By Anthony J. Lockwood
Dear Desktop Engineering Reader:
Nothing is ever easy. Think new car buying. You can go to a dealer and customize a car by picking from a menu of the options you want, paying through the nose for the privilege and waiting months to get the car. Or you can buy an in-stock car with its installed options package and drive off the lot the same day. The problem with the latter is that the one option you want is, without fail, bundled with six (costly) features you would not buy otherwise. With the former, you have just what you wanted, but a great expense and great delay. Which is your right choice? Chances are, your answer comes down to money.
Now, extrapolate that scenario to embedded system design: Do you custom design your system, grab something off the shelf, or mix and match custom and off-the-shelf components?
Oy. That’s a little more tricky. Money is just one of the key considerations along with technological innovation. And some parts of your design should be custom and others need not. The custom design means you can tailor your embedded system to your exact requirements, but you can expect unexpected costs and delays if you make any design changes, which surely you will. Using off-the-shelf components means faster design and validation cycles, but, then again, you get increased cost of goods sold and unnecessary features might just haunt you. How do you determine what’s custom and what’s off the shelf to maximize resources and contain costs?
And that is the subject of today’s Check It Out, sponsored by National Instruments. This is a two-parter. First, there is a 10-page white paper called "Build Versus Buy: Understanding the Total Cost of Embedded Design." This is an excellent, thorough read that goes through the pros and cons of both the design-it-yourself approach and the use off-the-shelf tools approach. It questions assumptions about the two approaches, explains the hidden costs to watch out for, and it discusses a hybrid approach, where you mix some custom design with off-the-shelf components.
One of the things that makes this interesting is that the discussion is based on customer information and data on some of the cost differences between the two approaches. Another is that says flat out "if the return on investment of the engineering cost incurred in product development is justified by eventual profits, then you have made a good decision." Yes, the paper ends up speaking about NI’s LabVIEW and other tools for embedded design prototyping, but it’s a soft sell.
But what really makes this sing is that you do not have to take anyone’s word for anything. Part 2 of today’s Check It Out is a nifty online calculator. The Graphical System Design Calculator is an online tool that helps you understand the financial benefits and trade-offs between using off-the-shelf products and traditional custom design tools.
So, check out the white paper and the calculator from the link over there. Good stuff.
Thanks, pal. — Lockwood
Anthony J. Lockwood
Editor at Large, Desktop Engineering