Today, electronics product and design companies face the challenge of maintaining differentiation in a maturing and increasingly sophisticated market. They also face the need to protect product intellectual property (IP) in a globalized design and manufacturing environment, where hardware can be reverse-engineered as fast as new products can be produced. Companies today must find new and better ways of approaching the design problem. As a result, many engineers find themselves in the position of having to take on different roles within the design landscape in order to move up the value chain and remain relevant into the future.
Designers are increasingly constrained by the traditional silo approach, where specialist hardware and software engineers work in virtual isolation. This model isn't sustainable anymore as the world becomes more interconnected and designs move into the soft design realm. To support innovation and sustainable product differentiation into the future, traditional industry specializations must be replaced with more "value-added" design strategies.
What then is going to give us the most realizable design value? To answer this, we need to take a fresh look at the design process as a whole: why these need to link to other external design processes (such as mechanical design, and the supply chain) and why electronics design processes need to unify. In short, we, as designers, have to move up the design value chain.
Technologies that create and maintain innovation leadership in light of global connectivity are the first link in the design value chain. Next-generation product designs harness the power of connectivity, driving the ability of companies to offer "value-added" services and features in ways that were not possible before, and to larger audiences. Mobile communications, navigational and pocket devices are just the initial wave of largely cut-down versions of their laptop and desktop cousins, increasingly connected through the ubiquitous internet. Their potential isn't even completely realized, yet the drive for using these technologies has never been greater.
Technologies that deliver on the increased need for device intelligence which creates real product differentiation are the next link in the design value chain. It's not enough anymore to rely on bringing products to market faster and managing complexity. Designs are not based solely on hardware as the boundaries between hardware and software become increasingly blurred. Reconfigurable hardware platforms are further driving the momentum for redefining the electronic development paradigm and account for an increasing interest in "soft design." A soft approach has serious advantages over traditional design methods such as more complete design synchronization and design reuse.
Lastly, what is needed to make the development process easier is the last link in the value chaina unified approach to electronic design. A unified approach fits easily into the new world order, breaking down traditional barriers and giving designers flexibility to create products in new ways that can make the most out of concurrent design processes. A unified approach allows designers to focus on higher-level applications, and reuse both their existing work and third-party technology without sacrificing innovation or increasing design times. By moving away from disparate tools based on outdated and fragmented work flows, designers can instead focus on creating the next generation of electronic designs, translating their design value into an actual return on business investment.
Real market differentiation is ultimately achieved by following a value chain that delivers the connectivity, unique behavior and functions in today's products, and using an approach that is sustainable long-term. In this highly competitive industry where leadership innovation is critical, we don't need to know the future; we only need to change our thinking in the present about the way we design and recognize existing trends. The decision then for designers becomes one of either waiting for market drivers to push you to the next link in the design value chain, or taking the incentive to pull yourself ahead.
Marcelle Douglas is technical marketing at Altium. She holds a graduate degree in computer science from National University, San Diego, Calif. Douglas has more than 12 years of experience in electronics design and engineering.