IoT Hardware 101 – The Basics

Most of the IoT (“Internet-of-Things”) hype is about a futuristic vision that has billions of devices generating massive data streams that will be fed into advanced machine learning and AI (“Artificial Intelligence”) systems to create enormous business value. However, often overshadowed in these grandiose discussions is the IoT hardware which makes it all possible.

What is IoT?

IoT is a system of sensor devices, servers, and people connected via IP (“Internet Protocol”) networks. Sensor devices capture and process sensor data, transmit the sensor data to servers where the data is stored and processed in conjunction with other data, often historical data, from disparate sources to provide operational visibility and to generate novel insights that can be acted upon by people or by automated systems.

IoT is a paradigm shift away from vertically integrated, standalone monitoring and alarm systems that silo data and that can only provide pre-programmed reports and alerts. While these legacy systems are limited to either 1:1 (one-to-one) or 1:N (one-to-many) communication pathways, IoT systems enable M:N (many-to-many) communications pathways that allow developers to reconfigure existing systems to create new IoT applications that were not previously conceived.

Sensor devices are composed of four key elements: sensors, processors, network interfaces, and power sources.


Without sensors, there is no IoT data.

At a basic level, all IoT sensors generate analog electrical signals that are proportional to a physical property. Then, these analog signals are converted to digital data using ADCs (“Analog-to-Digital Converter”).

Sensors can measure simple electrical properties such as voltage, current, resistance, capacitance, inductance, and impedance. They can also measure the strength and direction of electric and magnetic fields, especially changing ones, across the electromagnetic spectrum from radio waves to light to gamma rays.

For sensors that measure non-electrical properties, a transducer converts physical properties into analog electrical signals.

Common physical properties are:

• Spatial parameters such as acceleration, velocity/speed, vibration, and displacement/position/deflection.
• Environmental properties such as temperature and humidity.
• Fluid dynamics of liquids or gases such as sound, pressure, and flow rates.

Sensors may be passive or active. Active sensors emit radio, light, or sound waves into the environment and detect reflections using a receiver that processes them into measurements. Although passive sensors do not emit waves into the environment, this does not imply that passive sensors are unpowered. In fact, many passive sensors generate electric or magnetic fields and detect changes to these fields as a sensing mechanism.

Advanced digital sensors such a GPS, radars, chemical detectors, gyroscopes, or digital cameras use multiple analog sensing elements to take measurements. Then, sophisticated algorithms translate these raw measurements into useful sensor data.


Once the sensor data is captured it must be processed before transmitting the results to the cloud. The level of processing varies greatly depending upon the complexity of the sensor and the amount of data processing required to generate the resultant sensor data. A simple example is a temperature reading may be a single data value or an average of a set of values over time. A more complex example is a security camera that may not record digital video unless a scene detection algorithm flags an event.

Based on the complexity and processing power required there are four classes of processing platforms for IoT hardware: PC, mobile systems, microprocessor (MPU) based embedded systems, and microcontroller (MCU) based embedded systems.

  PCs Mobile Embedded MPUs Embedded MCU
Processor x86 (32/64) bit Varies (32/64 bit) Varies (32/64 bit) Varies (8/32 bit)
Clock Speed / Cores GHz / Multi-core GHz / Multi-core Varies MHz / Single-core
Storage HDD / SSD (TB) SSD / SD Card (GB) HDD/SSD (GB), Flash (MB), SD Card (GB) NOR/NAND Flash (kB/MB)
Peripheral Bus USB, PCIe USB-OTG USB, TWI, I2C, SPI, USART, Proprietary TWI, I2C, SPI, USART
Avg System Cost $100s to $3,000 $100 to $1,000 Varies $5-$50
Networking Ethernet, WiFi™, Bluetooth™ WiFi™, Bluetooth™, NFC Varies Proprietary RF or BLE™
Graphics Integrated Graphics or Graphics Card Integrated Graphics Varies Simple text or char display
Cooling Active (Fans) Passive Active or Passive Not usually  required
Power Line powered (desktop)

Rechargeable Li-Ion battery (laptop)

Rechargeable Li-Ion battery Line powered Battery powered

PC Based Systems

The PC is the ultimately configurable platform that enables system integrators to create custom systems easily from inexpensive, widely available off-the-shelf motherboards, processors, memory, power supplies, and cases. Terabyte hard drives or SSDs (“Solid State Drive”) can provide large data storage capacities. Peripherals can be connected via modern standards-based USB (“Universal Serial Bus”) or PCIe (“Peripheral Component Interconnect Express”) buses, and there are still options to support legacy PC peripheral buses such as RS-232/RS-422/RS-485.

Furthermore, there are even expansion processor cards that include DSPs, FPGAs, GPUs, or high speed I/O to address the needs of specialized applications.

While PCs have an excellent price-to-performance ratio, they are based on consumer-grade technology which tends to have short life cycles and may not be suitable for applications outside of the office or home environments.

An alternative to PCs are SBCs (“Single Board Computer”) that are based on PC technology, but designed for embedded applications with robust, industrial components to provide reliable performance in harsh operating environments.

