Open-Source Hardware Product Creation

The main aim of technology is to make life easier. That is why it is applied in many areas of our lives. The use of gadgets is one of the ways through which we get to enjoy the fruits of technological advancement. Unlike in the past, a huge percentage of the gadgets we use today are based on open source hardware. This is because open source platforms provide a more efficient approach to designing hardware and greatly reduce the process of product development. In fact, some people describe open-source hardware product creation as a walk in the park. Are they right to do so? Well, let’s find out. In this article, we are going to see the different steps involved in the making of an open-source hardware product.

The main difference between open-source and closed-source hardware creation is the time and money that is spent on research and development (R&D). As for open source hardware, the cost of R&D is less because a huge part of the design is based on information that is available for free, thanks to open-source platforms. This is a huge plus when it comes to product development. However, despite the reduced cost of R&D, you still need to invest time and resources in every step so as to come up with a market-ready device.  Here are some of the key steps you will have to take to get from an idea to selling a market-ready product.

Getting an Idea

The creation process starts with an idea. This is the most important stage of open-source hardware development, since it determines the design and purpose of your hardware. Ideas are mostly fueled by the need to solve a problem. So, the best approach to take, when coming up with an idea, is to identify a problem that can be solved using hardware.

Thanks to the Internet, you now have multiple sources of inspiration for your ideas. You can look at existing technology and think of ways to improve it. You also have access to most open source software and hardware tutorials that will help you understand how different types of hardware have been applied in other projects. This way you can modify the designs to fit your application.

Once you get an idea, it is advisable to get the opinion of others. However, this does not mean disclosing your entire plan to other people, since ideas can be stolen. Just come up with a simple questionnaire that you can use to get information from your target market. This will give you a rough impression of how your product will fare in the market. Once you are quite confident in your idea proceed to make a breadboard prototype.

Making a Breadboard Prototype

Breadboard prototypes are made using open source platforms.  There are many well-known platforms that are available, such as Arduino, Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone and SparkCore among others. So, it is up to you to research and choose the best open-source platform for your product.

In this stage, you use a breadboard to connect the different hardware components that you are using. The resulting circuit is not permanent and can be dismantled and reassembled at will. This way you get to perform tests and make corrections on your prototype before you proceed to design the product.

Designing the Product

Once the breadboard prototype is working you can now integrate the different hardware components into one board. This is done by creating a custom PCB for your product. The custom PCB makes your product compact and ready for mass production.

There is a wide variety of open-source PCB design software that you can use to design your custom circuit board. They include Eagle, KiCad, Upverter and EasyEDA among others. Some of the software is online based, while others can operate locally from a PC. So it is up to you to come up with a choice depending on what you feel comfortable with. When the PCB is complete, you can go ahead and fabricate it.

Fabricating a First Prototype

Fabrication mainly refers to converting the PCB designs into a physical circuit board and soldering the required components onto the board. There are several methods you can use to make your PCB. They include:

  • Iron on Glossy paper method
  • Circuit by hand on PCB
  • Laser cutting edge etching

The first two methods can be done at home and are ideal for very simple circuits that use through-hole components or large SMD components. For more advanced circuits, it is advisable to go with laser cutting. It is an industrial method that is ideal for mass production of complex layered circuits that use small SMD components.

To fabricate your PCB, send the design files to a fabrication company and select the number of boards that you want produced. You can either choose to assemble the components yourself, or just go for the all in one service where you receive your board with all the components soldered on.

Iterating with the Help of the Community

After the hardware is fully assembled show it to the open-source communities, such as Arduino, Raspberry Pi and Google+ among others. This helps you get feedback from the members of the communities. You can also get useful advice on from the experts in the industry on how to improve on your design in the future. Moreover, the open-source community can help popularize your product, which plays a huge role in marketing.

Selling Your Product

There are many avenues through which you can sell your product. One of them is through your website. You can use your personal or company website to sell your product. If you do not have a website, you can sell your product through websites that specialize in marketing and selling open-source hardware products. A good example of such websites is Tindie.

Another approach that many open source hardware product creators are adopting nowadays is crowdfunding. This is where you build a prototype of your product and ask the online community to fund it for mass production. Those who back your product get rewards or the product, depending on the amount of money they contribute.

So, that is the basic flow of open-source hardware product creation. For some it is a piece of cake, but others would prefer a faster approach especially when there are time constraints. What about you? What is your ‘flow’ to create a new open-source hardware product? Please share below!