Reverse engineering is a crucial part of many businesses’ research and development strategies and is essential to staying competitive. Reverse engineering is essentially the process of taking a competitor’s product and figuring out how it was made or built so that you can make one of your own. It’s done through a variety of methods often involving deconstruction, chemical analysis,and experimentation.
This process tends to be good for the market overall. Often, once several companies have their own versions of a unique product, the price on the product comes down and it becomes more accessible to consumers. Likewise, when there are several different brands of a product more innovation takes place as rivals try to outdo each other. Quality and performance thus tend to improve. And obviously, the ability to unlock a proprietary technology or mimic a popular product carries major profit incentive for the companies who succeed in doing so.
So how exactly is a product reverse engineered? The methods are a varied as the kinds of products out there in the world, but generally it involves one or more of these three strategies:
- Taking it apart. In the case of a physical product like a high definition flatscreen TV or a new braking system for cars, simply taking the product and carefully deconstructing it can yield valuable insight into how it was built. This includes noting assembly, the properties of the individual components, and the types of materials used. In theory, if you have all the individual parts of a physical product you can reproduce it with one of your own.
- Decoding. Many cutting edge products today involve computerized parts. In this case, the difficulty is not copying the physical product but replicating what it can do. In some cases, the programming is the entire product – such as in the case of a smartphone app. Depending on the product, the coding may be easy to view or it might be secured and hard to access. Even in products with proprietary software, the right equipment can allow programmers to view the original code and copy it.
- Chemical analysis. Sometimes a product is a new material or involves unknown ingredients, such as a beauty product. Chemists can analyze the contents of the product in a method known as deformulation analysis. This reveals the base ingredients or the compounds involved.
Once you know how a product is built, what chemicals are involved, and/or how it’s programmed, it’s usually just a matter of time and engineering effort to build experimental prototypes and make them work.
Andrew has always been interested in how products are engineered. He has always enjoyed writing articles about the information he finds.