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Consulting & Design
Consulting and Design Services - Electronics, Firmware, Software
Rapid Product Design
Cost Effective Prototyping
Specifications Met - Guaranteed
When launching a new product, focus on what's important:
- Do market research to ensure your product solves real problems in ways people will pay for.
- Define your product to meet the needs of your market both functionally and affordably.
- Allow for at least two revisions to fine-tune and optimize your production design.
- Be close to your design partners. Keep them on the same continent, in a time-zone that is within 3 hours of yours.
- Ensure your product ideas are safe and secure using non-disclosure and non-competition agreements with your design partners.
- Market your product to reach the people who will benefit from it.
- Ensure your product is safe for those who will use it.
- Ensure your product will be produced at the lowest cost that still ensures quality and reliability.
James David Smith can help you with all your technical issues, leaving you with more time to focus on equally important marketing and sales issues. He can also provide valuable insight into how to reach and sell to niche markets.
An Initial 2-Hour Consultation is Free
A two-hour consultation at no charge provides more than enough time to sort out disclosure issues and discuss your project. From there, a consulting retainer (usually $1000) is requested to produce a written Scope of Work and Development Proposal. These documents outline a product development timeline of anywhere from several weeks to several months or even years, depending on research requirements, prior technologies, market pressures, and scheduling constraints.
Scope of Work may include the following:
- Technical product definition/description.
- Discussion of product safety and/or liability concerns, including information about safety agency submittals, agency supervision, and design revisions to meet varying safety requirements in different jurisdictions (i.e. USA, Europe, North Carolina).
- Discussion of required design disciplines and resources.
- Documentation requirements (i.e. user manuals, troubleshooting guides, flowcharts).
- Recommended manufacturing path, and estimated production costs, when design and prototyping are complete. This often includes both local and offshore contract manufacturing options (subject to change, since design work has not yet commenced).
A Development Proposal is a formal quotation for consulting, design, and prototyping services offered by James David Smith. It typically includes:
- An estimated development timeline indicating design phases, benchmarks, and costs.
- A structure of installment payments across the timeline, including a deposit amount required to begin work.
- Emphasis on benchmarks for review of progress.
- Warranties, disclaimers, limitations of liability.
Every project is different, and must be carefully and personally reviewed. There is more than one way, and often more than one effective way, to fulfill your needs. Multiple approaches must be considered, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each. A successful project begins with an experienced consultant.
Projects being developed in North Carolina may be eligible for Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) grants, and/or Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SRED) tax credits. James David Smith maintains excellent working relationships with accountants and lawyers specializing in maximizing the use of these programs. He is highly experienced in writing the technical submittals required by these programs.
Email James David Smith to discuss your project and arrange your initial free consultation.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What do I get at the end of a typical project? What am I paying for?
Specific deliverables vary from project to project. For the development of a small electronic device, the first tangible output is documentation -- a roadmap of what is to come. As soon as possible, functional prototypes are produced, but they may be larger than final production versions and may require further refinement to meet all design objectives. At the end of a successful project, deliverables often include:
- A working prototype.
- Complete technical documentation of the product design, including schematics, printed-circuit layouts, firmware listings, and parts lists.
- Electronic production files, including Gerber plots, CNC drill files, and parts placement files.
- User manuals.
- Service manuals, troubleshooting guides, and flowcharts.
- Assistance finding manufacturing partners and setting up production of the product. This includes assisting in file conversions, alternate formats, proofing of outputs, and testing/verification of first roll-out.
- Intellectual Property (IP) is often delivered electronically on CD or DVD.
What tools do you use? Are they industry-standard? Is your work compatible with other services?
James David Smith is dedicated to using the most appropriate tools for each job, with industry-standard output wherever possible. For the development of a small electronic device, the tools used may include:
- Altium Designer for schematics, FPGA design/programming, printed circuit layout and routing. Protel also assists in creating automation files, including Gerber, NC Drill, pick-and-place for assembly, etc.
- Microchip IDE for firmware development using any of Microchip's PIC12/16/17/18/dsPIC/PIC32 product line.
- If preferrable, Freescale (previously Motorola) design tools are used for software development using any of Motorola's 8, 16, or 32-bit embedded microprocessor/microcontroller products.
- Firmware is generally created in native assembly language and/or C. This may sound less "glamorous" than other high-level languages, but it is the most efficient vehicle for developing embedded code.
- Many products require some form of interface with the outside world. In this case, sample applications are developed rapidly using Microsoft Visual Studio C and/or Visual Basic.
- Calibrated and carefully maintainted test equipment by Hewlett Packard, Tektronics, and others.
- Prototype assembly equipment suitable for through-hole and surface-mount designs.
- Documentation is created using the Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Excel, etc.), Quark Xpress, Macromedia Dreamweaver (for HTML documentation), and Adobe Acrobat.
These tools are selected to be most compatible with contract manfuacturers and clients. In most cases, multiple file formats can be produced and file conversions can be fine-tuned to ensure compatibility with project partners and other parties.
Is James David Smith just one person, or is this a company?
Both! James David Smith is a real person. He will meet with you for your initial consultation, and most design processes are executed by him -- he is not a "broker". Sometimes a project requires additional expertise -- industrial design or mechanical design, for example. In these cases, Mr. Smith will introduce capable associates. He can also work with consultants, vendors, and suppliers of your choice.