Because SBCs have higher grade components and the production volumes for SBCs are relatively low, they are more expensive than equivalent performance PC based hardware. However, they usually have long lifecycles that can span up to a decade

PC-based systems usually run Windows or Linux operating systems.

Mobile Systems

Mobile systems are a specialized subset of embedded systems that are optimized for tablets and smartphones which are battery-powered devices that require frequent charging. While these inherently personal devices provide high-performance processing capabilities, they also have advanced system power management capabilities that enable them to conserve energy which extends battery life.

Mobile systems typically have many integrated sensors including 1 or 2 digital cameras, a 3D accelerometer, a gyroscope, a touch sensor, a barometer, a proximity sensor, a magnetometer (compass), an ambient light sensor, and a GPS receiver.

Unfortunately, mobile systems have very limited expansion capabilities.

While Android-based systems may allow expansion through USB OTG (“On-The-Go”) devices, Apple based systems only permit approved 3rd party devices through the MFI (“Made-for-iPod”) licensing program.

Mobile systems have a relatively expensive price-to-performance ratio. They are personal devices based on consumer-grade technology with short lifecycles. They are limited to operation in indoor or mild outdoor environments, and they are also relatively fragile and susceptible to drop damage unless enclosed in a 3rd party ruggedized case.

Although there are a few other options, Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS are the most dominant software environments for mobile systems.

Microprocessor (MPU) Based Embedded Systems

MPU based embedded systems provide the widest possible range of performance and capability options that are optimized to address specific product requirements for consumer electronics, industrial controls, medical devices, automotive controls, communication systems, or other vertical market applications.

They are usually based on application specific ICs (“Integrated Circuits”) such as SoCs (“System-on-Chip”) or SIPs (“System-in-Package”) that have integrated chip-level cores that simplify the design effort and provide cost-optimized solutions for specific product niches.

MPU’s typically run general purpose, multi-tasking operating systems or RTOSs (“Real-Time Operating System”) that provide deterministic responses for control-based applications.

While most embedded systems are fully custom designed, some SoCs are available in SOM (“System-on-Module”) form factors with standardized mating connectors. SOMs enable developers to avoid the difficult and time-consuming work to design a custom embedded system from scratch. Instead, the designers can focus on designing carrier PCBs and on developing software to customize their product.

MPU based embedded systems can run Linux or a variety of other commercial RTOSs (“Real-Time Operating System”).

Microcontroller (MCU) Based Embedded Systems

MCU based embedded systems provide very low-cost solutions for applications with limited processing requirements.

However, some advanced microcontrollers embed specialized hardware modules to accelerate image processing or security functions such as cryptographic acceleration for public/private key exchange, hashing, and TRNG (“True Random Number Generation”).

MCU based systems can be very power efficient because they have fine-grained power control of the processor, peripherals, and clocks. With power optimized internal or external wake-up sources, it is possible to create very low power products that can last for many years without requiring a battery charge.

System software may be a simple run-loop plus interrupt handler or it may run a small footprint RTOS.

Network Interface

While some IoT hardware connects via physical networks such as Ethernet, it is much more common to connect to the Internet via wireless networks such as Wi-Fi™ or cellular.

Power vs Range vs Data Rate

The classic design tradeoffs for wireless communication systems are low power, long distance, or high data rate. (Pick two!)

Network Type Range Power Data Rate Licensed Frequencies
Wi-Fi™ (802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax) Medium High High No 2.4/5 GHz
White-Fi / Super Wi-Fi (802.11af) Long Medium Medium No 54-698 MHz
HaLow (802.11ah) Long Medium Medium No 915 MHz
Bluetooth™ Short Medium Medium No 2.4 GHz
Bluetooth™ Low Energy (BLE) Short Low Low to Medium No 2.4 GHz
802.15.4 / ZigBee™ Medium Low Low No 2.4 GHz
Proprietary RF Varies Varies Varies No 868/915 MHz
LPWAN – SigFox™ Long Very Low Very Low No 868/915 MHz
LPWAN – LoRA™/Symphony Very Long Very Low Low No 433/868/915 MHz
LPWAN – Ingenu Medium to Long Low Low No 2.4 GHz
LPWAN – Weightless Long Low to Medium Low to Medium No 470-790 MHz
Cellular – 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G Long High High Yes 3GPP Regional Bands
Cellular – CAT-1M Long Low Low Yes 3GPP Regional Bands
Cellular – NB-IoT Long Very Low Very Low Yes 3GPP Regional Bands

 Licensed vs Unlicensed Bands

Governmental authorities regulate access to the electromagnetic spectrum. They may grant licenses to people or entities to operate wireless transmitters within a specified frequency band at a maximum power level within a certain geographic region.

Often a wireless network services provider that holds an exclusive frequency license, such as a cellular service provider, will provide access to its network to other users for a fee. In this case, the service provider is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the wireless network.

Access to certain frequency bands is available to users without a license if they use an approved wireless communication system that complies with the regulations necessary for unlicensed operation. These wireless communication systems must have intelligent coexistence mechanisms such as carrier sensing or frequency agility to compensate for in-band interference from other systems that operate concurrently within the same unlicensed bands.

