Why is Embedded Product Development Different?

Effective embedded product development involves coordinating a large number of tasks in complex relationships, managing risk and dealing with issues that arise due to uncertainty. Development teams are multi-disciplinary and can involve industrial and user experience design, mechanical design, electronics design, embedded, desktop, mobile and cloud software development, product verification and validation testing, and manufacturing process development, each with its own unique processes and workflows. Put simply, the effort needed to bring a complex high-tech networked embedded product to the world should not be underestimated.

Regulatory requirements must be met before a product can be placed for sale, including meeting electrical emission and compliance regulations, safety related requirements that may impose specific product requirements or following specific development processes, and environmental requirements affecting component selection and recycling of packaging and eventually the product itself. Managing regulatory requirements and demonstrating compliance is a critical part of the development process. 

Software development today commonly includes a wide variety of open-source software components, such as operating systems, device drivers, database systems, data encryption, and network communication stacks. Each software component is licensed by its creator, and imposing specific requirements on use. In addition, use of encryption technologies is usually subject to national security regulations. Managing this complex interrelationship of requirements requires careful attention to ensure the final software application will be free of undesired encumbrances and can be distributed legally.

Development of a high-tech product can be a complex undertaking, involving a complex relationship of simultaneous tasks. To be effective, an engineering project manager must not only have related technical experience, but must also provide a suitable balance between attention to detail and time to market, without allowing unacceptable risk or sacrificing quality.


Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) describes how a product is consciously managed from concept through design, into manufacturing and sales, and eventually to retirement. PLM includes aspects of Product Management and also Sustaining (aka Maintenance) Engineering to add features, eliminate defects, optimise process, increase quality, etc. PLM integrates people, data, processes and business systems, and provides trust-able and transparent design and manufacturing data. 

New Product Introduction (NPI) is that portion of PLM involved with the hand-over from engineering design to manufacturing and eventually introducing a product into the market for sale. NPI is a broad topic, and depending on the organization, industry and product, may include Design for Manufacturability, Pilot Production, and Validation Testing, as well as creation of marketing and sales materials, managing sales campaigns and events, developing eCommerce and service subscription processes, and whatever else can be involved in bring a product to market. 

Embedded vs Cloud vs IoT

What is an embedded or embedded-system product, you ask? What is Cloud Computing, and what does it mean when an app is in the cloud? And how is the IoT (Internet of Things) involved? In this post I’ll review some of the basics involved.

Embedded Systems

An Embedded System is a computing device that the user doesn’t really know or care is a computing device, such as a smart phone or tablet device, an HVAC monitoring and control system or a GPS-based vehicle navigation system. Developing an embedded system often involves a highly technical cross-functional team, involving product conceptualization and user experience (UX), low-power analog, digital and RF electronics design and regulatory compliance testing, and complex embedded firmware with a unix-like operating system and variety of network protocols.

Cloud Computing

Cloud Computing just means “not on my computer”. If it happens in the cloud, it’s happening on a computer somewhere, just not on yours. A web site is “in the cloud”, but is still just software running on a computing system somewhere. The technologies involved vary wildly depending on the application and the implementation strategy, but often involves a mix of unix system administration, web application development and database design and administration.

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a nice marketing story with devices everywhere communicating with cloud-based services that together make the world a better place. However the success of products will depend on solving real problems for real people. Sensors will need to function in real-world conditions involving extremes in temperature, moisture and mechanical stress. The real world also has varying degrees of fault-tolerance and criticality (how likely a failure is, and what is the effort of the failure).

I hope that clarifies a bit the new wild west of interconnected networked products. Please leave a comment or question if you like.

Using Duro PLM

I’m excited to be using Duro PLM for a new client. Duro is an exciting new cloud PLM and I was fortunate to have the company founder give me a tour of Duro just before Christmas. I will be posting about my experiences once I get my feet wet.

I also hope to compare using Duro to ERPNext for stabilizing and consolidating sub-assembly engineering BOMs (bill of materials) to create the top-level hierarchical BOMs for product SKUs, and for transfer to a CM (contract manufacturer).

Install ERPNext on FreeBSD 11.2 using VirtualBox

Search for other ERPNext-related posts. You may also visit the demo on dalescott.net.

The simplest way to “install” ERPNext on FreeBSD is to simply use the Virtual Image provided by the ERPNext project with VirtualBox.

The ERPNext project provides the Easy Install script for bare-metal installation but it has a number of Linux dependencies and will not work without changes on FreeBSD. Happily, the project also provides a fully configured virtual machine (based on Ubuntu Linux).

