Hardware Design Process Needs an Overhaul

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There was a time, not too long ago, when hardware design was the pinnacle of the technological world. While hardware startups used to be abundant and advisable to start, it now feels like hardware has fallen out of favor in the venture-capital world.

The software industry now enjoys the palpable excitement that used to exist around hardware—and rightfully so. Compared with software startups, hardware startups have become much more expensive, time-consuming and riskier to build.

Software isn’t inherently easy or cheap to build. Still, the software industry has experienced tremendous growth over the last 20 years. A large part of this is the abundance of modern tools that have been developed to support software developers as the field grows. When you look at the electronics engineering industry, however, you find that the tools are antiquated and lacking. Where are these modern and powerful tools for the hardware space?

At Flux, we are determined to fix the broken hardware design paradigm.

Current shortcomings

The industry is currently plagued by a number of glaring problems in the hardware design process.

The first of these is the significant amount of time required to start a design. As any electrical engineer who has started a project from scratch can tell you, the most frustrating and time-consuming part of any new design is the startup time. With a new hardware project, this includes time spent creating models, footprints and symbols, creating design rules and all the other tedium associated with setting up design projects. Instead of spending their time designing and pushing a product to market, engineers instead are forced to spend their time on trivialities. Juxtapose this to the software industry, where all that’s needed to start a project is to fork a repository and build off of each other’s work.

Another major challenge is the difficulty of effectively collaborating on hardware designs. Historically, EE design software has been hosted locally, meaning that whenever changes get made to a design, they don’t get shared across the team. Instead, for purposes of design review, EE teams tend to share design updates only via esoteric version control software or through emailed ZIP files. This is particularly challenging when aiming for interdisciplinary collaboration, wherein EE designs are shared with mechanical teams and others who don’t have familiarity or access to standard EE tools. The current approach being used is a significant hindrance to this whole process, making it asynchronous, slow and cumbersome.

The result is that developing hardware has become significantly more difficult than it needs to be. Hardware design is slowed down by the unnecessary roadblocks associated with collaboration and startup time, resulting in slower time to market, higher cost for development and ultimately more risk assumed for the hardware startup.

One approach to the fix

Modern designs need modern tools to push the industry forward, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do with Flux. We shift the EDA tools from something that’s hosted locally to something that is hosted in the cloud.

We believe designs should never have to start from scratch, so our users can leverage an online-community–based approach wherein engineers share designs, footprints and layouts on the platform. Everything is hosted on the cloud, so any engineer who makes a design with Flux immediately has access to the community’s component libraries as well as reusable circuit designs. Just like in software development, users can get up and running immediately by taking bits and pieces from the community. The result is that starting PCB designs is easier and faster than otherwise possible with existing EDA tools.

We also work to enable better collaboration among engineers. A browser-based PCB design tool, Flux allows collaboration in a “Google Doc” sense, where engineers can all work on the same, live document at the same time. This speeds up the design process by enabling more streamlined and intuitive design sharing and reviews—where teams can leave comments and feedback directly in a design document.

To take it even further, we’ve created tools like Flux Copilot, an AI-powered hardware design assistant integrated right into a PCB design tool. Flux Copilot is a custom-trained large language model (LLM) that understands your schematics and bill of materials and can help with part selection, evaluate alternatives, give you design feedback and even cost-down analysis. It’s like having a friendly and knowledgeable colleague right inside your design tool.

Flux’s PCB design tool enables collaboration between engineers, allowing them to work on the same live document at the same time.
Flux’s PCB design tool enables collaboration between engineers, allowing them to work on the same live document at the same time. (Source: Flux)

Taking the industry back

For hardware to reach its place of prominence once again, we need to reimagine the way we approach design. Existing design tools are antiquated and bring with them unnecessary hindrances to the design process, resulting in slower, more costly and riskier hardware designs.

We feel that our tools and approach make design intuitive and fast. Our goal: Breathe life back into the hardware industry.


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