Challenges in Hardware Development – IoT For All

The CTO and Co-Founder of HARDWARIO, Pavel Hübner, joins Ryan Chacon on the IoT For All Podcast to discuss IoT hardware development. Pavel and Ryan begin the podcast by discussing HARDWARIO’s key verticals and role in IoT before analyzing the customer’s journey in developing a solution. Pavel then gives insight into the different connectivity technologies in IoT and why his company focuses on LPWAN. To wrap up the podcast, Ryan and Pavel have a high-level conversation around challenges in hardware, including the ongoing chip shortage.

Pavel has over 20 years of experience with electronics development, embedded software, product management, production, and sourcing. He has coordinated several significant hardware projects in China. Pavel was the head of the R&D department at JABLOTRON ALARMS for 12 years. He started his entrepreneurship journey together with his friend Alan Fabik in 2016. Together they founded the company HARDWARIO.

Interested in connecting with Pavel? Reach out on Linkedin!

About HARDWARIO

HARDWARIO has extensive know-how in the development and production of electronic devices. The company’s mission is hardware devices with very low power consumption, ideally suited for IoT projects. Their team comprises experienced developers, embedded software/hardware engineers, project managers, and experienced salespeople. HARDWARIO’s products are sophisticated yet easy to use and install, accelerating the digitization process in various industrial verticals. The primary product is CHESTER – the most configurable IoT gateway for Industry 4.0, smart city, e-metering, and agricultural applications. CHESTER connects sensors, actuators, PLC controllers, and other devices to the internet. Flexible power supply and LPWAN communication technologies enable reliable connectivity from distant and deep indoor places.

Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:

(01:30) Introduction to Pavel and HARDWARIO

(04:38) HARDWARIO’s role in IoT

(06:33) Customer journey

(11:08) Maturing of connectivity technologies

(15:40) Challenges in the hardware space

(19:02) Managing the chip shortage


Transcript:

– [Voice Over] You are listening to the IoT For All Media Network.

– [Ryan] Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of the IoT For All Podcast, the number one resource and publication for all things IoT. I’m your host Ryan Chacon, and on today’s episode we have Pavel Hübner, the CTO and Co-Founder of HARDWARIO. They are a company with extensive know-how in the development and production of electronic devices, and they focus a lot of their time and effort in very low power consumption devices, particularly aimed and better suited for IoT projects. A lot of good topics here discussed in this conversation. We talk about IoT and LPWAN networks and how they work together. Development of products, best practices, process, for those kind of out there looking to better understand the device and the development of products and devices themselves, and then we jump into challenges. We talk about the chip shortage for hardware products, talk about the life cycle of different solutions and things like that. So a lot of good value here. One thing I do ask, if you are watching us on YouTube, to please like and subscribe to the channel. And then, if you’re listening to us on a podcast directory, please subscribe so you can get the latest episodes as they become available. So hope you get a lot of value in this but before we jump into it, if any of you out there are looking to enter the fast-growing and profitable IoT market but don’t know where to start, check out our sponsor, Leverege. Leverege’s IoT solutions development platform, provides everything you need to create turn key IoT products that you can white-label and resell under your own brand. To learn more, go to iotchangeseverything.com. That’s iotchangeseverything.com. And without further ado, please enjoy this episode of the IoT For All Podcast. Welcome to the IoT For All Podcast, Pavel, thanks for being here this week.

– [Pavel] Hello Ryan, thank you for having me.

– [Ryan] Absolutely, yeah, this is gonna be a great conversation. I think it’d be great if you could just kick it off by telling us a little bit more about yourself and your background.

– [Pavel] Sure, so my name is Pavel Hubner, and I’m the CTO and Co-Founder of HARDWARIO. The background is that I’m electronics engineer, and firmware, developer and I have been doing electronics pretty much all my life. So I started in the age of like seven or eight years old. And the story was that my father started to work for big security system company. And my journey I would say was pretty much connected to this event because I have seen all the amazing electronics and how smart people develop security systems. So when I started high school I would say in third, second or third grade I was actually employee of this company and learned a lot. I was developing first some internal tools and later on even got into product development. And I basically started full time electronics designing when I was 20.

– [Ryan] That’s great.

