The Ultimate Tech Stack for Every Hardware Engineer

Kellan O'Connor

Co-founder & COO

June 21, 2024

Hardware EngineerHardware EngineeringIntegrationsPLMTech Stack

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Today’s hardware engineer needs a tech stack that facilitates rapid product development and smooth collaboration. The hardware industry has evolved and requires software that keeps pace with technological advancements and increasing complexity. Engineers need agile tools to manage sourcing, bills of materials (BOMs), change orders, and revisions.

Cloud-native solutions that centralize data and enable quick decision-making are in high demand, as they eliminate the need for costly, custom integrations. PLMs powered with agile workflows and pre-built integrations with leading technologies like SolidWorks and Altium streamline the product lifecycle management process. 

These software tools help build a resilient supply chain, accelerate product development, and reduce inefficiencies. As demand for innovative, high-quality products grows, a robust and adaptable tech stack is needed to maintain competitiveness. PLM (product lifecycle management) centralizes a full tech stack in one place, ensuring streamlined workflows and the reduction of errors.

A flexible PLM system facilitates effective hardware product development and collaboration. The software centralizes product data, enabling real-time updates and efficient management of BOMs, sourcing, change orders, and revisions. This approach helps hardware teams innovate and bring high-quality products to market faster.

This article explores the components and layers of a hardware tech stack and how each element contributes to efficient product development. Read to the end for our hardware tech stack diagram to see how your stack should come together in one easily accessible location.

What is a Tech stack?

For a hardware engineer, a tech stack is a progression of software tools that allow a company’s product data to move from concept to the real world, i.e., digital design to manufacturing or production. Companies need tech stacks to progress smoothly through the product development process.

PLM systems are a central component of this tech stack. They focus on core aspects such as BOM management, change orders, and revision management, providing a solid foundation for product development. Modern PLM systems extend well beyond these basics, helping build a comprehensive hardware data management stack optimized for each company’s needs.

Each company has unique requirements for its tech stack and must determine which components are necessary, such as requirements management, ERP, or MES. Companies need to consider whether to connect both mechanical CAD and electrical CAD tools to the PLM, as the dynamics can vary significantly depending on whether there is automated data flow coming from the design tools into the PLM. PLM helps manage these complexities, ensuring efficient workflows across all stages of product development.

Hardware Tech Stack Components

A hardware engineer tech stack will typically include upstream and downstream tools. Upstream tools, such as MCAD and ECAD, create and refine product designs and generate a bill of materials. Downstream tools, like ERP and MES, receive a more complete BOM and manage the production and manufacturing processes, helping to bring the product from its digital concept to a tangible reality.

Top of the tech stack

The top of a tech stack includes design tools like CAD software such as SolidWorks and Siemens NX. Engineers use these tools to design components and assemblies, which then become part of the bill of materials. These parts get moved into downstream systems to transition from design to production,i.e., a product somebody buys.

Middle of the tech stack

The middle sections of the tech stack, typically composed of a PLM system, help drive the implementation of best practices that reduce the risk of design or manufacturing errors late in development. As more people become involved—from designers to procurement, marketing, sales, and manufacturing—rigid control over the BOM and approval processes becomes essential. This is where PLM becomes an integral part of the stack.

There also needs to be detailed tracking of approval from stakeholders. For example, if you don’t get a manufacturing-focused person to approve a new design, that design might not be manufactured. Or if a product is missing a feature or two and the market research team hasn’t analyzed this or done their necessary work, you could be releasing a product that doesn’t fit well with the market.

Flowing from top to bottom

Every company should have tech that enables product data to flow reliably between design and production tools. Data leakage, which can occur when data is managed or transferred manually, leads to issues and directly results from a disconnected tech stack. 

For companies in production, a solid tech stack should include CAD, PLM, and some production-related software (either ERP and/or MES, depending on how the company is built). For brand-new products, companies should follow the new product introduction (NPI) process.

Ideally, data will flow automatically between the CAD tools and the PLM as well as between the PLM and downstream production software, allowing companies to maintain data and BOM continuity across their entire tech stack. This is crucial for delivering accurate information to the manufacturing team.

As an anchor in the tech stack, PLM hosts all of the key decisions, helping build a system of record and serving as a bridge between the design tools (upstream) and the downstream tools (production and manufacturing). The stack allows data to flow from concept and planning to production.

