Custom vs Off-the-Shelf: The Pros & The Cons

Feb 25, 2022 9:45:00 AM / by Rick Rockershousen posted in custom engineering


Ask our Engineers Anything:


What makes highly-custom projects different from Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) or custom componentry?


A custom-designed product can break through a crowded marketplace, and open a business to a whole new sector of consumers. When you search for a path to achieve this, however, you’ll find many options, from standard, commercial off-the-shelf (aka, COTS) components, to custom parts, to highly-custom projects. When considering creating a custom IoT application, how do you make the decision between the multitude of options?

What’s The Difference?



In a recent post, we discussed the difference between commercial off-the-shelf components, or COTS, and custom componentry. To summarize, COTS components are simply pieces that are sold direct-to-consumer with a standardized set of features. An example of this would be the Grid Connect NET485 - RS485 Ethernet Adapter, which allows a serial communications technology to connect to Ethernet, and therefore become web-enabled. However, this Ethernet adapter may not fit the physical constraints of the technology it is being integrated into, or may include superfluous firmware features. To remedy this, the adapter can also be customized to precisely match the desires of the customer.


However, the additional option of a highly-custom project also exists. This begs the question: What is the difference between custom components and a highly-custom project?


“It’s about whether or not we’re taking an existing product and customizing it, or if we’re starting from scratch and creating a brand new product,” said Adam Justice, CEO of Grid Connect.


While custom components are essentially current products modified to a customer’s specifications, those components still need to be integrated into the customer’s technology on their side. highly-custom projects, on the other hand, are the creation of a complete product, from determining the best solution to the customer’s problem at the beginning, all the way to a boxed, ready-to-sell product at the end.


Considering Highly-Custom?


Seeking out and initiating a highly-custom project is most often done when the customer wants to expand their current line of products, or modify one of their existing products to compete in a new market sector.


“These highly-custom projects are usually a new business, segment, or market for our customers to sell their products into. Because of that, there’s more investment and time involved, because the specs have to be exactly what they want,” said Rick Rockershousen, Grid Connect’s Vice President of Sales.


The process of creating a highly-custom project begins when the customer approaches Grid Connect and describes the problem they are trying to solve with their new product. While the degree of collaboration varies on a case by case basis, Grid Connect’s engineers will use ground up engineering to develop a concept based on the information gathered from these initial conversations.


“I think, in the best cases, we’re trying to understand the problem and then we’re going to go out and propose a solution,” said Justice. “We do best when the customer can trust us to figure that out.”


As part of this development process, Grid Connect performs end-customer research in addition to product development. They seek out potential purchasers of the product being developed, inquire what they would want in the product, and incorporate that feedback into the solution created.


Once all of this consumer feedback has been taken into consideration, and the client approves of the solution presented to them, Grid Connect will manage the product’s manufacturing, production, and even packaging from end to end, providing the customer with a complete, ready-to-sell item at the end of the process.


Incredibly useful and successful products have resulted from highly-custom development. For example, Grid Connect worked closely with Schlage, who specialize in manufacturing locks, to develop technology that would allow its users to manage their home locks remotely from their smart phone or watch.As-seen-in


Grid Connect also collaborated with Wayne Water to create their new IoT Sump Pump. The pump uses Web connectivity to provide its owner with information about the pump’s life cycle, as well as real time alerts if the pump may potentially fail due to flooding.


The Pros & The Cons


However, many companies already employ teams of engineers for development, maintenance, management, and more. Why not make projects like this in house, rather than buy something from a third party? 


There are a number of reasons to consider investing in a highly-custom project even considering this. Even if a customer has a dedicated team of engineers, they may not want or be able to divert them away from critical business toward making something new. The current shortage of job-seeking engineers may certainly exacerbate this issue and further contribute to the decision to invest in a highly-custom option. This was the case for Schlage. Their engineering department needed to remain devoted to their daily business, which is their locks. Hence, Grid Connect was asked to develop a Wi-Fi adapter, enabling the connectivity Schlage desired to integrate with their locks. 