– [Pavel] And I have been with the company for like 12 years. And at that time I met Alan, who is the Co-Founder of HARDWARIO back then he was a sales director of this company. I was head of fund development department and we got together and after some cooperation he decided that we should start doing something together. So this is where the story of our company started. We established company back then its name was Big Long Labs, long story short, the the company name was established in Las Vegas at CS in 2016. And our mission was to bring to the world opensource DIY kit for enthusiasts for IT engineers, because we felt that especially in a IoT space, there was a gap for electronics that is modular, that is low-power. That communicates over radio frequency for a long range. And this is where we had lots of experience. So we have created this kit called big clown very strange name. It expresses our personalities but it was basically a spinoff of this company where we met. And one year later we simply bought up our shares and renamed the company to HARDWARIO And we are all into IoT, hardware development and helping our partners and companies to through our platforms to create comprehensive IoT solutions hardware solutions.

– [Ryan] That’s fantastic. That’s a really cool story. Very, very cool to kind of hear the process you went through to get to where you are now. But tell us, tell us a little bit more about the company itself now in today and the role you all play in IoT. I know you mentioned, you already talked about kind of the development of the hardware side, but targets that, you know verticals that you’re in, kind of you talked about low power focus, but just, just high level a little bit more for our audience. So they understand a little bit more of what you do.

– [Pavel] All right. So in HARDWARIO we create platforms that enable Internet of Things, projects. We do hardware devices, of course from the idea to productions and integration. We really focus in more or less in industrial IoT segment. So we don’t do consumer stuff, B2C, none of that. And through the network of our technological partners we target various segments, various interesting projects. So just to give you some examples we have created a product called Chester which is IoT gateway featuring LPWAN connectivity. And I believe you will get to it later. And with this, with this platform, people can actually create a comprehensive hardware solution, a gateway which interfaces various peripherals and solve some problem. So back to the example, we have partner companies total test, and they are monitoring bridges. They have high end accelerometers and increment meters and they are monitoring the such civil structures over a long period of time. And through the data, they have interesting insights and they can predict when something will go wrong. So this is like nice example that will hopefully save some lives in the future.

– [Ryan] Definitely. Yeah. Tell us about some other use cases. I’d love it. If you could tell, take us through the kind of customer journey that companies go through when they engage with you and and kind of understand what the process is like going from an idea or a problem looking to be solved to the process that happens in order to bring a piece of hardware to market to kind of that is aimed at a particular problem.

– [Pavel] Okay. So as you know, the discipline of developing and designing hardware can be pretty comprehensive task. And our mission is to actually simplify the process because we have been to hardware manufacturing for decades and we know that there is a big difference having some prototype on the table, maybe built with some popular platform. And having the product well tested and ready for production. So this is why today we mainly focus on these platforms. And I always repeat the platforms because it is what it actually is. It, it is a mix of experience of communication channels and interfaces the peripherals that we know that will help the customers who have the vision to solve some particular problem. And this, this is, this mix will help them to get the story of having their own hardware product faster in the market. So yeah, there are a lot of challenges and we bring the expertise of designing products that are not only easy to configure which are modular and easy to program but also easy to install. And here we see really big opportunity that is enabled by LPWAN technology. So actually when we started our company in 2016, it was the time when all these technologies started to appear. We started at six folks nowadays it’s future. We will see how it goes but we basically explored all three LPWAN technology with sharp popular today, starting from Sigfox LoRaWAN and NB-IoT, and also recently LTE-M which is getting more and more widespread around the world.

– [Ryan] Yeah. Tell us about those. Yeah. As I’m asking you, tell me about those technologies a bit more kind of in your your process of, of exploring them. What have you kind of found about their kind of fit within the IoT space?

– [Pavel] So these technologies are amazing because they change and push the boundaries of what is really possible LPWAN essentially can remove the vault or gateway from your system which simplifies the deployment. And at the same time it lowers, it lowers the communication speed increases the possible communication distance. And through radio technology, you are able to communicate from devices with batteries for years. So I would say that’s the biggest highlight reliable communication over long distances and with Sigfox. And LoRaWAN the situation is fairly similar. You are operating in license free band and either 868 megahertz in Europe, 915, 923 in, in the us. And you have some limited payload you can use to transmit your data or receive back to, or from devices with licensed bands in or through carrier operators which provide technology like NB-IoT and LTE-M through these mobile carriers. You have, I would say bigger options in terms of payload and there is slightly more higher integration cost. On the other hand, there are way bigger opportunities because through carriers, you you have the possibility to scale your product much faster. You have usually nationwide coverage in some particular territory. When the carrier decides to enable the connectivity. On the other hand, we have lots of customers who want to build their own LoRaWAN network. So this is perfect use case for LoRaWAN and we are even helping them to create their own LoRaWAN infrastructure or utilize networks like, the things network etc.

