IoT Hardware Development: Component Selection Pitfalls

Living the Dream

Developing a new product, especially an IoT hardware product, can be very exciting. The desire to start with a blank slate provides the opportunity to specify the optimal set of requirements to provide exceptional performance with robust reliability at the lowest possible cost.

And, then you wake up.

The harsh realization sets in that the new product’s requirements will be a soul-crushing, iterative exercise of compromises that, in the end, will only satisfy the most essential requirements.

Build vs Buy

Do you really need to design and build a custom IoT hardware product?


Are you sure?

If you can buy a product directly from a supplier today that meets most of the requirements, you should strongly consider this approach to reduce your time-to-market risk and to substantially lower your development costs.

However, sourcing an IoT hardware product from a 3rd party is not without its own risks as you invariably give up some element of control.

Unless you’re sourcing an industry-standard product, you will become highly dependent upon the product’s manufacturer, and potentially its distributors and resellers, too. The product quality, reliability, and cost, as well as post-sale service for support and warranty claims, should be key factors in your supplier selection criteria.

Another key consideration is the expected order delivery time. For example, if a supplier has limited stock or builds-to-order, long lead times can severely impair your ability to fulfill orders quickly for your customers.

In the worst case, the supplier may stop supplying the product at any time without advance notice which can be a nightmare.

Are You a Control Freak?

C’mon, admit it!

You’re never going to source an IoT hardware product when you can develop and build it yourself, right?

The impulse to control every minute detail of the product specification can be all-consuming. Clearly, you will have to moderate the desired level of customization to meet the timeline, the development budget, the target price, and the expected lifecycle maintenance cost goals. Unless you want to develop everything from scratch, you will need to use some off-the-shelf (“OTS”) components for your product.

Using OTS components reduces the development risk, time, and cost. However, the trade-off is that you will be dependent upon the component suppliers.

Risky Business

Ideally, you would prefer to deal with a reputable supplier with a long-established history. In theory, suppliers with brand name recognition should be ideal suppliers, but in a dynamic technology market even historically solid companies can have issues. The recent semiconductor consolidation activity will certainly drive product-line rationalization to prune similar product lines and to exit altogether ones in undesirable market segments.  Furthermore, even many established suppliers only provide new product announcements when they are released to avoid sales slowdown for existing versions.

Innovation creates not only new technologies and new components but also new suppliers.

Unfortunately, new suppliers are at high risk of going out of business rapidly. Additionally, they risk being acquired by a larger competitor who may discontinue the component lines unexpectedly with short or no advance notice.

To ameliorate the perceived risk, new suppliers will often offer long-term supply stock guarantees.

But just how good is a 10-year guarantee from a company that has only been in business for two years?

If you must use a new component supplier with a short history, you should develop a contingency plan to address what you would do if the new supplier closed its doors today.

Buyer Beware

There is an abundance of inexpensive hardware components available on the worldwide market from a bevy of discounters, brokers, liquidators, and even 2 guys in a garage in Elbonia who sell their wares on global online tech bazaars such as eBay or Alibaba.

Beware! Many low-cost components available on the global market are not sold through reputable channels. Unless they are authorized distributors any quality issues will not be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. In the worst case, the components may even be counterfeit and may not meet the quality standards of the genuine manufacturer.

Finally, even if you obtain components through legitimate international suppliers, it is highly unlikely that agreements with foreign entities can be cost-effectively enforced in case of a dispute.

If you must source components through 3rd party channels, you need to ensure a much higher level of scrutiny of these suppliers in your contingency plan.

Target Market Matters

It is crucial that you select components that are targeted at your intended market. Similar performance parts may be available for a variety of application in consumer, industrial, automotive, military, or space markets. The cost difference can be 2x, 10x, or even 100x between different grade components. Although they may be similar in appearance and the part numbers may only vary by a single alphanumeric digit, lower grade components used for applications with harsher environmental requirements will likely fail in the field.

