IoT development boards and modules are at the center of every connected product. As IoT has developed, the variety and technical capabilities of these boards has only become more complex. When building an IoT product, you’ll want to start with a simple prototyping kit, but as you progress through the hardware development and design process, you’ll need to invest in hardware boards that are designed for scaling and manufacturing.
But what is the difference between prototyping and production hardware? This article aims to clean up some of the noise and make it easier for you to choose the right hardware solution for your IoT product.
In general, you can easily differentiate between prototype and production hardware based on these features:
Prototyping hardware is optimized for:
Mass production hardware is optimized for:
For instance, Particle produces three basic kinds of hardware — Development kits (DKs), Evaluation kits (EVKs), and Mass production modules (MPMs). These are defined below:
Development kits are breadboard friendly and optimized for expandability, modularity, and ease-of-use. As a result, they can be used for scaling depending on the use case and application, but maybe best used as short term PoCs in friendly environments.
Mass production modules are optimized for deployment in a mass production product, not for development. These are the real deal, intended for deployment for 5–10 years in hostile environments and small spaces. These products have little utility until they are soldered into your end product.
MPM Evaluation kits are expansion boards for mass production modules and allow you to develop, iterate, and debug your IoT solution quickly and easily. In other words, they provide a friendlier development experience for mass production hardware solutions. They have a MPM soldered to them, and in many ways can act as a good reference design.
When you’re sourcing hardware for prototyping or production, you should also look at the platform, tools, and support that comes with it:
You’ll want to continue using the same cloud infrastructure and development tools as you scale. Switching between different hardware designs is enough of a task, you don’t want to carry this over to the software you are using. The same firmware application, when compiled on your DKs and MPMs, should perform exactly the same way. There should never be a need to tweak or modify the firmware application to get it running on a MPM.
When selecting a hardware-solution, it’s also important to consider the community surrounding it. Hardware solutions with limited adoption will have fewer resources available to aid you in development. For example, Particle’s development kits have a large developer community surrounding it, which makes it easier to find information and support when needed.
You want to be able to get your product up and running as quickly as possible. When sourcing hardware, check the articles and documentation that comes with it. Having these resources at the ready will make it easy for you to get your questions answered immediately.
When sourcing prototyping and production hardware, you want to examine its accessibility, affordability, integrations, and manufacturing features. Whether you’re prototyping or building a scalable IoT product, you want to choose hardware that offers a consistent platform environment and ease-of-deployment.