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40 DESIGN007 MAGAZINE I MARCH 2023 improves education for students with special needs, and enhances transportation safety. To support their innovations, we have to innovate as well. New devices oen demand more from designers because of complex functionality, unique environmental tolerances, or extreme constraints on board size. The Road Ahead We must be forward-thinking about how we can serve technology innovators. If PCB manufacturers don't keep an eye on where today's trends will lead, we may not have the knowledge and tools needed to support an innovator's vision. Was limited board function- ality the difference between the iPod and the Zune? Probably not, but the margin between a multi-billion-dollar success and infamy can be razor thin. Over the years, we've seen products become great successes, unmitigated failures, and everything in between. Projects will struggle to get out of the drawing phase without solid market research, product validation, patent searches, prototyping, product feedback, and iterative improvement. Innovating is hard work and developing a product that will be successful in the market is challenging—but not impossible. Sometimes the first prototype evolves into a marketable product, and when innovators really endeavor to think outside the rectangle, they create something special. Countless oth- ers simply don't have the patience for innova- tion, and their ideas never make it out of the concept phase. To increase the chances of an idea becoming a profitable product, you must do the legwork: Figure out and really understand what peo- ple want or need, try to ascertain how many of them there are, and determine if there are other products or patents that already satisfy this need. e tech community is a big, open place. Peo- ple like to share ideas, so talk to them. Today's stranger might be tomorrow's colleague. Don't be afraid to pull the plug if the research is not showing that there is a viable market for the product. I have seen many examples of a prod- uct going to market and failing because the inventor was convinced that it was a home run and ignored all the signs pointing to a bust. Taking the Leap Once you have done your research and plan- ning and have determined that you have a good idea, next comes the fun (and the cash invest- ment): Building the prototype. Preparation and research are also vital in this phase. Even if you are building a prototype in your shop using pieces from existing products, it is wise to know beforehand if and where you can get what you need for future production runs. Do your homework on materials suppli- ers, PCB manufacturers, and assembly part- ners. Designing a product is one thing, but noth- ing is more rewarding than seeing it trans- form into something tangible for people to touch, feel, and interact with. e feedback from those interactions with members of the target market can inform modifications to the product before undertaking larger production runs. e more your potential customers can see, touch, and experience your prototype, the better the feedback you will get, and the bet- ter the end product will be. is may take time and several iterations, but it will ultimately be worth the effort. So, go be an innovator. Make cool things, invent the next biggest gadget, solve a prob- lem, design a PCB—but don't forget to think ahead and do your research to avoid common pitfalls. DESIGN007 Matt Stevenson is vice presi- dent at Sunstone Circuits. To read past columns, click here. Download The Printed Circuit Designer's Guide to... Designing for Reality by Matt Stevenson.

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