– [Ryan] Well, and, and that was what I was gonna ask you is not all companies seem to focus on one type of connectivity or some pick, you know more of the cellular side of versus the LPWAN side. What has it been about? And you’ve kind of already alluded to it but what has it been about the success that you’ve seen with these technologies, the maturity of these technologies and the implementation of them in the IoT space that’s kind of pushed you down the path of really focusing on these LPWAN technologies as connectivity options for the hardware that you build and you focus on.

– [Pavel] So fairly, fairly comprehensive question. We usually try to listen, what is the application need? What is the target idea? And we talk to customer what would be the best possible option? Very often the customers they don’t actually care about the way how you get the data from sensor to their system. And it is our role to come up with a solution. So we have the chain of the solution from from actually like the sensor through the gateway through the infrastructure connect it with a backend and integration. So we basically project all these, all these parts of the chain and schedule the most optimal solution for for the customer and speaking radio technology. It’s it really depends on, on the required payload. On the, on the update and or realtime requirements or the given application, and what what is the expected battery lifetime? Is it battery operated devices or do they need just some sort of battery as a, as a power backup? So we support all these options and then we decide this might be the best technology for air use case, or we don’t have any of these but maybe if you train on some of your requirements we are able to meet it with this technology.

– [Ryan] And are these all run on like your own operating system or how, how are the devices kind of set up?

– [Pavel] So historically we, we have used various approaches but I have mentioned this IoT gateway Chester. And this one we started designing actually three years back and back then it was only running free Artos. But since we have based our technology on Nordic cement conductor, we know that Nordic has gone all into Zephyr OS. So we have adapted this technology in the second generation of the product. And we can see this is like breakthrough technology in embedded development space. And there is definitely some learning curve. I have even written article about it but we see that this is like great investment because Zephyr as an artos, well it’s more like a framework is guiding you how to write proper modular firmware, how to design your software in a way that it will be portable, it’ll be future proof. And we see that a lot of effort is going into it even from major brands like Intel NXP, Nordic like one of the most active contributor. It is all open source and yes, you need at least 32 bits or they don’t support like very small eight eight bit or 16 bit micros. On the other hand, this is like this was like one of our design principles when we started HARDWARIO that we don’t use these eight bit or 16 bit micros, so we can use it for our portfolio. And it’s very, very scalable and Zephyr artos has been actually designed for IoT project. So there are lots of comprehensive libraries and stacks that help you to build products faster and in a very secure manner still with a nice focus on low power features. So we are pretty happy about that. And I definitely like recommend everybody who is serious about real time operating systems to look into it.

– [Ryan] Absolutely. One of the last questions I wanted to ask you before we wrap up around the challenges that you’ve seen in the hardware space. So anytime I’ve talked to people about the hardware component of an IoT solution there’s always very interesting questions that are asked and there are a lot of challenges that they’ve come at least with the preconceived notion that these challenges exist in hardware development. And I wanted to get your opinion on what some of the bigger challenges that you’re seeing in the hardware side of, of IoT is.

– [Pavel] So speaking of today’s situation, one of the biggest challenges I perceive is, is sourcing. So component availability, since COVID we have seen a sharp decline of stock availability in many verticals. And we, I can say openly that we are kind of struggling with this. On the other hand, we took some precautions and started sourcing insourcing the components for our main product, And today, today we have tech stock. So we are kind of safe in this, in this matter. Still we have to develop and design some boards here and there. And today the situation is that sometimes we really have to bend our decisions based on the availability of the components. And we take really various precautions like how do we take get the components for our design products when there is poor availability? So as an example Texas Instruments is offering their own e-store where you can purchase the components directly. And it was almost like a race between the companies. So we started doing we have implemented our own scraper or crawler, if you like that is automatically checking the website. And when there was a component available in the stock we received automated call from Twilio service and receiving SMS’s and all sorts of measures. And it felt like we were running to computers with credit cards and immediately started purchasing components. And you had typically very narrow period, like one or two minutes when you could make the purchase and you were racing with, with other people around the globe. So this was helping us actually a lot such automated approach. And we have been able to get lot of components because the is one of our key buyer, On the other hand recently they have introduced API services for such Easter because they have seen that multiple people are doing the same thing. So this is basically end of the race but we take also other measures like dealing with dealing with brokers. We also source components from verified companies but sometimes you have to buy chips for multiples sometimes magnitude of multiples of the basic price. So this is the situation we have to deal with it. We have to be really flexible, which is our advantage. As a small company, we can make make really quick adjustments and we have to cope and hope that the situation over the course time better

