Take the 2-minute tour ×
Electrical Engineering Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for electronics and electrical engineering professionals, students, and enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

This question I have mainly has to deal with approaching an electronics company with just a working Arduino Nano prototype.

Say I want an electronics component manufactured which consists of an Arduino Nano microcontroller, some RGB LEDs, and a thermocouple.

The device works as follows:

The thermocouple will detect the temperature of an applied heat source, and will change the color of the RGB LEDs accordingly. Basically for below 200 degrees Celsius, the leds will turn blue, at 200 they turn green and above 200 they turn red. I have a working prototype built with an Arduino Nano, but I want it massed produced for a vaporizer that I am developing.

Is there a way for me to take just this prototype to an electronics company and get a product that can be mass produced? Also what will be the cost of doing this sort of thing? Will I have to use a program like eagle, or can I just show them the prototype that I created and give them the dimensions of the device?

The best case scenario for me is if I can approach a company, tell them what I want and how small I want it to be made, so I can fit it into the vaporizer. How much money would it cost to specifically do this?

share|improve this question
1  
Why do you want to make a custom IC, as opposed to having a microcontroller programmed to do the job? A custom IC will be less flexible and 'set in stone' (or silicon) once you get it made. If it is worth copying, having it is silicon will hardly slow down anyone who cares. This probably requires a 20 to 30 cent microcontroller in good volume. Maybe less. Is your product cost sensitive enough that you need lower cost than that? –  Russell McMahon Jul 15 at 8:44
add comment

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

If you don't have any in-house engineering resources, or if you want to hire out all of the engineering design work, use a "turnkey contract manufacturing service". This type of service is always more expensive than regular contract manufacturing service where the engineering design work has already been done. Typically these turnkey contract manufacturers also handle regular contract manufacturing, so regardless of how you arrive at a design, they will produce it in volume.

However... this request is not quite as simple as "making a custom PCB based on Arduino Nano to a smaller form factor to fit inside your vaporizer's enclosure", and then producing at full volume. The vaporizer has temperatures hotter than melting point of silicon, so heat management is part of the design requirements.

When the printed circuit board is redesigned to fit the smaller form factor for your application, there will be less copper area, so you may find the board runs hotter than your full-size Arduino Nano prototype board running in open air outside the vaporizer's enclosure. FET manufacturers such as International Rectifier typically use a square inch of open copper area to act as a substrate heat sink. Your application may not be dissipating as much power, but may be operating in a higher ambient temperature environment (inside an enclosure, next to a 200C heat chamber). Be careful to get as low a thermal resistance to ambient (theta-JA) as you can, while staying insulated from the high temperature chamber.

Have you tested the prototype board operating at the temperature you expect inside the case enclosure? I assume the Arduino board itself is not inside the 200C heat chamber, since it would melt. But even so, your prototype board may require industrial- or extended-temperature-grade components (-40C..+85C or 0C..+125C) to withstand operation on a smaller board, inside an insulated enclosure, next to a 200C heat chamber. Not only the main ICs but also the connectors, capacitors, resistors, solder, wire, even the PCB material itself must be checked for high-temperature operation in a bill-of-materials review. This is not the most exciting part of engineering work, but it does need to be done.

You don't mention how you manage the thermocouple cold junction compensation in your design. This could behave differently once the prototype board is trimmed to the new size and operating inside the enclosure. Any errors in cold junction compensation will affect the absolute accuracy of the reported temperature.

You don't mention how much temperature hysteresis or error band is needed for the 200C green indicator light. It's also unclear to me whether there is an existing control loop regulating the vaporizer's temperature chamber. If not, you may want to consider bringing out "too hot" / "too cold" signals from your Arduino. Control loops aren't trivial, but since you're already adding a versatile microcontroller board, the incremental development cost would be manageable. You may even think about whether you might want to re-use your new small form-factor custom Arduino board in subsequent vaporizer designs -- do yourself a favor and keep as many spare, uncommitted I/O pins as you can manage. Could be helpful for diagnostics and debugging once inside the enclosure.

The engineering work involved in a project like this is not trivial. You will need someone who can deal with printed circuit board design and thermocouple cold junction compensation. Integrating the board with your product's enclosure is crucial. If you can spare a working vaporizer unit, that would be helpful to an engineering contractor to ensure the board fits and the thermal issues get sorted. There's enough complication I can see already from here; don't plan on taking this straight into high volume production right away. Instead, try building a few more prototypes with small form factor board design, and verify that the performance is satisfactory before going to full production volume. The last thing you want is to blow your budget building 10,000 "prototypes" that don't work.

share|improve this answer
    
The main IC is the easy part; AVRs are speced for 125, and some variants can work at 150. –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jul 15 at 5:30
    
I forgot to mention that there is a separate thermistor as well which gives a baseline temperature. This separate thermistor gives a ambient temperature for the thermocouple to base its values off of. All of this stuff by the way is well away from the heat source, and is separated by 2 inches of solid insulation. So what are these turn key companies values at? above or below 50 thousand dollars? Very solid answer by the way! –  user49367 Jul 16 at 0:31
    
Google "turnkey contract manufacturing service" plus your zip code, select three to five of those companies, and then contact them directly to request quotes. Hopefully all the details from this thread will help you give a detailed scope of the request, that they can accurately quote price and delivery time. But the specific dollar cost answer you're looking for can only come from talking to technical sales representatives, and the answer depends on the scope of the request, volume, and the delivery time. Good luck! –  MarkU Jul 16 at 3:11
add comment

Depends on how deep your pockets are. If you're willing to spend a lot then you can hire engineers and designers to create your product from scratch. You tell them to jump, and they'll ask "How high?".

On the other hand, spending some time with EDA and 3D modeling tools will save you a lot of money. You can then talk with your board service, assembler, and machinist as to how the pieces fit together and they'll deliver anything from bare PCBs and empty cases to a full, working product.

And then there's the homebrew route. You can go all the way to doing the reflow and machining yourself and not have to pay anyone else, but manufacture will be slow and the initial investment can be high.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Is there a way for me to take just this prototype to an electronics company and get a product that can be mass produced?

Yes. But...

What will be the cost of doing this sort of thing?

For the most part, prohibitive to exorbitant.

Will I have to use a program like eagle, or can I just show them the prototype that I created and give them the dimensions of the device?

Taking a rough idea of a product means that they will charge you for development, redevelopment, testing, etc. And that's just for the electronics. We arn't even talking about the rest of the product, from the casing, to the safety certifications, to packaging.

The best case scenario for me is if I can approach a company, tell them what I want and how small I want it to be made, so I can fit it into the vaporizer. How much money would it cost to specifically do this?

Specifically, noone except those companies can tell you. And that's actually your worst case. Your best case is doing the rough work yourself, and then getting a finished product manufactured.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.