The Layers of a Tech Stack Explained

A well-structured tech stack ensures the smooth progression of product data from concept to reality. Each layer of a tech stack plays an important role in the hardware development process, with each stage flowing into the next, from initial requirements to final production.

The layers of a hardware tech stack should flow like this:

  • Requirements and Prototyping ➔ Product Design and Sourcing ➔ 
  • Process Design and Validation ➔ Manufacturing and Commissioning
 

Here’s a detailed breakdown of each layer’s technology and its significance in hardware product development.

Requirements & Prototyping -> Product Design & Sourcing

In the initial stage, product managers and hardware engineers gather and define product requirements, including user needs, functional specifications, and business requirements. Once completed, prototyping follows, where initial versions are created to test and validate these requirements, allowing rapid iteration based on feedback.

Once validated, the detailed hardware product design process begins through the development of CAD models. Here, engineers focus on manufacturable designs and specify materials and other design attributes. Sourcing involves selecting suppliers and ensuring the design can be produced within budget and on time. Supply chain management tools help assess component availability and costs, facilitating efficient production.

Requirements Management

Requirements management helps hardware engineers capture, analyze, document, track, and manage all requirements for a hardware product from its early stages. This includes user, functional, business, and technical requirements. Effective management ensures clarity, stakeholder alignment, efficient collaboration, compliance, and assessment of technical needs and market factors. Early data gathering helps engineers streamline resources and processes. We recommend the following tools.

Valispace

Valispace offers AI-powered systems and requirements engineering, enabling fast iterations for quicker market time. It streamlines processes from requirements engineering to system design, testing, verification, and validation. Integrating Valispace with PLM provides automated management of functional and manufacturing requirements in one place. Real-time validations track changes to the bill of materials and supply chain data, ensuring compliance. This transparency allows teams to catch issues early, giving them time to respond before production.

Jama Software

Jama Software is a requirements traceability solution that manages product requirements, ensures live traceability across the development process, reduces cycle times, and improves product quality. It supports innovation by minimizing the risk of defects, rework, cost overruns, and recalls. Integrating Jama with PLM ensures consistent data flow and a single source of truth for requirements, system architecture, and other critical data. With open APIs, Jama easily integrates with various platforms, supporting automotive, medical devices, and aerospace industries.

Project Management

In a tech stack, project management ensures that tasks are properly organized, tracked, and completed on schedule. Integrating project management tools into your stack streamlines workflows enhances collaboration, and maintains team alignment. Key tools for project management include Jira, Linear, and Slack. Let’s look at each.

Jira

Jira simplifies workflows and centralizes project updates in one place. Integrating Jira with PLM automatically generates a Jira ticket each time a change order is created, saving time and eliminating manual ticket creation and matching. This integration ensures immediate connectivity between the two platforms, keeping teams aligned and projects moving forward. The setup is straightforward and requires no coding, making it accessible for all technical levels and allowing more focus on project execution and less on administrative tasks.

Linear

Linear is a high-performance issue-tracking and project management tool similar to Jira. It links change orders to Linear tickets, allowing detailed tracking. Creating a Linear ticket starts with listing requirements, which get sent to engineers for execution. For example, a mechanical engineer might need to swap a piece of plastic or replace a screw. Using a Prismatic integration with PLM, the status of a change order can be synced to the Linear ticket, ensuring smooth tracking and execution.

Slack

Slack integrations allow easy monitoring of progress in engineering change orders. Engineers can customize settings to receive updates on submissions, approvals, and rejections and click notifications for more details or actions. A dedicated Slack channel for an engineering team provides quick access to links and resources, offering stakeholders a high-level understanding of change orders without using another platform. This snapshot view enhances transparency, collaboration, and decision-making.

Duro Slack integration

CAD (Computer Aided Design)

CAD is a crucial component for product design and sourcing. CAD allows engineers to create precise digital models, ensuring accurate design specifications and facilitating efficient sourcing and production processes. Integrating CAD tools with PLM systems enhances data management and collaboration across teams, improving overall efficiency.

Altium

Altium is a tool for PCB design and electronic system development. PLMs integrated with Altium simplify the synchronization of schematics, PCB designs, manufacturing data, and components, enhancing data management and collaboration. A hardware engineer can easily transfer project information and update revisions for review. This integration allows the automatic generation of eBOMs from Altium to the PLM, pulling part choices into sourcing and creating releases and change orders.

