to a designer is having to make major revisions to a design when a client insists that you misinterpreted their requirements. For this reason, it’s important to clearly detail all specifications based on mutual agreement. Before getting started, don’t forget to ask your client to approve the document detailing all project requirements.
A complete project specifications document will be the guideline for your design.
Fulfill Client Requirements More Efficiently With PCB Design Software
If you’ve done a great job with the schematic draft, you can start transferring the circuit from a schematic to a PCB. A powerful PCB design software like Altium Designer can efficiently match your schematic to footprints from its library, no matter how large or complex the design. With such an advanced design tool, you can finish your designs without constantly worrying about forgetting client requirements.
Need more advice on managing an electronics design project? Contact an expert at Altium today.
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