On the other side of this, Wayne Water’s engineers did not have expertise in  developing wireless connectivity solutions, and so they approached Grid Connect to partner in developing  their connected sump pump.


“Working with Wayne Water, the relationship there is they are the pump experts. They’re in charge of everything around pumps, and explaining that to us,” said Justice. “Meanwhile, we’re the networking and hardware experts, and we’re bringing all that to the table.”


An important thing to consider when debating about buying a highly-custom project is time to market. highly-custom lead times average around six to nine months from initial consultation to finished product. Grid Connect tackles time-sensitive challenges, and can complete development on a custom IoT application in as little as three months. Even projects with longer lead times get completed faster than if the customer chose to develop internally.


“For Schlage, we delivered from project start to shipping a product in just under a year,” said Justice. “They said, ‘Wow, this is the fastest project we’ve ever shipped.”


A highly-custom application definitely requires keeping many factors in mind. However, for custom IoT applications, Grid Connect has the expertise and experience to make the process smooth, quick, and successful.


Questions To Keep In Mind:


  • Do we have access to experts who can help develop our desired product in house?

  • Can those experts be devoted wholly to product development?

  • How important to the business is total ownership of the product being sold?

  • What is the desired timeframe to get the product to market?
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Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) vs. Custom Products

Jan 25, 2022 8:22:18 AM / by Rick Rockershousen posted in custom engineering


Ask our Engineers Anything:

What are the pros and cons of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) versus custom componentry?

Let’s say you work for a company developing a new product that uses a Serial interface, and you have been tasked with finding a way to integrate Ethernet connectivity. You research all the different options for exports, components that can convert connections like Serial into other interfaces, and come across a number of options. 


For example, the Grid Connect RS485 Ethernet Adapter can be purchased directly. This would be the commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) version of the product. However, the protocol on RS485 can also be customized to exactly match the company’s desired specifications. What are the differences between these two options, and what should one think about when the choice between COTS and custom is presented to them?


COTS products:

The nature of COTS products lends a number of benefits. Because a COTS component gets produced on a larger scale, they are standardized, providing identical features across the board. If the specifications provided in the component meet the needs of the customer, then that COTS will make the most business sense, saving time and capital to develop a custom piece. For that same reason, it likely would not be prudent to invest in a custom component for a small volume order.


“You aren’t going to do a custom if you only need a few,” said Rick Rockershousen, Vice President of Sales for GridConnect. “If you can’t find the perfect solution, but if you only need one or two or ten, it often makes more sense to take the nearest thing and work with it.”


Another benefit of COTS products is that they can easily be applied in a trial setting, testing to confirm if the technology achieves the intended goals of the project. That said, because COTS components come standardized, they may have too many features, or be physically unsuitable.


Custom products:

This potential for incompatibility makes COTS components more difficult to use in larger applications. For this reason, Grid Connect offers the ability to customize every component made under their brand name, so each piece can conform perfectly to the desired specifications for the project. 


“It could be anything, changing the firmware to hide the configuration of the parts they don’t want. It could be to add things that aren’t in the standard firmware, perhaps like supporting multiple Ethernet connections,” said Rockershousen.


The physical size and shape of each piece are commonly desired to be altered, whether for aesthetic reasons or practical concerns. Take this example of a customer who wanted an export for their new product, but had a physical constraint that required the customization of the export:


“A company that makes airline boarding pass and ticket printers contacted us about a custom version of the NET232. Their printers are serial, but they wanted to have them Ethernet connected,” said Rockershousen. “The customer didn’t have an easy way to plug-in/power the standard NET232, since available outlets are hard to find in airline terminals.”


To rectify this issue, Grid Connect customized the NET232 to receive power from the serial side of the device - so in this case the power is supplied by the printer itself. This resulted in a small, easily installable custom NET232 that converted  the serial cable coming off the printer into an Ethernet connection without having to power the new part separately.  


