Category Archive for "Manufacturing"

Four Common Startup Roadblocks to Success

hardware startupFailure is hard and certainly no one goes into building a startup thinking that they are going to fail—however, it happens. While failing is in no way enjoyable, that doesn’t mean that it does not have its benefits—in terms of learning what not to do. We can all learn from failure, we can even learn from other startup’s failures. Below are four areas where hardware startups have faltered. Making yourself aware of the challenges associated with each of these areas, you are more likely to make educated decisions that (hopefully) allow you to avoid failure altogether.

Wrong Design

Entrepreneurs are designers at heart—they want to design a product, methodology or experience for their target market. They have a brilliant idea and want to introduce it into the marketplace. Design failure can arise rather quickly if the startup founder is not willing to modify their original design idea to meet the needs of customers or manufacturing.

If your customers are asking for your product to function a certain way, feel a particular way or look a specific way, you are going to want to modify your design. At the end of the day, you want people to both purchase and enjoy your product.

When you are working towards commercialization of a product, the goal is to be efficient, minimize costs and get your product onto store shelves quickly—DFM (Design for Manufacturability) works to do just this. With DFM you work out any potential issues before manufacturing planning which saves both time and resources. If you fail to design your product with manufacturing in mind, you are making your startup extremely vulnerable to hefty manufacturing costs and even the potential that it is not able to be manufactured at all.

Reluctance to Get Prototype Feedback

Plenty of hardware startup founders refuse to let anyone see their product until it’s time to launch. Many are afraid that someone will steal their idea, that potential customers won’t like it until it’s perfect, or they want to get a big head start against the competition. Whatever the reason, failure to get feedback is often fatal for a startup.

Feedback is critical during product development. You aren’t going to know if you are on the right track without feedback from your target market. You are going to want people in your target market to test your product (not just family and friends). It is helpful to get feedback that is both honest and actionable. By creating an inexpensive prototype, and gathering feedback from it, you will be in a much better position as you build your product. This feedback loop is important until the final design is ready.

Product/Market Fit

It doesn’t help your startup if you have a beautiful product that works flawlessly if the market for it just isn’t there. For example, if you are positioning an electronic gadget for the 65+ year old crowd you are going to have a hard sell if they are not well versed in the latest technology trends, or if you are targeting the 18-25 year old crowd with a gadget that is overly cumbersome you are going to face an uphill battle. The solution to this is to find out what appeals to the target market you are aiming to capture and design/modify your product to grab and hold their attention.

Funding

This list would not be complete without the mention of funding. Funding is the primary stumbling block for a majority of startups. Developing, manufacturing and launching a product takes time and money. Whether you are turning to crowdfunding or looking for investors, you are bound to face a hurdle or two.

If your goal is to raise capital from investors, be prepared for rejection (a number of times) before you succeed. The process almost always takes longer than you think it will, so start early in your quest to find an investor.

If crowdfunding is your plan, be sure that you show up with a nearly flawless campaign. Your video, content and prototype need to be ready to go. Your goal is to show potential investors that you have a plan laid out, it is well researched and that you are ready.

Starting a hardware company comes with a unique set of challenges. If you can navigate these four common roadblocks, you will be in a much better position for a successful product launch.

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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The Transformation of 3D Printing Technology

3D printingLess than ten years ago, the hype surround 3D printing technology was at an all-time high. The idea of each household having one led the news cycle. In hindsight, it is clear that this level of hype and the fever-pitch level of excitement was not sustainable or even realistic. There were far too many barriers for the technology to overcome, both technological and usability, before it could be in “everyone’s house”.

Over time the hype slowly diminished, and the technology began to steadily mature. Firms focused on 3D printing began to collaborate, merge and narrow their focus. Today, the future of the technology looks considerably different than it once did. Below are three areas of growth for 3D printing technology and a sign of where the technology is heading.

Industrial 3D Printing

3D printing is making its way onto the manufacturing floor. A recent survey from Jabil, found that “81% of manufacturers are using 3D printing technology today”. It seems that additive manufacturing has found its niche in mainstream manufacturing.

The fact that 3D printing has become so prominent with manufacturers, shows that companies are looking for ways to incorporate this technology into their product designs. Companies are no longer standing on the sidelines waiting to see how the technology matures, but are instead harnessing its design benefits and finding ways to use it themselves.

Material Selection

Where once the only material available was plastic, today there is an ever-increasing range of materials to choose from. The most prominent is still plastic (PLA, ABS, PET, PVA, Nylon) however, metals (steel, gold, silver, titanium), ceramic, and wood options are also quickly coming to market.