The Circle of Life

Component lifecycles are frequently driven by the lifecycles of the products for which they are marketed. Aerospace and military-grade components have the longest lifecycles, followed by automotive, medical, industrial, and consumer.

Consumer-grade parts are targeted at high volume products that have lifespans of less than one year such as consumer electronics products including PCs, smartphones, and tablets.

The long-term availability of these components is suspect. As soon as these products are no longer in production, the supply of the cheap components incorporated in these products will evaporate quickly. Savvy suppliers, who have already amortized their development costs, will offload components to liquidators who will acquire the remaining stock at fire-sale prices. Liquidators may or may not make these parts available to the public marketplace as they seek the best financial returns for their investment. Certainly, the component availability will decrease over time and prices may quickly escalate as the remaining stock is consumed.

While the lifecycle for components for the aerospace, medical, and automotive markets is generally longer than the industrial and consumer markets, the best approach to mitigate component availability risk is different. Usually, for these markets, the regulatory requirements and qualification procedures erect significant barriers to component substitution in terms of cost and time. To overcome these barriers, it is important to build a robust alternative material list early in the development process so that equivalent components can be qualified all at once. Because higher grade components typically have smaller volumes and longer lead times, you must vigilantly monitor the component markets to secure enough stock over the product lifetime.

The Dreaded EOL

Whether you decide to source an IoT hardware product from a supplier or decide to build your own, it is necessary to review the supplier’s End-of-Life (“EOL”) policy which specifies the period of availability and the subsequent support duration after the supplier has announced the discontinuation of the product or the component.

If the supplier does not include an EOL policy in its standard terms and conditions of sale, the supplier may stop providing the product or component at any time without advance notice. Moreover, it may discontinue providing any service or support, as well.

Even when an EOL notice is provided, the response time to place last time buy orders is limited. And, there is almost always some level of price increase.  While most EOL notices from reputable suppliers will be honored, be assured that in the fine print legalese of their EOL policies there are always escape clauses for the supplier. And, no sensible supplier will continue to provide a product or component at a loss over the long-term.

For IoT hardware products, you must either identify equivalent products or execute agreements with reputable, long-term partners to secure a stable product supply.

In order to mitigate EOL risk, these agreements should include:

  • A license to the intellectual property (“IP”) to produce the product should it be discontinued by the OEM.
  • Access the native design files so that you can continue to maintain the product.
  • An introduction to existing manufacturing partners and suppliers in order to negotiate with them directly should the OEM exit the market.

It is best to negotiate this agreement well in advance of the EOL notification by the supplier. For example, an escrow agreement provides a legal mechanism by which a 3rd party can provide access to the necessary product design information in the case of bankruptcy, the sale of the company, or some other trigger event that would affect availability and/or delivery of the product.

Dealing with Reality

Products and components will not be available forever. You must diligently plan for the day when they are no longer readily available.

To ensure that you create a sourcing strategy that avoids common component pitfalls.

  • Select components from vetted, reliable suppliers.
  • Build an alternative material list for as many components as possible to enable flexible sourcing options and competitive pricing, especially if your product requires rigorous regulatory testing or onerous qualification procedures.
  • Identify any unique or single-sourced components and create contingency plans for them.
  • Review suppliers’ EOL policies for their components.

You will need to continually monitor your suppliers and the components provided by them over your product’s entire lifecycle, so you can sleep soundly at night.

A third option is to outsource the entire process to a professional third party manufacturing company experienced in Supply Chain logistics, BOM rationalization, and Value Analysis Value engineering. They can manage it all for you for less than it would take for you to put the staff and capital in place to do it yourself. Most companies find this option is well worth looking into. Learn more today by reaching out to one of our professional Business Development team members.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Market Trends Impacting IoT Hardware Lifecycle

With rapid innovation comes rapid obsolescence.

Every day there are industry announcements for new platforms, new sensors, and new wireless technologies for IoT applications. While often overlooked, these IoT hardware solutions that capture, process, and transmit sensor data have inherent lifecycle issues that must be proactively managed.