One of the biggest pros of customization is the ability to have full control over the user’s end-to-end experience of the product. Customization allows for the component to be branded precisely, allowing the company to determine how much they want the customer to know about how their product comes together. Components can even be added to set their product apart from their competitors.


“It’s a competitive advantage to have something custom that exactly fits the need, where everybody else is using off-the-shelf things to fill it,” said Rockershousen.


Costs for customization vary, but most minor customizations run in the $1,500 to $15,000 range.  Things can go up from there if extensive redesign is required to achieve the desired result.


Grid Connect can help with customization of many products, especially those that are under the Grid Connect brand, or include parts from Espressif or Lantronix.   Here are just a few:


NET485 Enhanced - Serial to Ethernet Device Server




NET232+ Serial to Ethernet Intelligent Cable Adapter 








GC Enhanced xPICO™ - Serial to Ethernet Embedded Device Server








Shop all customizable products.


Ultimately, asking questions about the product and application being considered are crucial to making the best possible business decision when it comes to COTS versus custom. Some questions to think about include:

  • Do the available COTS products meet the needs of this project?
  • How many units of this product are required for the project?
  • How time sensitive is this project?
  • Do our competitors offer a similar product?
  • How much control should be exerted over the end-to-end user experience?

Contact us for more information on how we can help. 

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Grid Connect is Connecting the Internet of Things

Jun 22, 2015 8:25:54 AM / by Brittney Borowicz posted in app, Cloud, connection, connectsense, Consumer, custom engineering, General, Grid Connect, hardware, home automation, Internet of Things, IoT, knowledge, manufacturer, networking, OEM, serial to wi-fi, software, technology, white paper, White Papers, wifi



Connecting products to the Internet of Things (IoT) is essential to manufacturers looking to stay competitive within their industry. Adding IoT capabilities gives consumers more features. It also allows the manufacturer to stay connected with their customers while discovering new product use cases and applications that open them up to new revenue streams.

The “Internet of Things” (IoT) is a phrase used to describe making everyday objects “smart” by adding networking and connectivity to them. Grid Connect Inc.’s DNA has been IoT from the very beginning.

Grid Connect can supply your team with technology, custom engineering, expert knowledge and support at all levels of the IoT pyramid. We provide end-to-end solutions starting with your existing product and ending with a truly smart device.

All of our solutions are designed to fit your company’s needs and can include:

  • OEM solutions
  • Custom hardware
  • Custom firmware
  • Cloud development
  • App development

To further illustrate Grid Connect’s knowledge and abilities within the IoT marketplace, consumers can purchase our own product line of IoT-connected devices. ConnectSense is a family of wireless sensors for your home or business. Each sensor uses the Wi-Fi network in your location and communicates to the ConnectSense cloud application. The ConnectSense cloud stores data from your sensors and generates notifications when a rule you have set applies to your environment. For example, if the ConnectSense Water Sensor in your basement detects water, the sensor will communicate this change to the cloud application. From here, the cloud application will then determine what to do with this new information, such as send you a notification so that you can react appropriately.

If you are looking to add connectivity to your product, download “10 Internet of Things Design Considerations” and call Grid Connect at +1 (800) 975-GRID or fill out the form here.



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Grid Connect Inc. Selected as Exclusive North American Distributor of High-Flying Products

Mar 20, 2014 8:26:56 AM / by Brittney Borowicz posted in Canada, China, consumer electronics, custom engineering, engineer, firmware, General, government, Grid Connect, High-Flying, Industrial, internet, Mexico, networking, North America, Press Releases, product engineering, Products, smart home, smart metering, Technical Support, technology, Wi-Fi modules, Wireless


NAPERVILLE, IL--(Mar 20, 2014) - Grid Connect (, a distributor and manufacturer of networking technology, has been named the exclusive North American distributor of High-Flying products, a line of low power Wi-Fi modules that enable devices to connect to the Internet.