New and improved metal 3D printing will make a splash this year. “Metal 3D printing will become more and more of a necessity when solving specific manufacturing challenges and creating customized, complex end-use products.” (Engineering.com) We expect to see the range of materials available to continue to grow as the technology continues to advance.

End-Use Production Parts

Companies, such as GE, are making great strides in advancing 3D printing and its ability to produce end-use products. However, before 3D printing can really take off in terms of end-use production, there are some major barriers that need to be addressed. “Material properties, high costs, complexity, time to a usable part and location of a production-capable machine relegated to an additive manufacturing lab are significant barriers to the use of additive manufacturing in production.” (3D Printing Industry)

Products produced for consumers with 3D printing will be required to meet the same material properties (strength, surface finish, color) that traditional manufacturing has mastered. While it is most likely that end-use production won’t come to fruition in 2018, we can expect to see more companies finding ways of making this happen with one-off parts.

It is clear that additive manufacturing is here to stay. As it is now, this technology continues to excel with its prototyping capabilities and is a great compliment to traditional manufacturing.

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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FAQ: The Basics of Intellectual Property and Manufacturing

intellectual property and manufacturingFirst-time entrepreneurs, and even seasoned entrepreneurs, have questions when it comes to protecting their intellectual property (IP) and moving forward with manufacturing. No two products are alike; therefore, a custom-tailored strategy is necessary when it comes to navigating these two areas of product development.

On the IP side, a decision must be made about what type of patent (design patent or utility patent) makes sense for the invention and budget. On the manufacturing side, everything about the design, even the smallest details, must be accounted for when selecting materials and where to manufacture the product. Having insight and answers early-on in the startup journey helps entrepreneurs understand the full spectrum of what it takes to bring a product to market.

Below we delve into the top three questions we frequently receive related to IP and manufacturing.

Do I need a patent to start my design?

You don’t necessarily need a patent to start the design phase of product development. Often, the design phase is done in parallel with the patent creation process and filing.

Drawings from the design are included as part of the patent application and can be used as attachments to your application. It is recommended to at least file for a Provisional Patent prior to disclosing any information about the product such as designs, prototypes, and specifications to outside parties. You will also want to have your patent in the Patent Pending stage before moving forward with any manufacturing or marketing initiatives.

How will you keep my intellectual property confidential?

Ideas are a “dime a dozen”, but the real intellectual property (IP) is what gets developed, not the idea itself. Developing the functional aspect of the idea is the difficult part. All information is kept confidential and disclosed strictly on a need-to-know basis with the client’s approval.

What process will be used for production manufacturing?

Before entering the production manufacturing phase, several things will be conducted to determine the most cost effective and price friendly option.  Material, surface finish, quantity, and post processing are factors in deciding the appropriate process for production manufacturing.

*This is the second piece in a two-part series, view part one here, FAQ: The Basics of Product Development.

We are happy to answer any additional product development questions you have, please email us at info@3d-innovations.com

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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Production Manufacturing Trip to China (Part 2)

FOG_Safe grease catchmentQuick recap: Our President, Collin Kobayashi, accompanied a client, FOG Safe, on a production manufacturing trip to China. They have returned to Hawaii, and are now discussing their recent trip to find the right manufacturing partner for the FOG Safe product, as well as the expectations of the trip versus what happened in this “Part 2” production manufacturing blog post. (View ‘Part 1’ here.)

Factory Visits and Deciding on a Production Manufacturing Partner
Let’s start off with, how was the trip?

[C. Kobayashi]: Traveling to the various factories was an exciting adventure for both myself and our client. Meeting factory management and touring the different factories is always exciting—no two factories are identical, so really getting to dive in and see the different manufacturing methodologies is a great experience.

[Client]: Seeing each of the factory’s capabilities really made a difference in deciding which factory is most capable of producing our product. Each had pros and cons, but at the end of the day, the one selected was based on 3D Innovations’ recommendation and my own impression of the visit.

What type of factories did you visit?

[C. Kobayashi]: We had the opportunity to visit with a handful of factories, both for product manufacturing as well as packaging manufacturing facilities.

What surprised you during this trip?

 [C. Kobayashi]: Improvements in manufacturing have come a long way. It was quite evident that manufacturing companies need to constantly upgrade their technologies to be efficient and competitive. During a few of the visits, we saw some advanced manufacturing systems that made them not only efficient, but able to handle large scale projects and track every stage of the process until the items were shipped out.

[Client]: I haven’t been to a factory before, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. It was an entirely new experience for me. Visiting the various factories gave me a real comparison and I was able to see the differences, strengths, and weaknesses between each.