It may also be possible to use bhyve, the BSD hypervisor, with the virtual image, but the OVF file must first be converted to bhyve’s raw format.

Install VirtualBox

Install the virtualbox-ose-nox11 package for running headless virtual machines.

% sudo pkg install virtualbox-ose-nox11

The VirtualBox kernel module (virtualbox-ose-kmod) will also be installed, but it must be re-compiled from source and re-installed (at the very least, the system will crash when next re-booted once it has been configured to load the kernel module at boot). 

Update the ports collection to prepare for compiling the kernel module. 

# portsnap fetch update

If the ports collection has not been installed, install.

# portsnap fetch extract

The FreeBSD sources are required to compile the kernel module. If not already installed, install the FreeBSD sources.

% fetch ftp://ftp.freebsd.org/pub/FreeBSD/releases/amd64/11.2-RELEASE/src.txz % tar -C / -xzvf src.txz

Compile and install the virtualbox-ose-kmod port. Make will first refuse to install the module because it is already installed (recall it was installed by being a dependency of virtualbox-ose-nox11). De-install the virtualbox-ose-kmod package, then re-install the newly compiled version.

% cd /usr/ports/emulators/virtualbox-ose-kmod
% sudo make
% sudo make install
% sudo make deinstall
% sudo make reinstall

Perform post-install configuration.

1) edit /boot/loader.conf to load the vboxdrv kernel module at boot,

# vi /boot/loader.conf

2) increase AIO limits by editing /etc/sysctl.conf (my server is using AIO, for more information refer to the virtualbox-ose-nox11 pkg-message).


Reboot the system to load the kernel module (or load it manually).

Make a mental note before doing an OS update to first edit /boot/loader.conf to not load the module. Otherwise the system will likely crash when next rebooted.

The user that VirtualBox runs as must be a member of the vboxusers group. For simplicity, I’ll run VirtualBox using my own username, although best practise would be to create a dedicated user.

# pw groupmod vboxusers -m dale

Edit /etc/rc.conf to run vboxwebsrv (the Virtual Box web interface daemon) using the provided startup script installed in /usr/local/etc/rc.d/

% sudo vi /etc/rc.conf


and finally start the vboxwebsrv service.

% sudo service vboxwebsrv start
% sudo service vboxwebsrv status

The vboxmanage cli utility can be used to manage virtual machines but I will be using phpVirtualBox which provides a familiar GUI.

Install phpVirtualBox

phpVirtualBox can be installed from the FreeBSD ports collection but it currently has a dependency on PHP 7.1 while I have PHP 7.2. I installed phpVirtualBox manually to avoid pkg attempting to revert my PHP install to 7.1, and have not encountered any issues.

Download the latest release from the phpVirtualBox Github project . Follow the instructions in README.md file and on the wiki. Extract the project to /usr/local/www, and edit the configuration.

# vi /usr/local/www/phpvirtualbox/config.php

var $username = 'dale';
var $password = 'dale_login_password';

Configure the webserver to serve phpVirtualBox. I’m using the basic Apache 2.4 http server package. I added a virtual host definition to /usr/local/etc/apache24/extra/httpd-vhosts.conf to serve phpvirtualbox as a phpvirtualbox.dalescott.net.

<VirtualHost phpvirtualbox.dalescott.net>
  DocumentRoot "/usr/local/www/phpvirtualbox"
  <Directory "/usr/local/www/phpvirtualbox">
    allow from all
    Options None
    Require all granted

Change the default phpVirtualBox login password to something secure after logging in for the first time.

“Install” ERPNext

Download the desired ERPNext Virtual Machine image (*.ova).

% cd ~/downloads
% wget http://build.erpnext.com/ERPNext-Production.ova

Using phpVirtualBox, create a new vm by importing the downloaded ERPNext-Production.ova Virtual Image file (File/Import). The OVF includes port forwarding rules to forward client port 80 to host port 8080 (for serving ERPNext) and a rule to forward ssh from client port 22 to host port 3022 (for system administration).

Start the vm and then login to ERPNext from a browser (e.g. www.dalescott.net:8080) using the default credentials. The new site wizard will run and lead you through ERPNext configuration. Use a secure password when defining the initial (admin) user, and the wizard will delete the initial Administrator user (with default password) when complete. 

Once logged into ERPNext, setup email processing so that users will receive notifications outside of ERPNext. This will be valuable to understanding and appreciating ERPNext’s significant social aspect. You will also want to change the system login (i.e. ssh) password for “frappe” user to something secure (or disable password authentication entirely in favor of key-based authentication).