Looking for engineering resources?

07/10/2020

technology systems

written by | David Stokes Principal & Director of Technology Systems

As you know, it can be challenging to find good engineers and the risk of not finding anyone suitable or getting someone who is not up to the job, can be costly to your company and delay you getting your product to market.

When should you consider utilising external resources?

For the sake of this discussion, let’s consider the hardware used inside a physical product, ie: electronics, embedded/firmware, etc. 

Where external resources can be very useful:

  • For a startup or small company

  • You don’t have hardware resources and can contract out the development of the hardware

  • You may have developed a prototype of your product, but you don’t have the skills to get it to the point that it is manufacturable

  • For a medium-sized company

  • Dealing with the inevitable peaks and troughs of engineering work – rather than building the hardware team up (if you can find them) to deal with the peaks and then having to let them go when you hit a trough.

  • Bringing in additional resources to supplement your own hardware team

  • Because your hardware team is already working on another project(s), have them deliver the hardware for other non-core projects. An example project could be the upgrade of legacy hardware where key components are going end-of-life

Should you engage with a contract hardware engineer or an engineering consultancy company?

If you can find a good contract hardware engineer that is available when you need them, that is fantastic – hang on tight to them as they can be hard to find. Unfortunately, it is often the case that their availability can be unreliable as it is dependent on whether they are busy on other client work (especially if they are good). 

So the benefit of working with an engineering consultancy is that as they have a bigger team, they are better resourced to deal with peaks and troughs across their multiple clients and can scale more rapidly (they often have a network of trusted contractors they can bring on as required).

Also, if you are using a contract hardware engineer, you are limited to their range of skills and experience. Whereas with a consultancy company, they have a diverse team of engineers with experience across many technologies, platforms and industries. Also, some of those engineers are more highly specialised in certain areas, so you have access to a greater depth of technical knowledge and expertise.

And when it comes to manufacturing, consultancies often have existing relationships with local and overseas contract manufactures, which takes a lot of risk out of the equation knowing that it is going to be done with reputable manufacturers.

Engineering consultancy companies will have the equipment to build and test the hardware, and can often do small production runs. Using a contract manufacturer for small runs can be costly and can’t always be done when you need it.

The other “gotcha” when developing products requiring the coordination and integration of different disciplines (eg: hardware, software, industrial/mechanical), issues more often than not happen at the interface between them. The benefit of working with a company is that they are used to working with other companies and disciplines, so potential issues can be picked up earlier before they become a problem.

Continuity and Consistency of using an Engineering Consultancy

When engaging your product development – it is important to think about the life cycle of your product. The bulk of your hardware and firmware design is down at the start of product development.

When setup well, you will see a shift on your technical load as the project enters production. Hardware design will drop-off (hopefully for 5 years) and firmware can slow down – with new features usually added using over the air updates.

Because of this – it is hard to keep a contractor or an internal employed team busy throughout the product lifecycle. This is where using an engineering consultancy is beneficial. The consultancy will have a team of engineers who can be available to work on the project when you need them. When not needed, the consultancy will continue offering their services to other customers and are more likely to be available when you need to approach them in 5 to 10 years time when it is time for a hardware revision.

 A good example of this in action is the electronics and software consultancy FlexWare. They have been working with teams to support the development of many hardware and firmware projects for nearly fifteen years. They have been assisting with development cycling with a prominent NZ exporter and have seen the entire internal engineering team changes three times.

What about cost ("the elephant in the room")?

When you first look at the hourly rates of external resources/companies, they may be more expensive than hiring someone directly.

But turn it around: what is the cost of not using an external resource/company?

I’ve already mentioned a number of points above:

  • The cost of hiring someone for a peak, then having to let them go in a trough

  • The cost of delays to your project because you don’t have sufficient resources

  • The cost of design issues due to the lack of expertise and interfaces with other disciplines

  • The opportunity cost of not having a product/upgrade to replace a product that can no longer be sold/supported because of end-of-life components

  • The cost of using a poor/unreliable contract manufacturer

In fact, even putting all of that to one side, the cost of contracting out the hardware development can be less because they don’t need to design it from scratch. The consultancy may already have a sound reference design for parts of your product. That design will have been already in the field, so it will be already proven to work and refined for manufacture.

Hardware is Hard!

For those of you out there that know hardware/physical products: “hardware is hard”.

But if you use the right resources, it doesn’t need to be hard.

If you would like help finding the right electronics engineering consultancy company to support your product development, let me know. Once such company I am already working with is FlexWare, and I am happy to introduce you to them.

Also, if you have requirements for software development, mechanical/industrial design resources, reach out to me as I have an extensive network of companies I have worked with or know of.

Cheers, David

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