When you selected a final manufacturer, how did they stand out from the other factories?

 [C. Kobayashi]: Pricing will always affect the bottom line, but other factors are equally as important. All of these factors were taken into account when the final manufacturing partners were selected.

[Client]: A face-to-face meeting with these potential manufacturing partners really opened my eyes to see what goes on with the manufacturing process and what happens behind the scenes. Without these meetings taking place, it would have been a shot in the dark and hoping that the right manufacturer was selected.

What were the main takeaways from the trip to China?

[C. Kobayashi]: A few takeaways from this trip for me were seeing the various departments and logistics that handle the production process from start to finish. Being able to observe the entire process from machinery to quality assurance was an amazing conclusion to the project and development cycle.

[Client]: Trying to do this process without the assistance of manufacturing experts is impossible.  If doing this on my own, it would have been not only difficult, but there is a chance that I could have made the wrong decisions and ultimately sacrificed, time, money, and quality. I was fortunate enough to have 3D Innovations support the project from start to finish, and continually advising on the best way to bring our product to market.

What is the next step for the FOG Safe product?

[Client & C. Kobayashi]: Once molds are made, we will await the first samples and start full production quantities.

 

Have questions related to manufacturing a product internationally or locally? We are happy to help! Please send your questions to info@3d-innovations.com

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Production Manufacturing Trip to China (Part 1)

FOG_Safe grease catchmentOur President, Collin Kobayashi, will be accompanying a client, FOG Safe, on a production manufacturing trip to China later this week. We are often asked about the process of researching and procuring a manufacturing partner, so we have decided to delve deeper into the topic of “manufacturing partnerships” in a two-part post here on our blog.

In this first post we discuss the benefits of traveling to the factory and getting acquainted with both factory management and factory processes. In our second post, we will dig into the details of the expectations verses experience of our client.

Finding a Production Manufacturing Partner

This is our client’s first time manufacturing a product and they are eager to dive right into the manufacturing phase of product development. They have asked Collin to accompany them on this trip to assist in visiting and selecting a manufacturing partner. 3D Innovations has developed strong supply chains and manufacturing channels, both locally and internationally, over the years and is well versed in manufacturing partner selection. For many entrepreneurs, visiting a factory for the very first time can be overwhelming and intimidating, so having a partner present to help guide and explain the process is greatly beneficial.

Visiting the manufacturing facility has many benefits, the primary benefit is that the client gets to physically see where their product will be manufactured. Seeing the parts being molded in front of their eyes, gives them a deeper appreciation of the entire design process and practices that went into getting their product developed. Also, there is no substitute to a face-to-face meeting with the individuals that will be building the product and directly seeing the process in which it will be manufactured. At the end of a factory visit, such as this one, we find that clients often feel confident in their decision to begin the manufacturing phase of product development, accompanied with a huge sense of relief to have finally decided on and secured a manufacturing partner.

Depending on your individual product and the complexity of the design, factory visits are not mandatory or always necessary. However, after a visit you will have a better sense of what your product will look like in the end.

Do you have questions related to manufacturing a product, send us an email at info@3d-innovations.com, we are happy to help!

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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5 Major Challenges of Manufacturing Your Product Abroad

The manufacturing phase of product development is one of the stages that causes hardware startups the most stress. By the time you reach the manufacturing phase, you have a solid design in place, funding efforts are either underway or nearing completion and you now find yourself with the (daunting) task of securing a manufacturing partner. Keep in mind that manufacturing, either locally or abroad, comes with obstacles—however, these obstacles don’t have to be a crushing deal breaker for your startup.

If you have decided to manufacture your product abroad, there are a few additional obstacles that need be accounted for. Below we discuss five challenges your hardware startup will face while manufacturing your product abroad.

Cultural Differences

It’s no secret that business is done differently all over the world. In one country a handshake can seal the deal, while in another a deal may quickly vanish if you find yourself late to a meeting. Before you start connecting with manufacturers, learn the culture. Research cultural etiquette and, if possible, talk to others that have done business in the country before. A little research ahead of time, can save you major heartache later on.

manufacturingQuality Assurance

When you are not in the same country as your manufacturer it is very easy to lose product quality. Things usually start off well, yet as days turn into weeks and weeks turn into years, quality can fade without your awareness. To protect yourself and the integrity of your product, be sure to include quality clauses in your contract and continuously examine and test your product.

Large Quantities

Most of the time you will need to order large quantities to receive a price break and make it worth while for your business. Quantities of this size can cause a bit of a cash crunch for a hardware startup just gaining its footing. With larger quantities also comes longer wait times. You may find yourself waiting months for your product to make it to the United States.

