Introducing SILSYNC Flow: The place to collaborate on hardware in the cloud

We built SILSYNC Flow based on our own experience developing hardware products. After designing dozens of products and assembling thousands of units, the same challenges kept hurting our productivity:

  1. People are siloed and files are difficult to share across teams
  2. Changes in product requirements aren’t always documented
  3. Part procurement isn’t centralized with the majority of it taking place over email

In talking with other hardware developers, we learned that these problems are universal and estimate that even a short delay of three months can cost a small, five-person team over $90k. This led us to begin developing a software platform in early 2022 to solve these problems. After 6 months of working in stealth with an initial set of customers, we’re ready to publicly share SILSYNC Flow with the entire hardware community.

Remote and hybrid work are changing hardware development workflows

The pandemic fundamentally changed every aspect of our lives with work being no exception. The number of professionals primarily working remotely increased from 6% in 2019 to 42% at the end of 2020. While this number has since declined, it remains the preferred way that employees want to work and it’s estimated to represent 22% of the American workforce in 2025. Remote work is here to stay and we believe that’s a good thing.

However, this new approach to work has created a massive gap in collaboration and creativity. According to Fictiv’s 2022 State of Manufacturing, over 75% of hardware professionals now see room for improvement in the way teams collaborate. The need to integrate collaborative tools and digital technology into hardware development workflows is more critical to an organization’s success than ever before. This is why we’re focusing on improving hardware collaboration with SILSYNC Flow.

Why is hardware development collaboration so difficult?

Product development is a complex, iterative process

At a high level, the process of building a hardware product entails passing all acceptance criteria at several development gates. This process typically begins with technological feasibility. At this stage, you’re building benchtop prototypes to determine if the product is worth pursuing further. Assuming all of the exit criteria are met, you’ll now begin the product development phase where you’ll make looks-like, works-like, and engineering prototypes. After what has likely been a multi-year journey, you’re now ready to begin manufacturing.

In addition to graduating through these high-level development stages, you’ll also iterate within each one. When you find a bug in a software product, you can quickly change and push the new code into production. However, with hardware, you may not even be aware that your product’s printed circuit board has a bug until after you’ve already paid to manufacture it. In the event that there is a bug, you now need to purchase and test new boards to validate that the problem has been fixed. This process will drag-on for several months (if you’re lucky) and stretch budgets.

Tool sets are highly fragmented

Within each hardware team and task, a different set of specialized and sophisticated tools are used to design and develop a hardware product. These tools feature dated design aesthetics and were created before the popularity of remote and hybrid work. As a result, they typically don’t work with each other.

For electronic design, engineers use eCAD tools such as Altium or Eagle. However, for mechanical design, engineers rely on 3D CAD tools such as CATIA, Creo, Fusion 360, and Solidworks. There are also tools specific for firmware development, simulation, and industrial design. Layered on top of these tools are ERP systems such as SAP, Odoo, and Oracle and file storage providers such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive.

Needless to say, tracking the latest revisions and maintaining a single source of truth creates a sizable operational and administrative burden while hampering innovation and productivity.

Even small changes can require the input of multiple engineers

Given the fragmentation of tool sets that are discipline specific, even the smallest design revisions can require that multiple engineers get involved. Consider the impact of changing a single passive electronic component like an inductor with a slightly larger version in a high power car charging station.

A bigger footprint on a dense PCB likely requires other changes in board layout and routing. If the enclosure is tight, there may now be interference or mechanical contacts which weren’t present previously. Different device performance and ratings will likely require firmware changes and additional testing, validation, and an amendment to certifications and regulatory approvals.

Even in the best case where no additional changes are required, mechanical, electrical, firmware, test, and certification engineers will have to validate that the new component doesn’t cause a cascade of knock-on effects with far reaching consequences.

It’s easy to see why this process is error prone and requires significant coordination. Our remote and hybrid work environments have added to these challenges.