– [Ryan] Completely agree with you. And, and one thing I wanted to ask you is obviously the sourcing thing is, is very unique given the chip shortage and stuff but as a company that, you know I’m assuming has different companies coming to them asking to build devices and work on solutions with them how do you handle that decision making process on which projects you take on? And I think this is good advice for our audience in general is when you have a decent amount of leads or you have just kind of any amount of leads that you have to from a resource perspective or component availability perspective, have to decide on which projects you take on versus others. How do you go kind of advise or or do you recommend companies think about that kind of decision making?

– [Pavel] Yeah, this, this is, this is very difficult and I will admit that we always learn along the way. And especially as a startup, you have to you have to fight for survival. And it is difficult because in a hardware startup you have sadly, a difficult cashflow management. You have components on stock, you have products on stock you have bills to pay people to pay and everything together. You have to be really careful to choose to which project you will commit yourself, Because my colleague calls that as a terror of opportunities there are lots of them and you have to be really really strict and you have to set up the rules into which project you will go and talk to your customer really verify that they can provide reasonable commitment that you will be kind of on a safe side. Of course. In business guarantees are kind of foggy world words sometimes, yet this is I would say the most important message to anybody who wants to create hardware startup really wait for the proper opportunity to make sure that you will not go negative.

– [Ryan] Totally agree. Yeah. Great advice. I really appreciate that. It’s an interesting space for sure. You know, the, the supply chain issues with the components the chips and stuff is is really kind of complicated things at times. But you know, with the companies that are handling it strategically the right way I think are gonna come out on top throughout all of this. And I think the approach you all have and the advice you’ve shared today is fantastic. So for our audience out there who wants to learn more and get a better sense of what you all do follow up with any questions, that sort of thing, what’s the best way they can reach out?

– [Pavel] Of course, go to our website, www.hardwario.com This is where will find all information about about our product or contact information. Don’t hesitate to approach us with any question we we can help you with designing your next IoT project. We haven’t spoken about many areas what we can offer in your IoT journey but we can basically provide end to end solution from the idea to the data end up in your, in your end point. And yeah, you will find lots of use cases on the website and we are looking forward to hearing from you.

– [Ryan] And, and let me ask, when you kind of focus on the end to end aspect of this, are you working with partners to help with kind of the software pieces and and the stuff once the data comes in or are you all handling all of that?

– [Pavel] So, yeah, we have various models and one of the model is that people who want to solve some problem as I said before, yeah, we can approach us. And we will come to very simple partnership agreement. We will provide them with training and testing product sets. We usually try to iterate. So with, with the work we have done previously to get really quickly to to some useful data feeds for a systems. And then we sketch like what would be the next phase to deliver the final final product? Also we have our Easter where we offer this kit. This is the product we have started with our company and these are of the shelf available components. So you can buy it by there direct directly. And also because we have this network of partners, we we can connect people and see, all right these problems we always solve or these people are good to this aspect so we can connect connect them and get them faster on track.

– [Ryan] Fantastic. Well, well, Pavel this has been a fantastic conversation. Thanks so much for doing this really excited that I I was able to get you on, on the show to, to talk to our audience about this hardware is a very interesting area and very important area for us. So the more experts I can have come on and kind of share their expertise the better. And I think what you all have going on is super interesting and, and sounds like you have a lot of success on your end, which is fantastic to see. So thanks again for your time. Really appreciate it.

– [Pavel] Thank you. It was very nice talking to and take care.

– [Ryan] You too. All right, everyone. Thanks again for watching that episode of the IoT For All Podcast. If you enjoyed the episode please click the thumbs up button, subscribe to our channel and be sure to hit the bell notifications so you get the latest episodes as soon as they become available. Other than that, thanks again for watching. And we’ll see you next time.