Choosing the Right Manufacturer

Whether you are manufacturing abroad or at home, this is always a challenge. Ideally you want a manufacturing partner that has experience manufacturing similar products to yours who is easy to communicate with. Vet prospective manufactures and select a factory that has the best reputation. If you are not able to inspect the manufacturer and factory on your own, consider outsourcing an audit. Before the contract is signed, do your due diligence so you can be confident that your product is in the right hands.

Logistical Costs

If you are manufacturing your product in another country there will be the additional costs associated with logistics. These fees can vary widely and become shockingly high if not researched properly. Before finalizing your decision of manufacturing abroad, take this cost into consideration to be sure that it isn’t a deal breaker for you.

Manufacturing abroad comes with certain trade-offs. Do your research and reach out for experienced expert advice before you delve into this phase of product development.

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Top Four Manufacturing & Commercialization Articles

The manufacturing phase of product development poses unique hurdles, no matter if you are a first time hardware startup or you are a well-known corporation. Most recently and notably, Tesla Inc. CEO, Elon Musk, warned of the production challenges that still lie ahead for the Model 3. No company is immune to production challenges. Whether you have decided to manufacture locally or internationally, you are bound to face one or two hiccups before your product is ready to hit store shelves.

Before you dive into the manufacturing phase, we have compiled four of our top manufacturing and commercialization related articles for you. These articles touch on everything from “what to expect from a manufacturing partner” to “how to design for manufacturing from the start”.

Manufacturing Facts Hardware Entrepreneurs Need To Know

“Developing a product is exhilarating, however when the time comes to start the manufacturing phase of the product development process, many entrepreneurs aren’t exactly sure where to begin. Here are some pieces of advice that every hardware startup should know about the manufacturing process.”

The Complex Relationship of Innovation and Commercialization

“Often times inventors and entrepreneurs are viewed as people who lock themselves away to develop an idea, but the truth of the matter is, it takes help from a wide range of people to get an idea on the road to commercialization. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. If you need a certain skill set that you don’t possess, find someone who does—asking for help might just be the thing that sets your idea on the path to success.”

Why Does Design For Manufacturability Matter?

“When you are working towards commercialization of a product, the goal is to be efficient, minimize costs and get your product onto store shelves quickly—Design for Manufacturability (DFM) works to do just this. With DFM you work out any potential issues before manufacturing planning which saves both time and resources.”

What Your Future Manufacturing Partner Wants You To Know

“When the time comes to manufacture your hardware product, having the right partner on your team makes all the difference. Speed, accuracy, reliability and open communication are all characteristics to look for when picking a contract manufacturer (CM). Building a supply chain from scratch is challenging and many hardware startups falter during this early-stage, however with the right information your startup doesn’t have to be one of them.”

“If you don’t manufacture a quality product, all you’ve got at the end is a bunch of expensive mistakes.”-Eliyahu M. Goldratt

Have additional questions about the manufacturing process? Send them our way, at info@3d-innovations.com

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When is the Best Time to Consult a Product Development Firm?

product development firmBuilding a hardware business from the ground up is challenging, however an experienced product development firm on your side can help you navigate the obstacles that arise along the way. A product development firm should be viewed as a long-term partner for your startup, and work with you to not only get your first product off the ground quickly and within budget, but your subsequent ones as well.

Partnering with a product development firm early in the product development cycle can expedite your time-to-market; however, there are at least three other times in which this partnership is invaluable to your startup.

Technical Expertise

Often times startups are in need of a technical expert to get their idea off the ground. Whether you are a software or hardware startup, the right expertise is necessary and often the difference between success and failure.

An expert with experience in the industry you are trying to navigate will be able to provide you with instrumental insight and get your startup headed in the right direction from the start. As Steve Jobs once stated, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” While a technical expert won’t tell you what to do, their insight will help you make better informed decisions.

Manufacturing Phase

Manufacturing a product is an expensive undertaking, and becomes even more expensive with each misstep. You need to be sure that your design meets manufacturing requirements and is cost efficient from the very beginning. When working with a product development firm, you can prepare early for this step with a product design centered around Design for Manufacturability.

Design for Manufacturability (DFM) is the process of being proactive during the product design phase by considering the manufacturing stage of product development at the start of the design cycle. Early consideration of the manufacturing phase shortens product development time, minimizes development costs and ensures a smooth transition into production.