Unlicensed networks, such as Wi-Fi™ networks, are usually operated and maintained by users at their own cost.

Power Source

The simplest power solution for IoT hardware is to use line power from the electric power grid.

However, many emerging IoT applications cannot use line power because it is not readily accessible in the deployment area and it would be prohibitively difficult or expensive to run additional power lines.

Energy Harvesting

For IoT hardware with low power requirements, novel energy harvesting technologies such as piezo-based vibrational, thermopiles, and hydrodynamic or wind turbines can be viable, but solar panels are still the most popular choice. Although it is technically possible to power IoT hardware directly from these energy sources, a better option is to store the energy for later use.

Energy Storage

While esoteric energy storage systems continue to evolve such as banks of supercapacitors or fuel cells, old, but reliable battery technologies are still the most popular energy storage choice for off-grid IoT hardware.

With a variety of chemistries and construction types, batteries offer a broad range of options for package sizes, energy capacities, voltage ranges, and current delivery capabilities. Some even offer specialized features that minimize self-discharge, support high pulse currents, operate at extreme temperatures or provide extended lifecycles of up to a decade or more.


As you can see, there are a plethora of sensor, processing, networking, and power supply technologies available to create IoT hardware to meet the technical performance requirements for applications in the healthcare, transportation, industrial, automotive, smart cities, and other niche IoT market segments.

The key is to combine the appropriate technologies that meet the essential technical performance requirements while satisfying the necessary business constraints to create a viable IoT solution.

6 Reasons to Use a Design and Manufacturing Services Partner

So you’ve finally decided to explore using an electronic design and manufacturing services partner to develop and build your product.

There are many reasons why this makes sense, but obviously, your product design will benefit from a manufacturing perspective during the design process.


Certainly the electronic design & manufacturing firm should have the requisite technical design and manufacturing experience to develop and build your product.

Although engineering discipline expertise such as electrical, mechanical, or software is important, it is not sufficient.

Relevant industry experience is vital, particularly for those products that require specific domain knowledge such as defense, aerospace, communications, or medical. Many of these products may have to meet stringent performance standards in harsh environments or they may have onerous regulatory or critical safety requirements.

Depending on your product’s complexity, the development process may require specialized instrumentation, software, simulation tools, or test and measurement equipment; the electronics design and manufacturing provider’s personnel should have the necessary experience. If not, you will be paying them to learn which is neither ideal nor cost-effective.

Some products may require dedicated facilities such as clean rooms for optical and medical devices or anechoic chambers for sophisticated RF systems. While it may be beneficial if the electronics design & manufacturing company has these facilities in-house, you may also be paying more to cover the additional overhead for these facilities instead of paying one-time fees at a local test lab.

If your product will have complex assemblies like those in electro-mechanical or robotic products, the electronic design and manufacturing firm’s assembly and test experience is essential to help you avoid quality issues, inflated costs, and unanticipated schedule delays during the introduction to the manufacturing process.


Feedback during the design phase from the manufacturing team members in sourcing, supply chain, and test engineering reduces the risk of unanticipated issues and increases the likelihood of a seamless design transfer to manufacturing.


Because the BOM (“Bill-of-Material”) cost is usually a significant portion of the total product cost, the electronic design and manufacturing provider’s capabilities to effectively reduce these costs should be an important selection criterion.

Since electronic design & manufacturing companies purchase significant quantities of components and material from their suppliers daily, they have the flexibility to aggregate orders from all of their customers to obtain volume discounts and preferred pricing.

Furthermore, large electronics design and manufacturing firms have access to substantial financial credit facilities that enable them to purchase bulk quantities of parts and materials at best possible terms.

The firm’s design team should leverage this sourcing power to select optimal components for your product design based not only on cost, but also based on availability, lifecycle, and lead times.


Often product design teams do not develop production test plans until after the product design is already completed. However, a savvy electronics design and manufacturing provider will ensure that a comprehensive test strategy is developed concurrently with the product design. This approach results in a cost-effective test process with the best possible test coverage which greatly reduces the risk of uncovering issues during test process validation before the product is introduced to manufacturing.


If the electronics design & manufacturing firm will be using 3rd party resources to design your product such as on-site contractors, remote developers, or external suppliers, there are several things to consider.

First, you should ensure that electronic design and manufacturing partner has substantially equivalent confidentiality agreements with its suppliers to protect your information.

Second, the more suppliers that your electronic design & manufacturing partner uses, the greater the risk of miscommunication among your partner, its suppliers, and you.

Third, assuming that the electronics design and manufacturing company selects its own suppliers, it should be solely responsible for their performance. This includes managing them, ensuring the quality of their work, and paying them. And, you should never be involved in any disputes between the company and its suppliers.

Ideally, choose an electronics design & manufacturing partner that can develop your product with the fewest 3rd party resources.


Even though it is much easier today than in the past to do business internationally as well as virtually, the location of the electronic design and manufacturing firm is still an important consideration.