Unidentified technology dependencies can cripple an IoT solution deployment just as it’s beginning to scale or can substantially escalate the maintenance and operating costs that undermine the business case assumptions.

Either scenario is a disaster from a business perspective.

Lifecycle Impacts

Frequently IoT devices will need to be available for 3, 5, 10 years, or more which requires vigilance to actively manage component lifecycles.

Otherwise, the consequences will force costly, unplanned design iterations.

Not only does this multiply the initial development investment, but it will also greatly increase the complexity of managing a plethora of heterogeneous IoT devices comprised of numerous disparate hardware and software revisions.

There are several IoT market trends that are driving lifecycle risks for IoT products.

Standards? We don’t need no stinkin’ standards

In general, standards drive costs lower by increasing competition among suppliers and by driving volume production. However, with hundreds of emerging standards, it’s circumspect that history is littered with promising standards that never gained sufficient market traction that either died outright or that have been regulated to niche applications and never gained broad industry acceptance.

While there are over 450 platforms of emerging IoT standards and related working groups, there is no existing market consensus for IoT standards. Although there are companies working to help consolidate IoT platforms, it is unlikely that standards will converge in the near future.

Wireless – Times They Are a-Changin’

For IoT platforms, there are big changes in the wireless networking space with a wide variety of competing technologies.

On the surface, one might assume that technology which uses licensed radio standard would be the most stable choice. However, recent history demonstrates that as technology evolves and the usage for legacy applications decreases, such as for paging and wireless microphones, the FCC will move to reallocate frequency spectrum for other more popular services such as cellular data services.

For cellular networks, the sunset for 2G and 3G networks is ongoing while futuristic 5G networks are already being rolled out in test deployments. Finally, cellular CAT-1M and NB-IoT are technologies that address key IoT requirements such as minimizing power consumption, limited data rates, and aggressive unit cost targets.

An emerging challenger to cellular networks’ dominance for WAN class IoT applications is a group of competing LPWAN technologies, for licensed and unlicensed spectrum, that include both proprietary and open standards to support IoT applications with low data rates and extended ranges.

For short-to-midrange networks, Bluetooth, ZigBee/802.15.4, and WiFi will continue to dominate. Bluetooth is ready for IoT with the most recent standard adding not only low energy capabilities (BLE) but also multi-point network connectivity. Novel Wi-Fi™ modules with very low power consumption work well for IoT defined area networking applications that require low latency, higher data rates, and simple connectivity to existing private networks. While ZigBee/802.15.4 networks still find niche applications that need dynamic, mesh network configurations paired with low power sensors.

Semiconductor Consolidation

“…technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile.” – the Borg

As the semiconductor industry continues to consolidate, the inevitable wave of PCN (“Product Change Notice”), EOL (“End-of-Life”), and LTB (“Last-time-Buy”) notices will accelerate as unprofitable, legacy product lines are rationalized and replaced by newer models that leverage updated process technologies.

This is not only a concern for new designs, but it also impacts existing products that are already deployed in the field. For long-lived applications with extended lifecycles, obsolete components can impair the ability to repair and to provide replacement products.

These impacts are exacerbated by product regulatory requirements from government agencies such as the FCC, FDA, or FAA of from industry bodies such as PTCRB for cellular certifications that require additional testing, filings, approvals, and documentation that increase the time and cost for each design cycle.

Knock, Knock – Addressing Emerging Security Threats

It is very likely field software upgrades will be REQUIRED for any IoT product over its lifecycle. Not only for bug fixes or feature updates but to deal with the never-ending scourge of emerging security threats.

Daily, IT security professionals update software to patch security vulnerabilities in PCs and servers. The tools and techniques to combat threats are mature, but constantly evolving to address increasingly sophisticated attacks.

Most IoT platforms are embedded systems that may not have the necessary toolsets and software to combat security threats. Unfortunately, this security through obscurity myth was shown to be vulnerable by the Mirai botnet attack as well as several other attacks.


