Product Delivery Resources

Agile Methodologies are Revolutionizing Hardware Design and Manufacturing

Melissa Tatham | February 6, 2017

It is no secret that Agile methodologies have changed the way software teams organize and have had an even greater impact on the speed and flexibility of the product cycle. In the old days, software was developed in silos between independent teams and put together at the very end. This resulted in clunky, redundant programs that had many errors that had to be reworked. Early versions of Microsoft Windows with tens of millions of lines of extra code is the classic example of a poor development process.

Today, Agile software development has taken over. Agile teams build their products in concert with one another and have visibility into everyone’s progress. Feedback is constant and any problems or duplications are discovered before the product is ready to launch. That allows a much more elegant product to emerge in a much shorter amount of time.

Most people associate the Agile method as a practice followed by software teams. This is changing thanks in large part to the overwhelming market for smart, connected products. Case in point, look at the automotive industry. It’s no secret that it is undergoing a revolution. Between radical technological innovation, new safety standards and shifting consumer attitudes, manufacturers must rethink and adjust their strategy. These changes have made automotive development much more complicated, forcing design teams to understand these complexities and adapt, adhering to new safety regulations such as ISO 26262, and prove compliance. As a result, there is a far greater need to use modern tools and technology to further evolve how they align teams, verify functional safety and ensure they are building the right products.

Applying Agile development to hardware requires a few basic parameters. First, everyone needs to be on the same team to see plans, progress and calculate the physical effects of one part on the rest. The high-costs associated with hardware development means it is especially important to have transparency. Altering a product once the architectural decisions are completed does not mean erasing a few bits of code and rewriting them. Instead, you are in the world of atoms and you may have to order new parts, apply heat to weld or add more microchips. All these add expenses and end up affecting the final price, and impact your bottom line. Applying Agile development processes will inevitably lower the price for hardware devices and result in more profit for the companies or lower prices for end consumers.

Hardware Agile development includes seven steps, as software Agile development does. Yet, the process is slightly different. Hardware Agile development starts with a design interface and moves on to a low functionality emulator. That is followed by a medium and finally high functioning emulator for the team to see. There are two layers of full functionality prototypes and finally a fully integrated testable device. The team shares an open platform to get to the product they are seeking.

The manufacturing process itself has also improved by leaps and bounds in recent years. Ever since Motorola developed its Six Sigma standard, companies have endeavored to upgrade their manufacturing speed, quality and accuracy while reducing price. Agile development is the next stage in this process as all team members can contribute to productivity improvements on the manufacturing line.