It’s a tough sell when it comes to the new wave of electronics prototypists.
The digital age is about to unleash an explosion of new ideas, new materials, new manufacturing processes and new manufacturing technologies.
And there’s a lot of them.
But there’s also a lot to be angry about.
“There are a lot people who don’t know that, and that’s why it’s really difficult for them to be successful,” says Mark Schier, chief technology officer of the electronic prototyping platform startup OpenEyes.
“They don’t realize how much they’re being screwed.”
This year, the United States is expected to be home to more than 10 million new electronics prototypist jobs, according to the Manufacturing Employment Project, an industry research group.
“We need to get the word out about this and educate people about this,” says Schier.
It’s not just about new hardware and software, but also new processes for the production of electronic products, says Schiehl.
“When you have a process that’s going to produce the exact same product, then there’s no way that you can use it on the same piece of equipment,” he says.
And when it gets down to the core, it becomes clear that the old way of doing things is broken.
“You have to change the processes and you have to redesign the materials and you’ve got to redesign your equipment,” says Matt Schoeneck, CEO of the OpenEye team.
“That’s not going to work for a lot more than a few weeks.”
He points to the rapid growth of the Arduino board, which is made of plastic and has an embedded microcontroller, as a case in point.
Arduino board design has gone from being a hobby to a mainstream technology.
It has spawned a whole new way of building and prototyping electronics.
And Schoedeck, Schier and other electronics prototyper founders are increasingly worried about how the industry is changing.
“It’s the exact opposite of what we’ve always wanted,” says Scott G. Cawley, president of the Electronic Design Association.
“Electronics is an art.
It takes years and years of experience to really master it.
We’re going to have to reinvent how we design it, and redesign it and redesign the process.”
And the process is going to change.
The old way “The first step is understanding what the technology is,” says Cawleysons chief marketing officer, Chris Schreiber.
“What’s it going to do?
What’s it not going do?”
Electronics prototyping has traditionally been a hobby, but it’s become a business.
Electronics prototypers are increasingly creating products to sell online and to sell in retail stores.
Electronics startups are creating software to design and test devices.
And they’re working with companies like Apple and Samsung to create the hardware.
“People don’t really realize that they’re making something that’s a commodity, that’s an industrial part, that has to be produced and shipped to the consumer,” says Dan Bussman, CEO and founder of the Electronics Industry Association.
Bussmans group is spearheading the push to open up the electronics industry to entrepreneurs.
“These guys have been doing this for years,” he tells me.
“The industry needs to understand what this is all about, and they need to embrace it.”
And it needs to do so fast.
“As a marketer, if I’m making something, and I see someone else making something in the same space, I’m not going, ‘Well, that was a great idea,’ but I’m going to go build my own,” says Bussmen.
That’s a huge challenge for companies that are trying to make money off of a technology that hasn’t yet been proven in the marketplace.
For example, the maker of the Raspberry Pi, an open source microcontroller that runs on the Raspberry Pis computer, was forced to shut down its entire manufacturing facility last year because it couldn’t find a buyer.
That means the industry can’t rely on the people making the products to be skilled workers, as they have been in the past.
“Right now, you’re seeing an explosion in this area, and you don’t want to be in that situation,” says Adam Zuckerman, founder of OpenEights, a San Francisco startup that designs and manufactures electronics.
“I think this will change in a couple of years.
But it’s going be a tough transition.”
For now, the key to the industry’s continued success is to get people to understand that there are new technologies out there that aren’t going to be around forever, he says, like 3D printers.
“If you can get people in the industry to understand how to make a 3D printer, then they will get interested,” says Zuckman.
And then manufacturers will be able to innovate in a way that’s more cost-effective.
And that will be good for everyone, including the small business owners who can’t afford the high costs of production.