The smaller the geographic range you’re willing to consider, the fewer choices there will be. However, the further away from the electronic design and manufacturing company is from you, the greater the opportunity for potential problems to arise.


It is unlikely that you will have any communication issues working with a local supplier since you are typically working the same business hours.

Even a couple of time zones difference is usually not a problem.

But as the distance to the electronics design and manufacturing provider increases, the window for daily communication narrows. For example, a provider that is located in a time zone that is 5 or 6 hours ahead or one that is halfway around the world will likely require you to attend early morning or late evening calls.

This situation hinders timely communication between teams that will inevitably contribute to a longer than expected development cycle since issues can’t be discussed until the end of one team’s day and the beginning of the other team’s day.


Ideally, it would be great to have a local electronic design and manufacturing firm that was only a short car ride away. But, in most cases, this would greatly limit your options.

It’s worthwhile to estimate the anticipated travel costs in advance if you believe that you will need to make many trips to the electronic design and manufacturing company’s location during the product design and manufacturing phase.

If you choose a domestic electronic design & manufacturing company, your travel costs are limited to airfare, ground transportation, meals, and hotels. It’s fairly straightforward to control these costs using online booking services even when booked on relatively short notice.

However, if you choose a foreign electronics design and manufacturing provider, travel costs will likely be higher than for domestic travel. Additionally, intercontinental travel will exponentially increase your travel costs as well as the time investment required per trip.

Furthermore, you and your team members will need to have passports and possibly need to obtain visas. This situation can be further complicated if some members of your team are not citizens such as those with temporary visas, work permits, or permanent resident alien cards.

A final consideration is that unless the electronics design & manufacturing firm is local, it will likely to bill you for travel costs for its product design team members to travel to your location, especially if it requires them to stay overnight.


While domestic shipping is relatively cost efficient if you can avoid overnight shipping, the cost of international shipping can vary widely based on the destinations, weight, and class of service.

If the package’s size and weight is relatively small, international air shipping can be a reasonable option. But, if the package’s size and weight is substantial, air freight can be prohibitively expensive. While ground or boat shipment will be more cost effective, you will have to plan for longer shipping times.

It is worth noting that incorrectly filled out customs forms may cause delays and unanticipated tariffs or duties can also substantially increase the effective international shipping costs.

Always ensure that the electronic design and manufacturing provider has experience managing international shipping to your location. Otherwise, you risk delays and unplanned costs.


If the electronic design & manufacturing company is organized in a foreign country, you may not have the same legal protections as you would domestically for contracts, warranties, liability, or intellectually property.

Even if the electronics design and manufacturing firm has a domestic subsidiary you may still be at risk. If the contractual liability resides with the domestic entity, you may have limited legal recourse when an issue arises if the domestic subsidiary doesn’t have the necessary assets or the appropriate and adequate insurance coverage to cover it.

Also, beware of a domestic electronics design & manufacturing provider who offers a “partnership” with an international supplier. These relationships are almost always just informal business agreements to cooperate without any mutual contractual obligations. So when business goes badly, neither party will take responsibility for the problems leaving you to sort them out for yourself.

The best advice if you’re considering an international electronic design and manufacturing company is to consult with a qualified attorney who has the necessary background and experience in international trade and intellectual property protection.


Potential customers often ask how long an electronic design & manufacturing firm has been in business. But, in the current business environment, longevity can no longer be a barometer for company stability.


Although often overlooked by potential customers, an electronics design and manufacturing provider’s financial condition is a critical factor to consider before committing your business.

If your electronics design & manufacturing partner is not financially strong, the negative impacts can be subtle such as shipping delays due to outstanding past due invoices from a key supplier, credit constraints based on banking covenants, or key personnel leaving, voluntarily or involuntarily, because of payroll cash flow issues.

You can be assured that a fiscally disciplined electronic design and manufacturing company will do some level of financial qualification on you as a new customer, especially if it will be offering you payment terms. You would be wise to do the same.


A key reason to select an electronic design & manufacturing firm is that you have access to a seasoned design team that has worked together for many years.

The stability of the design team is critical to the efficient development of your product. If there are many new people and the electronics design and manufacturing provider is not growing its business, this may be an indicator of a high rate of personnel turnover. However, if there are few new people, this may be a strong indication that you are working with a provider whose business is either stagnant or worse, contracting.

Neither extreme is an encouraging sign that your electronics design & manufacturing partner is stable. Search for a partner that has many long-term team members mixed with some new ones.


Wouldn’t it be great if you could find an electronic design and manufacturing company that had previously designed a similar product?

While at first, this might seem appealing, there are two concerns that should be addressed.

First, you risk one-track thinking by the electronic design & manufacturing firm’s design team that will highly leverage a previous design to reduce the amount of development time and work. Although this approach may reduce development costs and time, it may result in your product design being only slightly adapted for your requirements instead of being optimized for them.

Second, depending on the agreement under which the previous product was developed, there may be IP (“Intellectual Property”) entanglements including joint ownership, 3rd party licensing terms, and other business restrictions that could potentially limit your future product plans.  Additionally, there is a risk of unintentional infringement unless the firm has well-defined processes in place to ensure that people and documentation are segregated among the competitors’ projects.