These are just a few of the market trends that continue to impact IoT hardware development. Each trend should be fully considered and addressed for any product lifecycle strategy.

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.

The Key to Longevity in the EMS Industry is Consistency

In sports they call it the “three-peat”.

It is a term when a team wins three consecutive championships. The New York Yankees, Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers are some of the elite teams that have accomplished this feat. Currently were watching to see if Team Canada can pull off their third consecutive gold medal at the world hockey championships.

Recently, Creation Technologies won the ‘Highest Overall Customer Rating’ in Circuits Assembly’s Service Excellence Awards for the third year in a row!

This award is based solely on feedback directly from OEM customers to electronics industry analyst, Circuits Assembly, and is an incredible achievement.

Creation ranks first overall amongst all EMS providers in the $500M+ category across all 5 categories of:

  • Responsiveness
  • Value for Price
  • Dependability
  • Quality
  • Technology

And while we are far from being compared to a sports dynasty, it demonstrates that we are achieving what we strive every day to deliver: consistent service to our customers.

Consistency is one of the key reasons why we have been successful for over 25 years. Our customers know our value offering and recognize that we put their needs first.

Being dependable is an art that comes with experience. These are some of the ways that we have been able to maintain consistency with our partners.


Our People

I get to be part of the best team in the world.

I am certain that a lot of CEOs say this, but I truly mean it. Creation is the most customer-focused company I have ever been a part of.

We have over 3,000 talented people, who have expertise, drive and heart. Every day in every business unit, they work together to solve problems, overcome challenges, and get things done.

This is a trait that cannot be taught. We choose people who have that innate desire to serve our customers and embrace our company’s core values.


Our Responsiveness

The hallmark of our customer service model is our ability to react.

The needs of our customers have always dictated how our business operates. With our various experts and multiple years of experience, we are able to take a customer’s problem and quickly find an efficient and effective solution.

One of the main differentiators we have over our competition is our customer-focused team (CFT) model. For every customer, we have a dedicated team that ensures projects are completed on time and at the highest quality. When customers have questions, we make it a priority to find them answers in a timely manner.


Our Quality

At the end of the day, you won’t last very long with your customers or this industry for that matter if you don’t consistently build quality products.

To optimize performance and eliminate product failures, we leverage our engineering expertise, invest in best-in-class machines, and design a cost-effective test stand solution.

Delivering quality products is also achieved through being proactive. Our team identifies software or hardware issues early on in the process, so that products work properly in the field.

Winning our third Service Excellence Award in a row is proof of our Continuous Improvement efforts, and the amazing collaboration between so many people – our Creation team, our customers’ teams, and our suppliers’ teams – to deliver “service excellence” to our customers that clearly differentiates Creation in the EMS industry.

So cheers to another great year as we attempt to complete a “four peat”.

5 Questions to Ask a Potential Design Partner

With institutions like Harvard University and MIT in its backyard, the city of Boston has a storied tradition for academic and research excellence. It should come as no surprise that the New England region also possesses a thriving medical technology and manufacturing sector.

Last week, Creation Technologies was one of over 400 suppliers that attended the BIOMEDevice Boston event. For two days, engineers, innovators, and suppliers connected and collaborated on projects that will transcend the health care industry.

For medical device OEMs that attended the show, filtering through the many design firm options can be a daunting task – with cost, quality, experience, and location all considerations.

In order to identify the right fit for your design needs, here are 5 questions you should be asking a potential design partner.


1.  Is your process ISO 13485 Registered?     

ISO 13485 represents the requirements for a quality management system for the design and manufacturing of medical devices. You should not even consider any supplier that does not have a registered quality system. Many design firms may say that they have compliant processes but have not obtained ISO 13485.  While you may plan to execute the design project under your internal quality system, it is still important your partner has experience developing products within the controls of an ISO 13485 quality system.  Their estimates will be more accurate, execution will be more efficient, and your design partner maybe able to assist in the continuous improvement of your internal quality system.


