The 5 Key Engineering Domain Experts you need for your IoT Product Initiative

by | Jan 31, 2020

The difficulty in building and launching an IoT product is that the engineering domains required span the gamut across hardware, software, cloud, manufacturing, supply chain, design, security, among others. There are very, very few “Renaissance” engineers that are experts in all of these areas. In fact, most companies don’t have expertise in all of these areas.

However, to be successful with your IoT initiative, getting the right team members lined up from the beginning is critical. You don’t need to have experts in all of these areas, but there are at least 5 areas that you will need domain experts as part of your team. Whether you plan to assemble your IoT team as only internal employees, to leverage external contractors, or to hire a specialized services firm, you will maximize your chances of success if you ensure early on that you have stakeholders responsible for each of the following disciplines:
  1. Embedded Firmware
    Embedded firmware engineers develop, validate, and document the software that runs on the IoT devices. Embedded firmware engineers will typically be developing in C or C++ (though an increasing number of IoT devices now are running Python or Linux). The embedded firmware engineer will be responsible for implementing all device software functionality, optimizing for efficiency, and coding to the applicable security standards.
  2. Electrical Engineering
    Electrical engineers design the circuitry that will power and control the IoT product. An IoT electrical engineer should be capable of doing early stage PoC (Proof of Concept) prototyping on a breadboard, designing functional prototype PCBs, performing validation “bring-up” testing on these prototype PCBs, and DFMing (Designing for Manufacturing) a functional prototype design into a PCB that is ready for high volume manufacturing. IoT electrical engineers need to be comfortable with wireless designs and know how to design products that incorporate radiative antennas. In most applications, IoT electrical engineers don’t need to be deep RF gurus but in an application where a custom antenna will be designed then RF expertise is a must.
  3. Mechanical Engineering
    Mechanical engineers design the physical enclosure and functioning of the IoT device. This entails how all the pieces physically fit together, and how the device interfaces with other devices (or the end users). An IoT mechanical engineer should be capable of building out physical prototypes of early designs for testing. In addition to the mechanical components of the product, the mechanical engineer is also responsible for designing the wire harness and cable connectors for the product. After the prototyping stages, the mechanical engineer will need to prepare the designs to be able to be manufactured efficiently in high volume production processes.
  4. Manufacturing Expert
    The manufacturing expert really comes into the fold as you begin moving from a functional PoC or prototype to preparing for high volume production, though it fast tracks a project to get your manufacturing expert involved as early as possible. Do not wait until you have a completely functional prototype and are ready to get started with high-volume manufacturing to find a manufacturing expert. Pull them in at the prototyping stages so that you can begin making decisions that will optimize your manufacturing efforts and costs early on. The IoT manufacturing expert will oversee things like which vendors you use in your supply chain, negotiate prices with component vendors and manufacturers, obtain certifications with regulatory agencies (such as FCC or UL), and manage your production ramp-up schedule.
  5. Product Quality Expert
    The fastest way to lose customers’ favor is to ship them products that don’t work. The product quality expert oversees quality control of your production. There are a number of quality control processes: incoming quality control (IQC = testing raw parts before using them to build the product); outgoing quality control (OQC = testing the completed product before shipping it); and in-process quality control (IPQC = testing various phase gates of the production process). There are also multiple quality tests that are performed spanning SQC (statistical quality control), REL testing (Reliability, Environment, and Lifecycle testing), etc. A product quality expert will understand how and when to set up these various tests to ensure a balance of supply chain efficiency and product quality.
Other Domains
Assigning stakeholders in your IoT team to be the leads for each of these disciplines is critical to a successful development initiative.

Admittedly, the above list is hardware-centric in focus. Depending on your specific initiative, there are other domains of expertise that you may require. These domains include:
  • Software / Cloud / Mobile development
  • Data management
  • Security engineering
  • Program management
  • Industrial design
  • Plastics tooling and molding design
  • UI/UX design
  • Data science
  • Marketing
Building an IoT product is a complex undertaking, but making sure that you have the right stakeholders to manage the key domains early on will ensure the process runs smoothly.
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