Lastly, you need an electronics design and manufacturing partner who is trustworthy, who will honor confidentially agreements, and who will not share your product design details with any 3rd parties.


While the list of considerations stated above is not exhaustive, it will help you evaluate potential electronics design & manufacturing companies based not only on their stated capabilities but also based on key attributes that could impact their ability to successfully design and build your product.

Always remember that working with a good electronic design and manufacturing partner should free up your time and resources to allow you focus on core business processes to grow your business

Creation shares knowledge and resources with We Share Solar to provide engineering education for students

When Diana Ferrari, Director of Central Engineering at Creation Technologies learned about a We Share Solar suitcase building event at St Agnes of Assisi, where her daughter Julia attends school she came away with more than the excitement of seeing her daughter with a multimeter and wiring diagrams. We Share Solar organization teaches children practical engineering skills to build solar suitcases that are then delivered as lighting solutions for schools in energy poor regions of the world.

Diana was already thinking about how to help this program as part of Creation’s Making a Difference initiative. She shared photos and her thoughts with fellow team members and there was an immediate interest with ideas being bounced around as to what we could do to help.

To get the ball rolling Diana reached out to Co-Director and Co-Founder Gigi Goldman at We Share Solar to ask if Creation Technologies could sponsor some suitcase building events. Once Gigi learned more about the company and capabilities she mentioned they were struggling to find ways to cost reduce the suitcase so that they could expand their program’s reach. “When I explained to her my role in Value Add Value Engineering (VAVE-cost reducing customer designs and working with commodity management to leverage Creation spend to source material), I think she almost fell out of her chair!” Diana stated.  We realized in that conversation that we had a perfect fit! Creation’s passion for Making a Difference, our ability to add value engineering resources and leverage our supply chain to cost down the product.

The VAVE engineers at the Creation Milwaukee Business Unit have connected with Hal Aronson, Founder and Director of Technology and Education at We Share Solar and are brainstorming different avenues for cost reduction in the unit.  In addition, our commodity managers and Vice President of Commodity Management, Steve McEuen have sourced and quoted the material and found a 50+% cost savings. In the future we are looking to partner with suppliers to help supply material at cost.  Joe Garcia, VP West Region Business Development and Mark Evans, VP and General Manager in San Jose have met with team members at We Share Solar and are looking to take over contract manufacturing (CM) services from their current CM out of the Creation San Jose Business Unit.

Hal Aronson remarked, “We Share Solar inspires students to work with technology to serve humanity through building solar electric systems.  We have spent the past 4 years developing our programs and proving the concept. To date we have trained 100 + teachers who have engaged 4,000 American and Canadian students deploying several hundred solar electric systems which have lit up the schools for over 35,000 students from energy poor countries and refugee camps. People love the program both for its service to humanity and for the way in which it engages and empowers students. The limiting factor in enabling greater numbers of schools to participate in our programs is the cost of the solar suitcase kits.   Creation Technologies is generously working with We Share Solar to dramatically lower our hardware costs; this will help us clear the major hurdle to growing our programs and impact. It has been a complete pleasure to work with the Creation Technologies’ VAVE team.  We went through the process thoroughly and at a good pace.  When I put forward a date by which we needed to start shipping kits to schools the team approached it with a “can do” attitude.  This will open up great opportunities to grow and sustain our reach.  This is the beginning of a beautiful partnership”

Gigi Goldman adds, “Our mission at We Share Solar is to inspire the next generation of change-makers.  In learning to build a Solar Suitcase and then sharing it with their counterparts who live in places of energy scarcity such as rural Kenya and Uganda, young people experience making a positive impact in the world through their own work.  We are especially excited about how this opens up the world of engineering and STEM to young women who see the purpose in the work and are excited to help others.   Hal Aronson and I co-created We Share Solar 4 years ago and have become more inspired by it every year as organizations like Creation Technologies embrace it and join us to make it even better and more accessible to communities they care about.  Together we are doing more than just telling the next generation to try to make the world a better place, we are giving them the tools to actually do it…from promoting sustainable green energy education to reaching across the globe with open hands, a generous heart and clean energy.  Everybody wins.”

Learn more at:

How a VAVE Risk Mitigation Strategy Improves the Bottom Line

A VAVE analysis is considered a game changer to OEMs because of its potential for major cost reductions.

VAVE is not about a quick fix to cut expenses. Good EMS providers can leverage VAVE to improve product quality and lower lifecycle risk. This focus on risk mitigation will translate into long-term savings and greater revenue opportunities for OEMs.

Here are the ways VAVE teams are achieving this.

Entering the Market with Confidence

Being first to market is important, but it is ineffective if you are not priced appropriately. An OEM may have a great product but will fail in the market because of its high unit cost.

If a VAVE analysis is performed during the prototype phase, you will get expert opinions from your EMS partner on pricing strategies. Early supplier and engineering engagement, before the design is finalized, will ensure there is feedback and approval from all stakeholders.