High-Flying Electronics Technology Corporation (, based in China, is a leader in Internet of Things enabling solutions. High-Flying products are used in industrial, smart metering, smart home, government, consumer and education markets.

As the North American distributor, Grid Connect provides High-Flying customers in the United States, Canada and Mexico technical support, customized product engineering and North American inventory, eliminating the time, expense and resources needed for importing, customs and duties.

With Grid Connect's custom engineering design services, High-Flying modules can be pre-loaded with customers' specific firmware, webpages and setup parameters, making modules production line-ready.

North American technical support is provided by Grid Connect's engineers, who are knowledgeable about wired and wireless technology and are trained by High-Flying to customize the software to customers' exact requirements. Technical support is available by phone, email and on-line chat.

"The High-Flying product line compliments Grid Connect's network technology products and services, and utilizes our experience in developing Cloud applications that solve problems," said Mike Justice, president of Grid Connect.

While Grid Connect carries an inventory of all High-Flying products, first time customers can order small quantities or evaluation kits. Additional information and online ordering is available at

About Grid Connect Inc.
Grid Connect, an ISO 9001:2008 company, is a leading manufacturer and distributor of products that enable the Internet of Things. The company's custom engineering services and attentive customer support ensure that all networking technology products sold by Grid Connect work to customer specifications. In stock items usually ship the same day, and all products come with a no-risk, 30-day money back guarantee. Online ordering is available at Grid Connect also can be found on Twitter @GridConnect and on LinkedIn at


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IP in your hand… Really!!

Nov 8, 2010 2:37:58 PM / by Rick Rockershousen posted in custom engineering, General, IP technology, live swap, NET232, NET232jr, network, OEM, Press Releases, Products, serial devices, serial port devices


The world’s tiniest device server, the NET232jr, was originally nicknamed by its first customer as “IP In Your Hand”.   This clever turn of phrase gave us a few chuckles, but it does point out the amazingly small size of the NET232jr.    The  NET232 “junior” enables serial devices with IP technology in the smallest package available in the world (as far as we know!).

We were able to shrink down the size of our standard NET232 by getting rid of the power regulation circuitry and the power LED.    This change requires that power be provided to the NET232jr over the serial port (coming from the serial device), and that power must be regulated at 3.3VDC or 5VDC.    This obviously means that the NET232jr is not for everyone.

The NET232jr has been primarily used thus far by OEMs who want to offer it as an add-on for their serial port devices, and who have the ability to modify the serial port of their product to put out the power required.    You might ask “if you’re going to modify your product to put out power on the serial port, why not just go ahead and add the XPort (the main component inside the NET232jr) to your product instead?”    Well, there are several reasons why you might not want to do that.  First and foremost is cost.  Maybe you expect only a limited percentage of your customers to actually need an Ethernet connection.   Why put an XPort in every product?  Why not just sell an add-on that is small, smart, cost-effective and can be customized to your specifications with ease?   This is the motivation for the NET232jr.

Another interesting use of the “junior” is when you have a serial device that must be operational at all times, and you need to “live swap” it for servicing quickly and simply.   If you use the NET232jr as the network connection, then you can leave the NET232jr attached to the network while you swap out whatever serial device is attached.  This means you do not have to reconfigure the network connection for the new device; you simply plug it in and the NET232jr “remembers” the network settings.   Thus, you do not need to call in IT personnel to replace your serial device – anyone can do it – just plug it in!

The NET232jr came into existence when a customer asked for something smaller than the NET232 (which is already one of the smallest Serial to Ethernet device servers on the market).    Grid Connect is happy to discuss your project/product needs with you and see if we can find a solution – even if you don’t see on our website.  We have on staff a team of engineers dedicated to finding solutions to your networking problems.    Maybe you need a custom design that will fit in your enclosure or cabinet.  Who knows – maybe you’ll even see an “IP in your cabinet” blog post someday!

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