The Role of Engineers in the Product Development Lifecycle
Engineers play vital roles throughout the lifecycle of a product. According to a report by Sandia National Labs, the following basic phases are involved in a PDLC:
Manufacturing/Development (for hardware products and software products respectively)
Use and Maintenance
The requirements phase of a PDLC involves collating market data to justify the need for a new product and developing the preliminary specifications accordingly.
It’s at this stage that engineers work with market research analysts, finance people, and top-level management to determine the project’s justification (i.e. the problem that the product idea solves), its market feasibility, and its cost requirements from start to finish. Product specifications may include technical requirements, manufacturing guidelines or testing procedures.
For both hardware and software products, the design phase of a PDLC brings together engineers and designers to create several prototypes of the product (which can be software-based). Working together with product designers, the professionals flesh out the details for product components, functionality, and physical dimensions. Software/hardware configurations and manual operations are also established at this point.
For an electronic product, electronics engineers may work with software engineers via shared workflows on collaboration software, such as Atlassian. Using CAD tools such as Simulink, electrical engineers can model, simulate, and test several working models and generate production-ready codes to be deployed on embedded processors, field-programmable gate arrays, and more.
A snapshot of the manufacturing process needed for printed circuit boards. Image credit: Unsplash.
The manufacturing/software development stage is when the final product design is implemented. For physical products, tools and machines are utilised to fabricate products from raw materials on a pilot or commercial scale.
For software products, coding is carried out to produce an executable software, which carries out the intended function of the design. The source code for the product is either protected with digital property rights or released to the public as open-source software.
Before the final product is delivered to consumers, extensive testing is carried out on the existing prototype for quality assurance purposes and the overall compliance with industry standards.
Testing is critical to ascertain the functionality and performance of new products. Software products will be scanned for errors and security vulnerabilities in the source code, while physical products will be checked for manufacturing defects. In this phase, an engineer may work with third-party quality assurance/quality control professionals to verify that the finished products meet acceptable standards for quality (such as the IEC and ISO 9001 standards).
Distribution is the stage when the newly-released products reach the final consumers. It involves packaging, warehousing, and sales of physical or software products via digital or physical channels.
For example, electronic components are sold through distributors like Digi-Key and Mouser. Clients will usually place orders on such websites for several units of products at a time. During this phase of the PDLC, engineers will work alongside product managers, supply-chain professionals, salespeople, etc. to effectively distribute the products across the market.
Use and Maintenance
It’s at this stage that the final consumers actively utilise the finished hardware or software products. As every product is prone to failure during use, many companies provide after-sales support to their clients.
The role of the engineer at this point can involve technical support and remote incident resolution for challenges that may come up (even when the products are used correctly).
Maintenance operations include corrective maintenance and enhancement maintenance: corrective maintenance involves troubleshooting and error detection and mitigation, whereas enhancement maintenance sees engineers work with software/product designers on newer iterations of the product (i.e. upgrades) which can be obtained over-the-air or manually, via physical storage units. For hardware products, companies may mandate their engineers to make repairs at subsidised rates (or for free), if the products are still within the warranty period.
Disposal involves the decommissioning or removal of products that have reached the end of their useful lives. For hardware products, this can mean disassembly, recycling, or destruction; and uninstallation or deletion in the case of software products. (Porting user data from legacy to newer software can also be considered a disposal method.)
A group of professionals working together around a table. Image credit: Unsplash.
Collaborating with Others in a Product Development Lifecycle
Electrical engineers work with engineers from other disciplines and non-technical professionals across several industries. Whatever their duties in such teams, they need to be able to collaborate and communicate effectively with other professionals to achieve a shared goal.
Data silos exist where vital information relating to product development is domiciled in the relevant engineering department—and unavailable to the rest of the organisation in question. To bridge communication gaps between teams, data and digital tools must be relevant and accessible to all parties concerned.
After all, effective communication between engineers and other professionals involved in a project is a great way to achieve the level of cooperation required to drive innovation.