How to Transform a Product into an IoT Device

By: Kenny Fok

Date: December 10, 2019

Electronic Product Categories

IoT (Internet of Things) industrial is ever expanding in an exponential way. Many traditional electronic products are being transformed into IoT devices such as light bulbs, heaters, and garage door openers to name a few. If you are curious about how to convert a product into a smart IoT device, look no further!

This article aims to provide some insight into how you can transform an electronic product into an IoT enabled device and to demystify the world of IoT reverse engineering and product enhancement.

To begin, lets examine the two main categories to choose from when building an IoT device:

  • Designing from scratch
  • Based on an existing non-IoT product

Designing an IoT Device from Scratch

Designing an IoT devices from scratch allows for a bit more freedom and flexablity when designing and IoT product. You'll want to select an IoT platform that has a robust IoT device module with a expandable/flexible IoT software design. After you select your desired IoT platform, the manipulation of the electronic product(s), for both hardware and software, is a relatively straightforward process.

If you want to learn more about how to choose the right IoT platform, check our informative article "How to Choose an IoT Platform!"

Building Off an Existing Non-IoT Device

Transforming a non-IoT device to an IoT device will not be as straightforward as designing an IoT device from scratch. There may be some of obsticles you'll encounter with the existing hardware. Physical space issues, retro fitting pieces, or building/3D printing custom pieces to name a few. In some rare cases existing firmware can also play a factor too.

We have provided you with a series of steps and things to look out for, to ensure the development process is as efficient as possible. Those steps are as follows:

  • Aquire a non-IoT product as-is. Typically you won't have the design source files (schematics, and software sources).
  • In order to enhance the product type, you must first develope the conceptual design for the enhancement, for both hardware and software, and then build the enhancement.
  • For development of the design, without the original source files, the best course of action is reverse engineering.

Reverse Engineering

The process of Reverse Engineering PCBA without the original design (schematic and layout) varies based on the complexity of the PCBA design (e.g., number of layers, what size of parts being used, chipset…etc) and the experience of the Engineering team.

Reverse Engineering PCBA does not have a particular procedure, but here are the recommended steps:

  • Identify the components on the PCBA
  • Identify the PCB routes, how the parts are inter-connected with each other, aka traces.
  • Map out the route map (roughly).
  • Operate the device in all of the possible combinations while monitoring the main processor input and outputs using Oscilloscope and Logic Analyzer.

Finalizing the Transfomation of a Non-IoT Product into an IoT Device

Now that you have aquired a list of components, a rough PCB route map, and an input/output data set, an experienced engineering team should have sufficient information to build and attach the custom hardware set onto the non-IoT product. Then, by integrating the IoT platform you've selected with the IoT device module on the non-IoT product, a brand new IoT device is born!

It's important to not over do it! Most engineers, especially the highly skilled ones, have a tendency to fixate on every little detail. The goal here is to design an enhancement of the existing PCB and product, not the development of an entirely new product. However, it's always okay to go back to perform more reverse engineering during the enhancement process

Reverse Engineering may not make sense in all scenarios. For example:

  • At a certain level of complexity, the effort (cost & time) of reverse engineering exceeds the effort for designing it from scratch.
  • The quality of the design is not worthy of the cost afforded to reverse engineering.
  • It's highly recommended to have a professional engineer (or engineering firm) review your project and product before begining the reverse engineering process.

Transforming a non-IoT product into an IoT device can be a quiet the undertaking, so it's important to select the right IoT platform, that has a modularized design for easily integrating additional features and components. It's also very important to hire an experienced engineering team, consisting of hardware and software/firmware engineers. By following the steps we've laid out, it will save you a lot of heartache and time. Good luck!

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