Putting that upfront investment in VAVE will drive the unit cost down and allow you to enter the market at the right price point. You have an opportunity to capture a competitive market share and maximize revenue potential.

Extending your Life Cycle

A thorough EMS partner will put a large emphasis on quality and risk management when conducting a VAVE analysis. They will make sure that the product and all of its components will last the entire product lifecycle. This is usually done during the risk analysis phase, where your partner evaluates your bill of materials (BOM) and identifies areas of improvement to reduce risk within the product lifecycle.

Making sure that the product BOM has longevity will avoid redesign costs in the midst of the products life.

Part of their task is to get as many approved sources in the design as possible (more on that later) so that if one or two sources become obsolete in a few years, you still have a supply chain that won’t cause you shortages.

Experts in the Supply Chain

Mitigating risk is all about being able to foresee barriers and having a contingency plan to address them without missing a beat. OEMs that aren’t prepared will not be able to react quickly if a major quality issue arises.

Almost 93% of critical shortages where delivery is effected is attributed to OEMs single sourcing their components. That means there are other supply chain options available that haven’t been vetted or approved. When your customer wants an extra 10,000 units, a single sourced component on your BOM can cause you to lose revenue if the supply chain can’t react in time.

We often see in startups or smaller companies, a design engineer is simply not looking for multiple component sources under the pressures of a launch schedule. If they are looking, they may not have the supply chain relationships to identify the lowest cost options.

A capable EMS partner can help you design a sustainable supply chain. They can lessen your risk during a VAVE analysis by identifying and qualifying a second or third source for components, so if there are quality issues, you have the flexibility to adapt.

The BOM might start off with 80-90% single sources, but can drop to 20% single sourced after a successful VAVE analysis. This will not only improve the products longevity, but will eliminate unnecessary long-term costs.



Breaking Through Time-to-Market Barriers with Concurrent Engineering

How Does Your Product Development Cycle Stack Up?

Did you know that Deere & Company reduced product development time for construction equipment by 60%, and IBM reduced direct costs in system assembly by 50%? And how did Fuji Xerox’s FX-3500 copier immediately capture 60% of the relevant domestic market?

All are historical reference points to be sure, and yielded varying short- and long-term ROI for each company.

But there’s no question that the ROI was significant.

So what about in 2017?  Today, how are some of the most successful companies in the world achieving these measurable differences in development and commercialization times, product quality, and ultimate customer satisfaction?

Same answer as in 2016, 2015, 2014…

By breaking down walls with an integrated view of product commercialization (as well as everything that comes afterward), including leveraging proven methodologies like concurrent engineering.


Concurrent Engineering

Concurrent Engineering is not a new (or disruptive) idea.

But it takes a design-thinking and strategic mindset, and it requires exceptional program management and a lot of communication.

That may sound hard, and it is!

A common definition of concurrent engineering is that it’s a team-driven approach in which design engineering, manufacturing, product and test engineering and other teams are integrated and aligned on the same critical path to reduce the time required to bring a new product to market.

Building on the Toyota Production System and subsequent application of concurrent engineering, the automotive industry adopted concurrent engineering models in the early 1990s. Many electronics and pharmaceutical companies followed suit and adapted the approach for their own needs in the early 2000s.

However, the barriers for collaboration across disciplines, teams and partners stubbornly persist today, particularly in organizations where skills and responsibilities remain in siloes and resources are allocated according to each team’s budget and KPIs.

Today we operate in an environment where everyone is connected, online, and capable of taking action on that “great idea” 24/7.

To capitalize, the traditional linear and sequential system of product development – the ‘over-the-wall’ approach – must become a thing of the past for companies to succeed in 2017 and beyond.


Your Product Development Ecosystem – Flexible or Fixed?

With an integrated, concurrent engineering approach, everyone from design, engineering, purchasing, manufacturing, marketing, and finance is a stakeholder from product conception to marketplace.

More importantly, with an integrated approach, all of these stakeholders must be aligned and focused on the same timeline and outcome.

That may sound complex, and it is!

But the results are impressive:

  • Fewer design changes;
  • Fewer delays;
  • A higher quality and more innovative customer-centric product; and
  • A product (and brand) with staying power.

R&D and design engineers, for example, are often two steps removed from customer interaction.  With an integrated and flexible development model, they can gain insight by collaborating with field and technical salespeople who have direct contact with customers.  Just like ‘going to the gemba’ (to carry through with the Lean analogy), these are the folks that have the best information about what really matters in their marketplace for their solutions.

A 2009 survey found that implementing a concurrent engineering model positively affects development time, quality, and productivity.


  • 30-70% Less Development Time
  • 60-90% Fewer Engineering Changes
  • 20-90% Faster Time to Market
  • 200-600% Improvement in Quality
  • 20-110% Increased Productivity in Management/Admin Functions
  • 20-120 % Higher Return on Capital Investment

Not bad.


My Layman’s Take on the Role (and Power) of Concurrent Engineering and Integrated Teams

Fast-changing end-customer demand and needs, more varied and technically complex products, and more stringent regulatory and quality requirements can all easily be barriers to rapid product development and commercialization.