2.  Who owns the Intellectual Property?

Your IP should be your IP. Many medical device OEMs elect to share their intellectual property with a design firm because the upfront development costs may initially appear to be less.

There are potential risks involved in co-developing your IP with a design partner such as:

  • The design partner could potentially license that IP to your competitors and charge you an ongoing royalty on your own product.
  • The design partner could get acquired by another corporation, who might leverage the IP into its products, enabling the competition.
  • The design partner could extend your joint IP, enabling future generation capability and leveling the playing field with your competitors.
  • A lack of alignment on the long-term use of the IP can actually delay the development of the IP and the product causing undue risk of missing your market window and costing many times more than the originally perceived potential savings.

It is more beneficial in the long run to own your IP and leverage a design partner to develop and transition your product into volume manufacturing.


3.  How do you Approach Unit Costing?

An experienced design partner will identify potential cost implications early in the development process. Many times, inexperienced design firms will adhere to demands to medical device OEMs without assessing the long-term implications. This could drive the unit costs up and delay the development program.

As a result, OEMs find out late in the process that they won’t meet their unit cost targets and their business assumptions were incorrect from the onset. If this is the situation, it is critical it is discovered as early as possible in the development cycle that product strategies can be reassessed and meaningful changes can be made to the project plan.

In order to control unit costs, it is also a good idea to partner with a design partner with strong manufacturing relationships so that accurate estimates of manufacturing costs are established. Many design-only companies struggle in the design to manufacturing transfer process because they don’t have the experience or the sophisticated tools required to execute seamlessly and are surprised when actual manufacturing cost information is available..


4.  How Financially Flexible are you?

High upfront costs can be a huge barrier for medical device OEMs. Many design firms may demand full advanced payment of the entire program before starting the development project. This is a red flag because it indicates a lack of trust and financial controls. Additionally, a design partner shouldn’t be using your cash for their operational liquidity needs.

Design firms that are financially strained cannot be relied upon to make your product their priority. There are many projects risk that you and your design partner will need to face together, the risk of insolvency and staffing changes are not risks a design partner should bring to your product development effort.

Partnering up with an established design firm with strong financial footing may afford you better terms and credit, allowing you to be more flexible with your resources. Larger design firms also will have proper insurance and quality processes to support you in the event of a product liability claim.


5.  How Far Along can you take us?

There are lots of design firms that will happily enjoy the revenue provided from developing your product for as long as they can. But to ensure program and product success, your partner’s financial motivations must be aligned with yours.  If you partner is not capable of supporting your product through transition to production manufacturing and sustaining support, it will be difficult for your organizations to remain aligned.  Invest your time with a design partner you can envision building a long-term relationship with.  One who will be able to and motivated to serve you throughout the lifecycle of your product.

Find a company that is multi-disciplinary, that can help take your concept from napkin to manufacturing to after-market services.

And lastly, make sure you work with a company and people that you like. There will be times of conflict and challenging situations, so you will want to be with a design partner that will support you and understand your needs.


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.

New York State of Mind: Lessons Learned from a Thriving Health Care Region


Global competition in the medical device industry is fierce and if your company is not constantly innovating and evolving, you are likely being left behind.

For medical device companies in the New York region, staying stagnant is not an option. This tight-knit community plans on being assertive in creating medical devices that will improve lives across the world.

In order to achieve this vision, the state of New York invested heavily (over $80 billion) in the local medical industry, specifically in three main areas:

  • Academic institute bioscience R&D – $3.5 billion
  • New York State bioscience economic output – $62.2 billion
  • Job earnings in New York State – $16.8 billion

In addition, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (NY), recently introduced a $650 million initiative to grow life science research in the state.

Health Care companies rank in the Top 10 Largest Private Sector Employers in each of New York’s labor market regions. There are nearly 75,000 residents in New York employed in the biosciences, and about 13,000 of which are in medical devices.

But investing significant capital is just part of the overall equation in creating a culture of innovation and thought leadership. There are several exciting ways the state is making themselves at the forefront of the medtech industry.