Projects are invoiced by Soundsculpture Incorporated, a corporation owned and controlled by James David Smith. Soundsculpture also operates www.theatrewireless.com, and has been incorporated since 1984.
What about warranties or guarantees?
Projects proceed one step at a time, with clear milestones to ensure things stay on track. Overall viability is considered from the onset, and working prototypes are developed as early as possible. James David Smith has never accepted a project he was unable to complete as originally specified.
We guarantee that all documentation and assembly files will be complete, ensuring you have everything required to produce your product. We guarantee to meet the product specification as determined at the beginning of a project. We warrant that all design work is original, never plagiarized.
What about patents, copyrights, etc?
If your product may be patentable, we can provide your patent lawyer with all necessary technical detail to assist in preparing patent applications. James David Smith does not offer patent searching or preparation of patent applications. He has worked with several reputable patent lawyers and is happy to recommend someone if required.
All designs, drawings, descriptions, and firmware/software listings are copyrighted. When you have paid in full, copyright is transferred to you.
We cannot guarantee that existing patents have not been infringed. If this is a concern for your project, we strongly recommend retaining a patent lawyer to advise you. You can search patents yourself, online, by visiting The US Trademark and Patent Office.
How often does a project go wrong? Why?
Most projects are completed on time and on budget, leaving the client with tangible prototypes to be proud of.
But there are two common reasons for development projects to fall apart: (1) funding runs out, (2) specifications are repeatedly changed.
Estimated costs and payment schedules to complete a design are generally accurate, but clients sometimes depend on new investment and early sales interest to keep up with development costs. This doesn't always work out as planned (but it often does).
If the product has morphed into something different than originally requested, design delays and increased costs are inevitable; the worst result is project derailment. When defining new products, target market needs at project completion.
How long does a typical project take?
Six to twelve months. Some take only six weeks, others take several years. Some projects are completed in stages, with breaks for marketing and raising investor capital. Other projects are fast-tracked, with multiple processes happening simultaneously to beat competitors to market.
It is not possible to estimate how long a project will take until after an initial consultation, which is free.
How much does a typical project cost?
The larger the project, the lower the weekly cost. Ultimately, James David Smith charges a fair rate to cover time, materials, and overhead. Depending on material requirements, the composite rate ends up somewhere between $75 and $125 per hour. Project quotations, which are often presented as flat fees, tend to be lower than these hourly rates suggest.
In general, small design projects cost between $5000 and $15,000 to complete, with prototypes being demonstrated before the full amount is collected. Large projects cost considerably more.
I'm still unsure about proceeding. How can I find out more, and put my mind at ease?
This is why James David Smith offers a free initial consultation. And you should request this from other consultants as well, to find the best fit for your product requirements and the way you work. If your product is related to arts, entertainment, or custom industrial controls, you probably won't find a better fit than James David Smith. From a unique theatre prop to a complex new sign technology, he offers the expertise you need while respecting, appreciating, and helping to protect and realize your ideas.
Look for consultants with a strong track record satisfying clients with innovative and cost-effective solutions.
More questions? Email James David Smith.
James David Smith specializes in electronics design, firmware, and software for arts, entertainment, advertising, and industry. Past projects include:
Disney's Beauty and the Beast US Tour
- The largest application of wireless lighting ever used in a fullscale Broadway production. Based on the Soundsculpture wireless dimmer system.
Revolution Scrolling Signs for Toys "R" Us Times Square, and Viacom Paramount Theme Parks
- Sophisticated software control of multiple ad scrollers to build and choreograph huge billboard images.
- Development included the electronic controller hardware, firmware, communications protocols, PC control software, user and service documentation, and UL certification.
- Completed on time and on budget.
Ralli Self-Scoring Raquetball
- A complex system of infrared sensors detecting the actions of two players and a ball to automatically score a fast-moving physical game in real-time. Live interaction with the players includes a multi-color scoreboard, audio, and an option for different lo-line heights for each player. The closest thing to a Holodeck ever created.
Phantom of the Opera, Toronto, Canadian Tour, US Tour 3
- Remote control and power systems for the Phantom's gondola.
- Remote control and wireless music transmission for the music-box money.
- Numerous other contributions.
TymeStart Car Starter
- An after-market accessory that securely starts a car at a preprogrammed time. Marketed in North American retail stores in the late 1990s.
Custom Process Controls for a Magna Auto Parts Plant
Show Control and Custom Devices for displays and exhibits at Ontario Place, CN Tower, and elsewhere.
James David Smith is:
- Based in North America.
- Equipped to handle all technical design issues personally, from Scope of Work, through prototyping, to production management.
- Skilled and experienced in product safety issues (UL, CSA).
- Experienced finding partners for low-cost trial and full production runs, both local and offshore.
- Experienced in business management, cognisant of "the bigger picture".
- Recognized as a leader in his field, teaching electronics and firmware development at the University of Toronto, as well as publishing articles, and lecturing on a variety of topics.
Technologies routinely applied to new projects include:
- Environmental or biological monitoring, like measuring temperature or detecting a human heartbeat. Complex projects may require a sophisticated matrix of sensors and detectors.
- Custom LCD and data entry interfaces, including pen, keypad, even voice recognition.
- Connectivity to other devices via USB, TCP/IP, IR, RS232, RS485, and other protocols.
- Programmability and configurability, like display signs that can electronically receive, store, and play new content.
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