Creating a space where you can collaborate and be creative

Bring together people, product data, and know-how

Collaboration is at the core of SILSYNC Flow. To achieve this goal, we made it as easy as possible to get started. You can add as many products to your organization as you need and can invite your entire team to work with you in this new space. With each collaborator priced at $12/month and access to unlimited, free viewers, we’ve made SILSYNC Flow accessible to everyone. Maker accounts for teams of up to two are also free.

Now that you’ve brought everyone together, it’s time to integrate your file storage providers. Our software currently works with Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive. Every collaborator can do the same, which means all of your product’s files across teams are now in one centralized location. We designed SILSYNC Flow to help break down the silos that exist within hardware companies to unleash innovation and creativity.

Centralize part procurement

It’s time to stop digging through emails to find your latest communication with a supplier. Sending part files to suppliers via email increases the risk that a deprecated part version will be fabricated, which costs time and money. This type of workflow also unnecessarily exposes your IP and makes it hard to reclaim your IP after you’ve stopped working with a supplier.

With SILSYNC Flow, you can invite all of your suppliers and partners to work with you in your space. With all of your suppliers and partners in one centralized location, you can now create and share RFQs in seconds. This makes it easy to increase the number of quotes you receive, while reducing the time from RFQ-to-PO by over 80%.

Align your team and workflow around your product’s structure

The ability to create and visualize a product breakdown structure (PBS) is core to the way you’ll collaborate and organize everything in SILSYNC Flow. A PBS is a way of dividing your product into its constituent components through a hierarchical structure.

At the top level you have the final product you’re designing, a Computer. This main product is then broken down into its core components: Main Unit, Monitor, Keyboard, and Mouse. These core components are then broken down into their sub-components. In the case of the Mouse, we have the body, ball, and printed circuit board.

By creating a product breakdown structure, your entire team will be able to visualize the relationship between all of your product’s components. This approach also increases alignment and enables your team to focus on the parts of the product that are most relevant to their workflow.

Control who can access your secure space

Access control rights are key to ensuring that everyone inside and outside of your company has the proper ability to read and/or edit information, download files, and comment on actions and events. You can assign the role of Primary Stakeholder, Collaborator, and Viewer to every internal and external user in your organization.

However, our PBS allows you to take access control one step further than most software products. You can also assign internal and external stakeholders to different levels and parts of your PBS. For example, if you assign a collaborator to the top level, Computer, they’ll have access to every file across all of the deliverables in your PBS. However, if you assign a collaborator to a lower level component, they’ll only have access to the files associated with that component and its subcomponents.

These features create the ideal way to collaborate with those outside of your company. This includes product design consultants, supply chain experts, manufacturers, suppliers, and everyone else that supports the development of your product. Not only does SILSYNC Flow give you the ability to protect your IP at a granular, user-by-user level, but it’s also secured with 256-bit advanced encryption standard (AES) and hosted using AWS’ native cloud security.

Discover and work with a creative community of hardware developers

We’re also building the SILSYNC Flow Community. Our goal is to make it effortless for you to connect with the product design consultants and suppliers that can help you get your product to market and sustain it. These service providers will be able to help you solve your most pressing design, engineering, and supply chain challenges.

What’s next for SILSYNC Flow?

Today marks the beginning of the product journey for SILSYNC Flow. We’re extremely excited to share this product with you and to see how you’ll use it to collaborate with others on your hardware products.

In the coming weeks, you can expect to see enhancements to your timeline. This will include the ability to create Timeline Events that your team can comment on. You’ll also have the ability to filter these events according to their context.

In the coming months, you can expect to see us release integrations with Solidworks, Altium, and many other products. We’re also working on more tools to further enhance your collaborative experience, to make it even easier to procure parts, and to grow our community.

Our vision is to accelerate the development of hardware to benefit humanity. If you’re interested in using SILSYNC Flow, please apply for early access here. For other questions, please email me at daniel@silsync.com.