Duro Altium integration

With Altium, PLMs can connect to part aggregation services like Octopart for up-to-date information on parts. They automatically assign part numbers for all eBOM parts and production files, instantly publish and share engineering documents, store revisions, and track change orders. This PLM integration automates version control, establishes a defined engineering change order process, and maintains a history of updates throughout the project lifecycle, saving time and enhancing traceability.

Solidworks

SolidWorks is a leading CAD software for creating precise 3D models and designs. Integrating SolidWorks with PLM enhances workflows by extending the value of both SolidWorks CAD and PDM. This integration offers a straightforward way for engineering teams to manage file metadata, assign part numbers, and release revisions to a centralized, cloud-based platform accessible to the entire team.

Solidworks syncs desktop files to a cloud-based PLM, ensuring a single source of truth for engineers. The integration also allows for quick assignment of part numbers with parametric searches and data validation, automated exporting of PDF drawings and production files upon release, and publishing released revisions, drawings, and production files to a centralized hub for team-wide access.

Onshape

Onshape is a cloud-based CAD platform enabling real-time collaborative product design. Integrating Onshape with PLM enhances its value by providing a PLM-based part numbering system, managing configurations, and centralizing design releases. Users can assign part numbers quickly, perform parametric searches, and conduct data validation checks for organized data management.

Duro Altium integration

SIEMENS NX

Siemens NX is a software suite for product design and manufacturing with integrated CAD, CAM, and CAE solutions. Integrating Siemens NX with PLM allows engineers to release NX-based design revisions and production files to a centralized PLM hub. Teams can manage PLM-based part numbers, transfer design information accurately, and maintain data continuity, ensuring real-time design information is accessible, reducing errors and rework. NX supports automated processes, such as creating structured mBOMs and managing change orders, which streamline workflows and improve collaboration.

Process Design & Validation -> Manufacturing & Commissioning

Quality Management System (QMS)

Quality management is an important part of manufacturing, and tracing parts and products back to their original design is key. Integrating a quality management system with PLM ensures end-to-end traceability and efficient quality management throughout the product lifecycle. By combining PLM and QMS software, companies can enhance collaboration and streamline workflows across product design, manufacturing, and QA.

Intellect

Intellect is an enterprise platform used for workflow automation and quality management. Its AI-powered process automation and QMS suite accelerate productivity, ensure compliance, and boost profitability. Intellect helps coordinate complex activities across product management, design, and QA to deliver products on time while maintaining high quality. Intellect’s unified approach integrates PLM with its QMS, enhancing collaboration throughout the entire value chain.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)

ERP systems manage and automate business processes like supply chain operations, manufacturing workflows, procurement, human resources, and financial management. ERPs provide real-time data access across departments, aiding decision-making and improving efficiency. Integrating ERP with PLM systems ensures smooth data flow from product design to manufacturing.

Oracle - Netsuite

Oracle NetSuite is a cloud-based ERP solution integrating financials, CRM, and eCommerce into a unified business mansuite. The software integrates PLM with NetSuite ERP for seamless design and purchasing data synchronization. Once a change order is approved, the full bill of materials and its attributes are pushed directly from the PLM to NetSuite. This eliminates procurement teams from manually entering component or assembly data. Engineers can start their inventory flow, material planning, and BOM costing sooner with more accurate data, enabling real-time profitability reviews for each BOM.

Manufacturing Execution System (MES)

MES is a software system that monitors, documents, and controls the entire production lifecycle of a manufacturing process. It’s a vital layer between enterprise resource planning and manufacturing process control systems.

First Resonance

First Resonance’s ION Factory Operating System is a modern MES that enhances connectivity, traceability, and efficiency in complex hardware production. ION integrates easily with PLM systems, enabling the direct incorporation of design specifications into the manufacturing workflow.

Duro First Resonance integration

By connecting ION to PLM, a hardware engineer can manage all testing, manufacturing, and validation aspects directly from an eBOM or mBOM. File transfers from PLM to MES are tracked, reducing the need for separate email threads and facilitating real-time issue detection and resolution. First Resonance ensures that design updates are made swiftly, closing the loop between manufacturing and engineering.

