There are many problems with having a complex product designed by multiple companies, in particular when the product design involves multiple domains, as many IoT devices and electronic products often do. Many different aspects need to be addressed at the same time and are dependent on each other: casing design affects the electronics design, electronics design affects the firmware design, firmware design affects software design. The reverse also applies. And so, a minor change in one aspect can necessitate significant changes in the others.
For example – a small change in the product casing design will not affect the software side of things much, maybe other than updating a few images. But the whole mechanical design, the internal layout, the PCB shape and a host of other physical aspects will need to be changed – or at least thoroughly checked. A worst case – a minor but necessary change in the casing triggers a cascade where everything down to the firmware needs to be adjusted.
Communicating such a change between several companies can be tricky. A common arrangement is one in which one company does the mechanical design, another is responsible for the software, and yet another one works on the embedded systems side of things – electronics and firmware. Communicating frequent small changes can lead to increased overheads, higher costs and the slowing down of the development cycle.
The problem is really one of communication – the corporate culture is simply different in each place and synchronising between multiple design houses can get tricky. Even basic tasks such as CAD/CAE data exchange can become a nightmare between companies when one side is unfamiliar with some of the formats. And this is before considering things such as differing time zones or language barriers.
In short, the old adage applies: ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth.’
The solution seems obvious – reduce the number of companies involved. Ideally down to one! This will minimise the overheads and potentially lead to a better product, while keeping the costs down.
It might seem that the same problems will arise within the single company, given the fact that a number of departments with differing skill sets will necessarily be involved. And this can be true! But the scale of the problems decreases dramatically.
With teams that have effectively co-operated on similar problems in the past, the need for negotiating things like interchange formats decreases dramatically. Many of the problems present in a scenario involving multiple companies simply do not exist in this setting.
It’s the difference between creating an understandable explicit set of requirements for someone you've never met halfway across the world, on the one hand, and having a friendly chat with your colleagues over a nice cup of tea from the office kitchen, on the other. As a bonus, cookies or cake may be involved.
If you want to learn more about how we communicate internally and involve the customers, please check out our webinar that deals with exactly this topic.