At the heart of Design for Manufacturability is a group of design guidelines structured to help the designer reduce costs and manufacturing difficulty. The following is a brief list of these guidelines:

  • Reduce the number of total parts
  • Use of standard components
  • Design parts to be multi-functional
  • Design for ease of fabrication
  • Minimize assembly directions
  • Maximize compliance
Patent Preparation

The patent process is extremely regimented and your design documentation must adhere to strict guidelines. A product development firm can make certain that you have the necessary line drawings for the patent filing process. Often times product development professionals work directly with patent attorneys to ensure a streamlined and timely filing for your invention.

With the right partnerships in place, your startup can quickly realize its full potential and get your product into the hands of customers.

Have further questions about product development? Send them our way at info@3d-innovations.com

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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Three Technologies Transforming the Hardware Startup Landscape

Over the last five years hardware startups have found it easier to find their footing, reach customers and develop a product without “breaking the bank”. The transforming business landscape for hardware startups can be attributed to advances in technology. Where it once took thousands of dollars for a digital design and prototyping alone, today it can be completed at a fraction of the cost. Below are three technologies that have increased in usability and popularity, and in doing so, transformed the way startups are built.

Digital Designs

3D digital designs are allowing startups the freedom of testing and design validation before building a prototype. While designing a product is a trial-and-error process, digital designs allow you to quickly navigate this stage and settle on a final design that meets both your customers’ needs and manufacturing requirements.

Digital designs speed up the product design process, and ensure a smooth transition into the manufacturing phase. With DFM (design for manufacturability) in mind you can design a product that will increase your manufacturing efficiency while saving you both time and money.

Additive Manufacturing

3D printingNo list related to technology would be complete without the mention of 3D printing. This technology is the “golden boy” of engineering and product design at the moment—and rightfully so. This single technology has shifted supply chains, disrupted the traditional manufacturing process and has allowed startups the freedom of iteration at a reasonable cost.

What exactly is 3D printing? It is defined as, “the action or process of making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down many thin layers of a material in succession.” As the material selection continues to expand, so does the application use for additive manufacturing. 3D printing at one time was used specifically for prototyping, and while this is still where it is the most popular, it is moving into the manufacturing domain with short-run production.

Crowdfunding

Starting a business once required bootstrapping or venture capital investment; however, crowdfunding has changed all of this. A well designed product, coupled with a carefully curated crowdfunding campaign, can garnish unprecedented funding to launch your business. Kickstarter and Indiegogo have helped launch some of the most innovative startups.

Crowdfunding might not be the right fit for every startup or every product, but if your idea is a nice fit for this type of funding support, you could be looking at significant help in manufacturing and commercializing your product idea.

The cost prohibitive nature of starting a business has been on the decline and now more than ever, people with an innovative idea can make their product dream a reality.

“When you find an idea that you just can’t stop thinking about, that’s probably a good one to pursue.” — Josh James, Omniture CEO and co-founder

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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The Complex Relationship of Innovation and Commercialization

Innovation and commercialization are similar yet vastly different.  You can have an abundance of ideas, but having the structured process in place to bring them to fruition is key. The path to commercialization is littered with potholes and roadblocks, but you don’t have to navigate them alone.

Often the process of moving a product idea out of the “idea” stage is challenging, so many inventors tend to discard the idea and move on. However, with the right resources and structure in place, you can get your idea off the ground and headed towards commercialization.

“It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen.” – Scott Belsky, co-founder of Behance.

Below are a few items to consider when developing the support structure for your business.
  1. Community Resources. Look around at your local community and see what resources are in place to help you develop your business idea. Depending on your idea you might be searching for a tech incubator, a business accelerator, mentoring, training programs or networking events. While many inventors dream of building a business in Silicon Valley, the truth is that your local community might be the best place for you to start.
  2. Service Providers. In line with community resources, your local tech incubator or accelerator will be able to put you in touch with professionals in your community. For example, product development experts, programmers, lawyers, CPAs etc. Incubators and accelerators will have knowledge and experience working with these service providers, and be able to guide you toward the ones that meet your specific business needs.
  3. Funding. Most startups need funding at one point. This assistance might come in the form of grants, venture capitalists, tax breaks or R&D funding. Research what type of funding makes the most sense for your business and your goals.
  4. Intellectual Property. Patent research should not be overlooked at the very early stages of forming your business. Before you get going and commit yourself to developing a product, you want to be sure that someone else does not hold the rights to it. (Take a look at how Herbavore, a startup client of ours, approached the entire patent process.)

Often times inventors and entrepreneurs are viewed as people who lock themselves away to develop an idea, but the truth of the matter is, it takes help from a wide range of people to get an idea on the road to commercialization. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. If you need a certain skill set that you don’t possess, find someone who does—asking for help might just be the thing that sets your idea on the path to success.

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