The Landscape of Product and Hardware Development

March 3, 2022

It’s no secret that the world loves hardware — announcements about new products garner countless news articles, tweets, and long lines at stores on opening days. To stay relevant in today’s industry, hardware companies need to keep up with customer’s demanding expectations while navigating the pandemic’s unfamiliar workflows and facing new competitors. More than ever, customer insights and needs are key to designing hardware that is innovative and buzz-worthy. While there are three common stages of product development, the way companies go about navigating each stage has changed over the years.

Source: Accenture

In this article, we’ll explore the biggest challenges and changes today’s hardware companies are experiencing with insight on what’s coming up. Our five topics will focus on areas for improvement, inefficient use of time, the pandemic’s effects, changing work styles, and software’s increasingly important role in product development. 

1. Where do we go from here?: Areas of improvement 

With fewer barriers for entry in the industry, new startups and crowdfunded products are able to challenge established hardware giants, creating a need for innovation and efficiency at levels never seen before. And this is on the forefront of product and engineering teams’ minds. In a 2021 survey produced by OnShape, every respondent was tasked to identify a gap between how they want their teams to perform and how they are actually performing. 

Source: Onshape

These high standards are evident in the chart above. Based on the responses, the top areas of concern for hardware companies revolve around processes in product design, such as product data management, collaboration, and communication. This can be seen below.

Source: Onshape

2. “Time is money,” and it’s being wasted  

The concern companies have around their design processes boil down to one problem: wasted time. The expressions, “time is money” or “time is of the essence,” ring too true for hardware teams who have to keep up with growing customer expectations. 

When keeping up with tight deadlines and increased need for productivity, hardware teams are focused on reducing time spent on non-engineering tasks like managing product data, resolving IT issues, and communicating with colleagues in meetings or through emails. 

Source: Onshape

With so many different areas to lose time in as seen in the graphic above, it’s a wonder that hardware teams aren’t facing more design delays, which wreak havoc on design cycles and schedules, brand reputation, and budgets. But there’s good news: problems listed above (accessing CAD program files, locating correct design data, unproductive meetings, data loss, etc.) can be tackled with cloud-based tools, centralized version control systems, and more collaborative engineering workflows. 

3. Impacts of the Pandemic

Hitting the world almost two years ago, the Covid-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down — and the hardware development industry is no exception. With the pandemic forcing teams to remote work models, inefficient teams are unable to produce results in a timely manner. 

So, how do teams become efficient in the face of such unfamiliar challenges? Collaboration tools! As seen below, when asked about their highest priority capabilities, 63% of respondents cited wanting team members to collaborate remotely, followed by seamless design product data management. Engineers want to access 3D CAD files for design reviews right from the comfort of their homes. 

Source: Onshape

The need for better engineering collaboration and tools that facilitate remote work are a result of the pandemic's widespread effects and hardware’s growing teams, which can include manufacturers, suppliers, MechEs, EEs, and software engineers. As stated earlier, companies are increasingly focused on customer needs and are now more commonly utilizing consulting firms for fresh perspectives — underscoring the need for accessible collaboration in product design.

4. The big debate: WFH, hybrid, or in-person?

While the pandemic has introduced obstacles to efficient working in hardware development, many have enjoyed the changes brought about. Millennial and Gen Z engineers especially value the work flexibility that being remote allows. Similarly, those with 0-10 years of experience in hardware development are more willing to adopt new tools and workflows compared to those with 20 years of experience. 

This can be seen in the results below. Engineers with over 20 years of experience, on average, rate their companies higher in categories revolving around remote procedures and product data management, engineering collaboration, and work flexibility. 

Source: Onshape

Work flexibility is an important factor in productivity; more efficient teams are able to have better work flexibility. By supporting their employees' preferences and setting up structures and workflows that enable efficient remote work, the most productive companies place high values on flexible work hours and work styles.

5. Software and Hardware: Working in Tandem

In the ever-competitive landscape of hardware development, products are becoming more and more complex. Product complexity and functionality have become expected by customers. 

This means that hardware and software teams are working in parallel more often than ever. For example, the number of IoT products have grown by a multitude of 15 from 800 million devices in 2010 to 11.7 billion in 2020. 

But the interdependence between hardware engineers and software developers comes with challenges. The iterative process and cycle differ vastly between the two, which means that working together can be tedious and difficult. This underscores the importance of engineering collaboration and easy data access identified by engineers in the earlier sections. 

Source: Instrumental

Stay tuned on our next post on areas of improvement in product and hardware development!