Connecting Community

One of the driving forces behind the multi-billion dollar local biomed industry is the MedTech Association. All year round, the association plans and participates in events like MD&M East and New York Medtech Week, designed to connect and grow the local industry. MedTech consists of more than 100 pharmaceutical, biotech and medical companies, suppliers, and academic institutions (Creation is a MedTech member).

At the annual MEDTECH Conference in October, some of the brightest minds in the state’s bioscience and medical technology space congregated for three days of idea sharing and collaborating.

I attended MEDTECH 2016 and it was inspiring to see the passion and interaction between all the attendees. Just witnessing the crossover between PHDs and innovators and suppliers showed how many people from diverse backgrounds are influencing the movement.

In addition to networking opportunities, MEDTECH is always an opportunity for me to learn and gain awareness of the infrastructure and programs in place around the state. I look forward to this year’s event.


Building and Collaborating

If you want to be a leader in the medical technology field, you must invest in the most advanced facilities. Part of Gov. Cuomo’s plan is making 3.2 million sq. feet of innovation space and 1,100 acres of development land available tax-free for New York colleges and universities.

The University at Albany Health Sciences Campus Tour was featured at MEDTECH 2016, and really helped demonstrate the chain reaction of thought leadership. Over the past decade, the University at Albany Foundation transformed the former 95 acre Sterling Winthrop pharmaceutical complex into a thriving, collaborative biotech campus model.

The multi-purpose facility fosters an environment where life-science technologies, highly skilled work forces, and pioneering academia can co-exist and thrive. It is an encouraging example of how various stakeholders are able to share ideas.

With all of the activity and commitment to innovation, it is easy to get excited about the future of the state. New York is an example of a proactive region, willing and able to put forward the resources necessary to develop itself into a global player in medical technology.

Helping innovative OEMs succeed is what Creation Technologies is most passionate about. With several Creation business units nearby, we are always excited about collaborating with medical OEMs in the New York region and supporting them through the evolution.

Mixing it Up with RFID: Multiple Tracking Technologies for Beyond Line-of-Sight Supply Chain Visibility

Mixing it Up: Multiple Tracking Technologies for Beyond Line-of-Sight Supply Chain Visibility

The ability to locate, track, and manage your products throughout the supply chain using embedded RFID (radio frequency identification device) chips is undeniably valuable in terms of cost savings, efficiency, and customer satisfaction.

In 2017, advances in real-time and point-to-point location and tracking technologies are dramatically improving supply chain visibility.

From automotive to healthcare, OEMs have an increasing selection of sophisticated technologies and are tailoring them to their assets and applications.


Real-Time Tracking

From production floor to ICU, OEMs engaging with sophisticated EMS providers like Creation Technologies are leveraging tracking to monitor changes to a device’s position over time and accelerate improvement.

Here’s an example of how location and tracking technologies can be put to work:

  • At the development stage, bar-coded active RFID components are specified to capture data at the product/module level once in production.
  • In volume production, each assembly is outfitted with a unique, active RFID tag that carries critical, product-identification information in its updateable embedded chip. This is essential for Medical Device OEMs, recording DHR and DMR information required for FDA-approved devices, especially significant with the new FDA UFI requirements in force as of 2016.
  • An active RFID reader receives the signal from the active tag as it leaves the dock, enabling geotargeting and geotracking throughout the supply chain.
  • Each device can then be tracked on rail cars, containers, airplanes or trucks via GPS or ultra-high-frequency RFID. In fact, the vehicle itself is tracked using monitoring, navigation, and routing. Did I mention that Creation has expertise serving Transportation OEMs who offer this service to their customers?
  • Once the device arrives at your end customer’s location, an RFID tag can be assigned that piggybacks off of existing Wi-Fi systems to ensure the product’s availability when and where needed.


It’s a Good Time to Buy a Hybrid

Did you know? Bar codes and RFIDs share the same circa-1940 “birthdate”.

Bar codes enjoyed wider adoption because, for decades, tagging a product with a set of thick and thin lines was far less expensive than embedding a chip into a device and reading it.

