In his series of articles for hardware startups, in this edition the author covers the importance of hardware architecture design and how not doing a proper architecture design will lead to trouble. To make the issue clear he has used a real-life example, which he handled recently, for better understanding.
When we build a house, typically we do not go to design the house straightaway. We first get the architect’s help to get an outline of the house (now-a-days a 3D rendering of the house) and get all the needed features addressed before we move to the next stage of planning or creating a house plan drawing. Similarly, creating an electronic product calls for basic architecture design before the detailed design is done. A successful design needs properly designed architecture followed by good circuit design.
But for this you need experience and depth of knowledge to design the architecture before starting the implementation of the design. What I have observed in the recent times is that, once the team freezes the decision to design a product, they start off with the circuit design, which leads to issues. Some of the critical issues I have seen are:
- Low performance of the product against requirement
- Increased cost of product
- Issues when working in different environments
- Difficulty in product upgrades
Designing architecture of the product first helps in a robust product. When you do an architecture design, you should not worry about what components you would use, and you should worry about only the functionality of the product. Once architecture is done, implementing the design becomes easier.
Second riskier tendency is getting fixated on ‘technology’ and customise the design for using the technology. Many a times I have heard startup founders telling me, “Sir, the microcontroller is good, so we are designing a product based on that.” But this fallacy leads only to trouble later. As the saying goes, you should buy the right size shoes and not cut the leg for the shoe you like!
The architecture becomes most critical when you design medical devices, avionics, and industrial devices, all of which have safety as the main criterion. Since these are regulated industries (a central agency will approve your product finally), architecture design and fail-safe analysis is critical as review of these designs are a must.
Most designers do not understand the benefits of developing an architecture before they start the design. Advantages of designing the architecture first helps in a product with the following:
- Predictable performance meeting the needs
- Simpler design to manufacture and low cost
- Easy to support and upgrade in future
By the way, designing an architecture is not a rocket science. It just needs basic idea of decomposing a product functions into individual parts and create individual blocks to address those functions.
Why architecture is critical
A well architected product is robust and performs as per the specifications. This effectively results in a successful product with a long life. Remember, for a product to have a long life (medical devices, avionics, and industrial devices), following are important:
- Performance throughout their long life
- System should have resources to meet future requirements
- Reliable and can be upgraded