But in parallel (or, concurrently!), highly engaged teams and advanced, online collaboration tools are accelerating the development process, taking advantage of this 24/7 connected ecosystem.

Glass half full or glass half empty?

Just imagine what’s possible with expert, multi-disciplined teams working together.  Especially when you can annex the power of exceptional partners to help you fill the gaps.

At the end of the day, in my role, I (get to) see concurrent engineering as a technical methodology that’s analogous to what all of us folks working in tech really want…

…a highly collaborative, systems-driven way for us to work together (be it with our in-house teams or outsourcing partners) to get things done that benefit our companies and benefit our customers.

I believe that integrated teams and concurrent engineering are a fast-forward button for time-to-market.

3 Keys to a Successful, Large-Scale Product Transfer

For OEMs, switching your manufacturing solution is not as simple as switching your cable provider. Whether you build in-house or are using a contract manufacturer (CM), transferring a family of products to a new facility or partner can be a very complex, time-consuming, and expensive process.

With so many factors to consider – from cost to assessing manufacturing capabilities and engineering expertise – just qualifying and selecting a new contract manufacturer can take several months alone.

Time is money and the faster the transition, the better.


3 Keys to Product Transfer Success


1. Have a Product Transfer Roadmap – With Many Checkpoints

Coming up with a detailed transfer plan may sound obvious, but many OEMs underestimate the impact that expert project management has on executing a large-scale product transfer. For a company that has multiple product lines to transfer, there are many concurrent timelines that need to be addressed.

A strategic, clear and documented plan from the get-go helps manage the various moving parts. Consistent communication with all the appropriate stakeholders can be especially difficult considering the number of teams involved in a large-scale transfer of products.

It is also important to have a project management system that tracks timelines, checklists, and stores key documents.

If you’re outsourcing, verify that your EMS partner has a tool that captures detailed and strategic actions and milestones, and will drive regularly scheduled meetings to keep your project on schedule. Your company will have full visibility during the process and specific processes are guaranteed to be addressed, improved, and executed on.


2. Assess Early to Incorporate Improvements

The opportunity to improve is why most OEMs choose to switch their manufacturing strategy. This is why selecting an EMS partner with experience and the appropriate resources is so vital to your long-term success.

In the planning stage of the transfer, your EMS partner’s engineers can assess existing equipment and test processes, and make recommendations to improve or upgrade.  Your partner’s engineers and supply chain team can also make value engineering recommendations that mitigate your costs and risks and accelerate launch timelines.

Re-evaluating your manufacturing processes with your new EMS partner from the beginning will help identify gaps in documentation, streamline your supply chain, and make the necessary enhancements to your equipment and facilities.


3. If You’re Outsourcing, Make Sure It’s Not a CM’s First Rodeo

A large-scale product transfer is a gargantuan task. Depending on a variety of factors, like the number of products, the complexity of the manufacturing and test, and the complexity of the supply chain and fulfillment model, transitioning to a new partner or in-house facility can take as long as a year to complete.

Partnering with an inexperienced contract manufacturer can lead to both strategic and tactical mistakes that will cost your company time and resources.

EMS partners with good track records are able to understand the needs of the OEM and map out a strategic transfer plan and execute it on schedule. They will have the expertise to provide recommendations, understand regulatory requirements and cost implications of the decisions you will have to make along the way.  (We all know that nothing ever goes exactly as planned!)

Most importantly, an experienced EMS provider will know how to communicate effectively and proactively with their customer throughout the transition, and offer guidance and program management leadership every step of the way.

At Creation, we routinely accelerate product transfers for OEMs with multiple product lines, many of which have complex designs and programs.

In our experience, we have learned that these 3 Keys to Product Transfer Success streamline the product transfer process, especially a large-scale one, making it as efficient and cost-effective as possible. In the end, that makes all the difference.

Tips for Engineers to Avoid Hidden Development Costs and Delays

I have yet to meet an engineer who enjoys seeing costs pile up during the design and development process.

And unexpected costs are definitely unwelcome visitors in the drive for product commercialization.

If you’d like some new, actionable ideas for getting a new product to market quickly and without those unexpected, expensive guests, here’s a suggestion for you…

Attend ‘How to Avoid Hidden Costs and Delays in the Product Design-to-Commercialization Cycle’ next week at PCB West in Santa Clara.

How to Avoid Hidden Costs and Delays in the Product Design-to-Commercialization Cycle: Creation Technologies Technical Workshop at PCB West

In this two-hour, technical workshop, Todd Dierking, Creation’s Director of Design Services and Todd Baggett, Creation’s EVP of Integrated Services, will share their engineering and component expertise to help you:

  • Get the right tradeoffs between Time and Money
  • Assess and define requirements to meet design controls, minimize costs, and still bring your creativity to the project
  • Simplify the prototyping process with some cost-effective technical techniques, as well as a checklist for commercial considerations that will help you make the best choice for each stage of prototyping
  • Uncover the ‘hidden costs’ of designing in the wrong materials

While you’re there, drop by Booth #216 and meet a team from Creation–San Jose, our rapid prototyping/manufacturing facility that’s about 10 minutes from the Santa Clara Convention Center.

