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Hardware Development: Where to Improve?

As more startups and crowdfunded products challenge established hardware companies, we’re constantly seeing new, innovative products brought to market. Technology is moving faster than ever, and the hardware industry is no exception. 

But what about the people behind the tech? Engineering and product design teams know full well that success in hardware development requires quick thinking, efficient workflows, and streamlined processes. Yet OnShape’s 2021 study on product and hardware development saw engineers consistently report similar limitations and challenges in their workflows.

As seen in the word cloud below, hardware companies faced both technical and more general work problems. For example, leaders found their teams lacking in communication, engineering collaboration, access and management, while also identifying issues with design and engineering tools like 3D CAD, PDM (product data management), and PLM (product lifecycle management) software. 

Source: Onshape

While hardware development teams recognized problems in multiple areas, companies were most concerned with general work processes. They commonly prioritized communication, data management, and collaboration as opposed to more technical or engineering-specific tools. The chart below lists the pain points identified in OnShape’s study in order of its importance. Most of the priorities identified by hardware engineers revolve around team workflows and efficiency. 

Source: Onshape

The top five most prioritized areas of improvement for product and design teams are:

  1. Better communication, visibility, and clarity early on in the hardware development process
  2. Data management and reduced version control errors
  3. More accessible design data
  4. Earlier collaboration with external and extended teams

These top priorities for engineers go hand in hand. With earlier communication between product teams, stakeholders, and external collaborators, mistakes can be caught before too much damage is done. This saves time and bandwidth. Similarly, increased accessibility around design data eliminates wasted time when engineers search for data or sit in meetings with collaborators. 

This focus on creating workflows and processes that foster innovation and creativity makes sense with increased competition and higher customer expectations for hardware. Now more than ever, hardware companies need to move quickly and efficiently when working on new products. And they see better workflows as the way to do so.

By centering efforts around earlier engineering collaboration and more accessible data, leaders can free up team bandwidth and get more eyes on designs. Engineering bandwidth is especially important when aiming for shorter design cycles.

Harvard Business Review found that companies are unable to adjust to market needs if the iterative process is too prolonged. This happens when engineers have too much on their plates. Project tasks pile up, delaying design reviews and feedback from relevant parties. The graph below shows that as engineering utilization increases from 80% to 99% , waiting times for other projects double.

Source: Harvard Business Review

Delayed feedback is detrimental in today's world where customers have countless options to choose from. In fact, product development teams need to weigh customer and market trends more than ever. Feedback from external and extended team members like manufacturers, suppliers, stakeholders, and subject matter experts are especially crucial here. That's why making communication easier, collaboration earlier, and data more accessible is at the top of hardware companies' priorities.

Stay tuned for next week's blog post on wasted time during hardware development, and what to do about it.