Hardware design has, and always will be, very relevant and essential to the fabrication of various hardware components. That having been said, the software currently rules supreme in the embedded design process, which leaves some experts wondering what the current state of hardware design is.

Some worry that hardware designers will be rendered obsolete, with the art of hardware design being in jeopardy as platform-based design has become the norm.

In addition, many variants are currently devised via software differentiation, and many ASSPs and SoCs are currently being used as black boxes, which has some hardware pundits worrying that hardware designers may become an endangered species.

Some also worry that hardware design will soon become an outsourced business. Here, we will delve into hardware design and its relevance in today’s world and economy.

Software and Hardware Resources in Embedded Design

Given the fact that today’s devices offer more features and functions than ever before, the time needed for proper software development has increased to accommodate the increased workload.

From user input via touch screens to state-of-the-art graphical displays and enhanced integrated control, the number of man-hours involved in software development has grown exponentially in recent years.

However, what is considered conventional may vary greatly from project to project and industry to industry. For example, a large military task may require off the shelf hardware that is commercially-based in order to fully support very complicated software.

As such, in this scenario it is more than likely that more software engineers will be employed to handle the project than hardware engineers.

Still, many consumer electronics systems that are built today are based on hardware that is custom-based, so the dichotomy between software and hardware design efforts will be quite different.

It should also be noted that firmware updates can be utilized in order to upgrade the software, whereas it may be hard, or nearly impossible, to upgrade the hardware that is being used. Ergo, more effort and resources may be placed to ensure that the hardware is optimized from day 1 in order to future-proof the tech.

The Hardware/Software Engineer Balance in the Future

Current estimates seem to indicate that there are 2 to 10 software engineers for every hardware engineer. The user interface is an integral part of any system and will involve more code complexity than other system components. User menus on a GI will also necessitate prudent software design, and multilayer communication systems will need extra gumption in the form of supplementary software development.

The end result is that the aforementioned steps will require extra effort to be invested in the preliminary stages of software development. This is in stark comparison to the past, where structured code could be made from the top level. Today, multitasking systems have become the gold standard, and need far more prudent planning in order to maximize maintainability and operational reliability.

It should also be noted that many companies used to rely on hardware emulators in order to debug code and run tests. Today, however, the complexity of modern systems require development systems that facilitate the performance of singular modules to be evaluated before meeting with the required hardware.

The end result is that future systems will be more reliable than ever before because performance and code quality can be validated and tested against very stringent specifications.

Is hardware design still important?

While it is true that software will always have a place in terms of ensuring the operation of a given device, the performance and hardware design are still relevant as well. For instance, faster data bus lines and processors will need hardware design input, superior printed circuit board layouts, and other features in order to adhere to EMC requirements.

To further illustrate, the integration of analogue technologies, such as audio signals and sensors, are highly sensitive to digital interference. As a result, they need to be integrated very carefully within the hardware as a precautionary measure.

In regards to hardware designers, they need to be even more pragmatic in their approach to their design concept, as today’s electronic components are jam-packed with more functionality; most consumers want a product that can handle all of their daily tasks in one compact and easy to transport package.

As such, the hardware designer will need to find new and ingenious ways to squeeze more functionality into their ever-narrowing devices, which will result in new packaging requirements and heat dissipation boondoggles that they will need to solve in order to prevent overheating, hardware damage and possible system failure.

In other words, it can be argued that there has not been a monumental shift from hardware to software design. Instead, today’s complex electronic products have necessitated that designers take into account the entire design of a product as a part of the development process.

Hardware Design Will Always Be Important

Hardware will always have a place in the electronics industry, whereas software is useless without the hardware to run it on. In addition, there is no universal black box that is currently available that will be able to handle all product requirements. Hence, the demand and need for hardware designers has not diminished over the years, but has evolved instead.

In the future, there will be an added emphasis on performance optimization and power consumption, and hardware designers will need to keep abreast of the requirements of their software counterparts and work in tandem with them in order to finalize complex designs.

In sum, product design involves a trifecta of expert teams; namely software, hardware, and industrial design teams, that will need to work together in order to fabricate products that are suitable, usable, and desirable for the purpose that they were designed for.

If you would like to learn more about hardware design and its relevance today, call Circuits Central at (416) 285-5550 or contact us here.