Hope we’ll see you there!

More information here in our recent press release.

Software Development Outsourcing: A Smart Choice for Smart Device Design

Creation Technologies Expert Software Design and Development

Today’s electronic devices are incredibly complex.

To fully appreciate just how complex, look beyond the advanced physical hardware and micro-circuitry to the sophisticated software layer that controls device functionality.

This “command and control” layer comprises an average of one million lines of software code and puts the “Smart” in Smart Products.

That much code represents increased complexity, as well as increased risk of code—and therefore product—failure.

Embedded Inside

Embedded software is quickly becoming one of the most significant components in electronic design.

It is enabling our customers to transform standalone devices into smart, networked, and differentiated versions for each of their market segments (and often even tailored for each end customer).

In fact, BCC Research expects the global embedded software market to reach $198.5 billion by 2019, driven by the emergence of connected devices in healthcare and new Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

This considerable growth isn’t driven solely by market demand.

According to a report published by the CTO and Chief Science Officer of software testing company Coverity, the code base in embedded devices is doubling every two years!

Complex Software Requires Sophisticated Testing

As software becomes more complex, the need for sophisticated software testing is also growing.

Faulty code can have disastrous consequences.

In Energy and Medical markets, for example, software must meet stringent standards and regulations to ensure safe and effective operation in the field. The safety and even lives of the people using these new products depend on it.

(Read more about connected medical devices here, in a recent blog post by our President and CEO).

Yet, some OEMs are struggling to keep up with the advancements in software test design and development. Others are looking for new ways to accelerate the development process to keep ahead of the competition.

Reducing Costs AND Increasing Quality

Regardless of industry, OEMs are facing rapidly changing market demands and condensed product development cycles.

Now combine these pressures with increasing software complexity and a growing scarcity of highly skilled Software Engineers.

Not surprisingly, Creation is seeing more and more OEMs looking to leverage external software development expertise. Our customers choose Creation Design Services for our engineering acumen, but also for the software design experience drawn from many programs and industries, which brings valuable insight and design efficiencies to each unique project.

By outsourcing software design, our customers are able to respond faster to market changes and minimize costs while freeing up critical bandwidth for their engineering teams.

If you’d like some input on your software design or test development, please let us know.

Creation Goes Prime Time: Fox Business Channel Shoot

Creation Technologies Dallas Electronics Manufacturing

To say August 13th was a memorable day for the Creation Technologies Dallas Business Unit would be a huge understatement.

It was a complete trifecta!

1. Had a chance to meet our local Congressman, Sam Johnson, and his staff
2. Visit from John Hasselmann, VP Government Relations for IPC who was visiting from Washington, DC
3. Onsite filming for a segment featuring Creation on Fox Business Channel

A Visit from Congressman Sam Johnson and IPC

We were delighted to host Congressman Johnson and IPC.

Our Dallas leadership team enjoyed some great discussion with the Congressman about economic development in Texas, and Creation’s plans for growth in the region of Collin County/Plano. Texas has long been a center for technology-based innovation, and recent investment in accelerators and incubators around the state suggests this isn’t going to change anytime soon.

We also discussed the increasingly complex outsourcing needs of our OEM customers. Many of Creation’s customers are multinational organizations, and so our global business units in Mexico and China continue to play a critical role in helping our customers identify the right regional strategy.

Afterward, the Congressman toured our production facility and met the 150 people that we’re proud to have work here at Creation in Texas. He was extremely personable and engaging and genuinely interested in what we do.

John Hasselmann of IPC also joined in the discussion with the Congressman, and informed us of the many ways that IPC is helping our industry from a government relations perspective – the insight and support that IPC offers is tremendous.

Creation Makes Our TV Debut

Last week, Creation made our television debut as part of the Fox Business segment, Manufacturing Marvels.

To make this possible, not only did we host the Congressman and IPC on the 13th, we had a lot of fun as the film crew followed us around throughout the day. They captured footage of our manufacturing facility, as well as some interesting moments in our business meetings. They even got out a drone for the aerial footage!

I watched the segment the night it aired, and I think it turned out really well. Manufacturing, after all, is a key part of Creation’s end-to-end solution.

Everything was shot in high-definition and highlighted Creation from a global perspective while illustrating the specific capabilities and location of Creation Technologies Texas – it was very exciting to see our people and facility on film.

Our People, Our Company, Our Industry

August 13th was a great, high-energy day and our team had a lot of fun.

It isn’t every day that we get to be on camera for a national broadcast, enjoy an audience with the Congressman and visit with an IPC executive!

All fun aside, it is our sincere hope that the day was successful at bringing value and recognition to our people, our company and our industry. Hopefully, it not only conveyed some of our strengths and capabilities, but the passion we all bring to the workplace each and every day!

Read more about our big day in the news releases:

Congressman Sam Johnson Visits Leading Texas Electronics Company Creation Technologies
Award-Winning EMS Provider, Creation Technologies, Appears on Fox Business News Network



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