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Hardware is growing these days. According to Bolt VC blog, hardware industry is the fastest growing sector in the market, with investment up 30x since 2010. The number of new manufacturing companies is growing, It was enabled for new manufacturing technologies for prototyping, affordable electronic, global communication and new types of finance available for startups.
At the same time, hardware is still very hard and you can find many articles online speaking about challenges of hardware development from prototyping to mass manufacturing. GigaOM article – Three Challenges the Hardware Industry Faces in 2016 sheds some lights into what important for hardware startups. One of the challenges – absence of tools dedicated to hardware startups. Here is an interesting passage:
One of the key factors that has contributed to massive growth in the hardware sector is an increase in the number of tools available to hardware companies for prototyping and development.
We asked companies which tools they leverage in the development of their products and saw that 91% of companies use 3D printing, 58% use Breadboards, 51% use Arduino, and much more. (Honorable mention goes out to the tried-and-true duct tape, used by 46% of survey takers!)
On the design side of things, there are a large variety of CAD programs available, but according to our results, Solidworks still reigns supreme, used by 70% of our survey takers.
While there’s been a big uptick in the number of tools available, we need to continue to teach a wider audience how to use these tools most effectively. Arduino and Adafruit, for example, are doing a fantastic job educating people on the electronics side, Dragon Innovation is teaching young companies how to work with manufacturers in China, and on our blog we’re educating engineers and designs on how to prototype on the mechanical side of things.
However, access to tools is not enough to make a successful hardware company—we need to document and decodify the knowledge around how to best use these tools and manufacture products at scale.
In one of my earlier blogs, I discussed the topic – what is the best CAD tool for hardware startups? You can read article here and it raised many questions and comments online and offline.
CAD vendors are paying attention to hardware startups these days. Few links I already mentioned earlier – from Autodesk, Onshape and Solidworks – Solidworks for entrepreneurs; Autodesk Fusion360 is free for startups; why Onshape is the best CAD for hardware startups.
One of the missing links from my previous blog was related to Siemens PLM / SolidEdge solution, which is also positioning to provide solution to hardware startups. Navigate to the article by Lab Machinist and reference provided to SolidEdge here.
So, what about PLM tools? I raised few questions about use of PLM tools by hardware startups in one of my blog posts – PLM for kickstarter projects.
PLM vendors are interested in hardware companies and I’ve seen signs about that from online activities and events. Few interesting references – Assessing the startup experience with Autodesk PLM360. The following blog post is mentioning Arena Solution startup offering.
The obvious solution for many hardware companies is Excel and spreadsheets. Here are few slides I captured during PI Congress in Boston last year during the presentation made by hardware startup Excellims explaining how they managed items and bill of materials using spreadsheets. Engineering.com article is using Excellims as a reference use case to use PLM360.
What is my conclusion? Manufacturing is changing. Hardware is a new software these days. There is an incredible potential in hardware companies building new innovative products. There are better tools and technologies for prototyping. Community around these companies is getting stronger. But there are so many missing tools and we are still far away before hardware development can be accessible to everyone. Just my thoughts…
Disclosure: I’m co-founder and CEO or openBoM – new cloud-based BoM management tool for manufacturing companies and startups.