Fortunately, RFID technology has advanced significantly, and prices are dropping as adoption increases.

RFID tags currently range from $.07 to $100 per tag. The wide range of costs depends on an equally wide range of options around type (active or passive), memory, packaging, volume of order, emission technology (i.e. acoustic, optical) and other factors.

Satellite and cellular technology advancements are also reducing costs, increasing coverage, and expanding product and application opportunities.


The Right Product in the Right Place

Moving the right product to the right place accurately, with quality assurance and traceability, is key to eliminating supply chain waste and improving process efficiencies.

And the location and tracking technologies for that critical cradle-to-grave journey have finally arrived.

So here’s my close…

The Creation Design Services team can help you design in RFID, and design out waste.

After commercialization, the global Creation Technologies team can help you provide your customers (and auditors) with the peace of mind that positions your brand as a leader in traceability and reliability for complete manufacturing, fulfillment and after-market services.

And with Creation’s proprietary Vision system and Customer Portal, you get the visibility and traceability you need from the point of launch throughout the product lifecycle.

Contact us anytime to learn more about how we can help you mix it up with RFID.


Robots vs. Cobots: Electronics Manufacturing Trends in 2017

Now that the hype around the new year (Chinese New Year included) has settled and resolutions have been broken, people are pretty much back to their regular routines.

While gym traffic may be neutralized, the year is still early and there are exciting things on the horizon.

For us in the electronics industry, the new year means more innovation and finding ways to make manufacturing smarter, faster and more cost efficient. With technology changing daily and manufacturing processes evolving, OEMs and EMS providers constantly have to adapt. But trends are not always limited to technology, it could also be the improvement of processes.

Here are 5 electronics manufacturing trends to look out for in 2017.


1. Riding the IoT Wave

It’s impossible to talk about trends and electronics without mentioning the Internet of Things (IoT). Smart electronic devices being connected to the Internet is nothing new. But the presence of these connected devices will likely soar, as IoT spending is expected to jump from $480 billion in 2016 to $1.7 trillion by 2020. In the EMS industry, this means machines are able to collect more data, allowing them to be more responsive and make better real-time automated decisions. From a supply chain standpoint, the IoT will continue to predict customer demand and always have the appropriate stock of parts and supplies.


2. 3D is Not Just for the Movies

The effort towards faster turnaround times and manufacturing efficiency is being enhanced by 3D printing technology. In 2017, OEMS will likely use 3D more – and use it in a big way. Some industry experts predict that more 3D printing and additive manufacturing processes will be used to make large-scale pieces and final production parts.


3. OEMs in the Market for the Aftermarket

According to a Harvard Business Review study, more than $1 trillion is spent yearly on assets that are already owned. For decades, the sale of aftermarket parts have been controlled by third party resellers and other suppliers. With the margins and demand high, more OEMs are looking to capture a larger slice of that market by investing in inventory and technology that will keep products operating at a high-level for a long period of time.


4. Cobots Take Over

In the ‘80s movie “Back to the Future”, people envisioned the 21st century to be filled with flying cars and robots. While we are not walking side-by-side with robots on the street yet, they are becoming more visible in manufacturing facilities across the globe. But robots are not taking over jobs, they are working side-by-side with manufacturing employees – hence the term “cobots”. The cobots are designed to assist the human worker in completing tasks in an efficient manner. Cobots are expected to increase in 2017 because they are cost-effective, collaborative, productive, and easily adaptable.


5. All Eyes on Risk

Well this one isn’t as exciting as cobots, but something you might see more of in 2017.

No matter the industry, re-evaluating business objectives is always top of mind for companies when transitioning into a new year. In the electronics manufacturing industry, both OEMs and contract manufacturers will put a higher priority on risk management. Manufacturers will focus on supply chain stability and business continuity planning to lessen risk derived from unforeseen market conditions.

So there you have it. Just a few trends to keep in mind as you continue to make strides in 2017. You might want to take your cobot with you though.



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