Tulip

Tulip helps engineers enhance manufacturing processes with interactive interfaces, flexibility, no-code adaptability, AI augmentation, and real-time contextual data. Integrating Tulip with PLM improves engineering connectivity by centralizing product-related data, making it ideal for BOM integration, version control, and cutover date alerts. This integration allows for quickly transferring BOM details, pictures, documents, and specifications from your PLM platform into Tulip.

Fusion

Fusion streamlines the tracking of design, testing, and integration of parts in complex hardware development, helping engineers optimize workflows and ensure quality throughout each part’s lifecycle. Fusion automates manual data movement with optional connectors for PLM and ERP. Its GraphQL API enables connections to most digital platforms, including in-house apps and reports. Fusion provides real-time synchronization of eBOMs and tracks physical inventory for parts managed within a PLM.

Procurement

Procurement ensures components and materials are sourced efficiently and cost-effectively. Integrating advanced tools into the process enhances decision-making, reduces errors, and streamlines operations. Leveraging these tools provides real-time visibility into component availability, pricing, and compliance.

Octopart

Octopart helps hardware engineers navigate the supply chain industry by providing accurate and complete data for millions of electronic components. Integrating Octopart with PLM ensures up-to-date information on parts is easily accessible and transferable between applications. For example, Duro and Altium connect to Octopart to provide real-time data on component availability, pricing, and compliance. By automatically assigning part numbers for all eBOM parts and production files, Duro PLM streamlines the procurement process, reduces errors, and accelerates the time spent on marketing three times faster.

Cofactr

Cofactr optimizes the supply chain by providing real-time data on component availability, lead times, and pricing. Integrating with PLM, Cofactr streamlines procurement and inventory management, allowing procurement teams to generate purchase orders directly from the BOM for accurate component orders. It enhances supplier collaboration with a centralized view of component needs and real-time design change updates. Cofactr’s data analytics allows engineers to analyze historical component performance and supplier reliability. Neros Technologies used Cofactr to scale its hardware operations by 10X.

Datum Source

Datum Source is a procurement management platform that enhances hardware companies’ purchasing processes. Integrating Datum with PLM ensures automatic updates to parts and their attributes on both platforms, facilitating ITAR-compliant file transfers and precise procurement decisions. This synchronization prevents errors, flags design changes and ensures compliance with ITAR regulations. A PLM and Datum Source integration significantly streamlines the entire procurement process.

Operational Procedures

Operational procedures, or standard operating procedures (SOPs), are written instructions on how to perform tasks correctly and consistently. They are used across multiple industries to comply with regulations and reduce team miscommunications. For this, Epsilon stands out.

Epsilon3

Epsilon3 is a powerful platform that streamlines the integration of part metadata into your builds. By connecting with PLM software, the Epsilon3 integration ensures that all products and components approved in PLM change orders are automatically imported into Epsilon Builds. This integration simplifies the process, importing the main parts and any subcomponents and maintaining an accurate and up-to-date parts library.

Hardware Tech Stack Example

Using Duro PLM as an example and all the software mentioned, the following tech stack diagram demonstrates how the layers of a hardware tech stack are connected and should flow from the top of the stack to the bottom.

Teck stack diagram

Teck stack diagram

The diagram highlights the seamless integration of tools at each stage of the hardware development process. Starting with requirements management, it progresses through product design with CAD tools. At the core, PLM is central to everything, managing BOMs, change orders, and revisions, ensuring data continuity and streamlined workflows. 

Downstream, ERP systems handle resource planning, while MES platforms manage manufacturing execution, where QMS supports operational procedures. This interconnected flow, anchored by PLM, ensures efficient, error-free transitions from concept to production.

Centralize Your Tech Stack in One Solution

A well-structured tech stack is essential for modern hardware engineering and product development. By integrating tools like PLM, CAD, ERP, MES, and procurement management platforms, companies can ensure data continuity, streamline workflows, and enhance collaboration.

Agile product development is a necessity, not a luxury, for today’s hardware engineers to keep pace with the industry’s constantly evolving demands. Agile workflows enable hardware teams to bring high-quality products to market quickly and efficiently.

Centralizing your tech stack in one solution not only boosts productivity but also reduces errors and accelerates time to market, giving you that all-important competitive edge in the industry.

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