Category Archive for "Startups"

Four Must-Haves When Searching for a Product Development Firm

product developmentBuilding a hardware startup from the ground up is hard work—partnering with the right product development firm from the get-go is vital. Today it seems as though there are a plethora of product development firms out there, however not all are created equal. While you are doing your research and interviewing potential product development partners, here are four things to look for, and measure against.

Experience

You are going to want an experienced firm. Whether you need them for a single stage in the product development cycle or for the entirety of it, you need a firm that has in-depth experience. This experience means that they will be able to foresee potential issues and help remedy them before they become major problems for your startup. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to past clients of theirs to ask about their experience with the firm as well.

Industry Knowledge

Are you going into a niche industry? Search out a product development partner with experience in it. Not all firms can be an expert in every industry out there, we advise you to talk to your network and find a firm that has experience in your specific industry. This will not only assist you in the development of your product, but the additional knowledge brought to the table will help get you up to speed on the industry as a whole.

Professional Contacts

Find a product development firm with a large network and extensive “rolodex”. This network includes everything from Intellectual Property Attorneys to Public Relations Experts. Your startup is going to need assistance from a range of professionals as you work to get it off of the ground. Many first-time entrepreneurs quickly realize that they can’t do it all on their own, and need to bring other professionals on-board to keep things moving ahead.

Manufacturing Partnerships

Manufacturing a new hardware project can be a bumpy road. You are going to want, and need, a product development partner that has established relationships with manufacturers. Most product development firms have relationships with both local and international manufacturing companies, and can help you decide what direction will make the most sense for your business. Also, while the product development firm will have manufacturing partners, that doesn’t mean you are required to use them. If you have a manufacturer you feel will be a better fit, make sure your product development firm is willing to work outside their network.

Deciding on a product development firm to partner with is no small task. You are entrusting your idea and invention to another, and you want to be sure that it is going into the right hands. This crucial partnership during the early formative days, weeks, months of your hardware startup can make all the difference.

Have additional product development questions? Contact 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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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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Product Design: Building Products Customers Can’t Live Without

product designProduct design is about building a great product, but it also about building a product that people will love. Often times startups believe that designing their innovative product is the hardest part when launching the business, but the task of gaining a loyal customer base can often times be just as challenging. If you have found yourself in the predicament of having a great product design, but your customer base is lagging, below are four items to reflect on.

Problem Solver

Is your invention solving a common problem that a segment of the population experiences on a regular basis? People want solutions to everyday annoyances and chances are that if there is a problem you are experiencing frequently, there are others in the same “boat”. If your product is not solving a common problem, you are going to have the added task of explaining to your customers that they are experiencing this “problem” and don’t even realize it.

Price Point

Finding the perfect price is every startups dilemma. If you price it too low, you eat into your profit margin and customers might get the false idea that it is a “cheap” product. However, if you price it too high you risk alienating the customer base you are targeting. Work with focus groups to help determine the right price.

Ease of Use

Is your product easy to use or does a customer need to read instructions beforehand? Customers want products to have a degree of intuition designed into it. If your product is too complicated or made too cumbersome by unnecessary features, you should think about a re-design. “Design works best when it gets out of the user’s way.” –Neil Gajera

Existence

Is your target customer base aware that your product even exists? If you have a great product, but no one is aware that it is on the market, you have a problem. Getting ahead of this potential problem early-on is the best way to make sure this doesn’t happen. Test your product out with focus groups, give working prototypes to people who will share their feedback with you and their experience with others and don’t forget to market your product. You don’t have to have a large marketing budget to make your product known, grassroots marketing can be some of the most effective and cost efficient.

Great product design is the balance of simplicity and functionality.

Need assistance designing a product? We can help! Send our team an e-mail at info@3d-innovations.com so we can get started.

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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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How to Prepare for Your First Patent Attorney Meeting

Most hardware startups find themselves thinking about intellectual property early-on and wondering if it is truly necessary for their invention. If you are planning to manufacture your product abroad, considering a crowdfunding campaign, wanting to speak with potential investors or find yourself constantly worrying about someone copying your invention, then meeting with a patent attorney is a great idea. In many cases, having a design or utility patent will be beneficial for your startup in the long-run.

Below are a few tips on how to prepare for your initial meeting with a patent attorney. Keep in mind that the first meeting can be free—being adequately prepared means that you will be able to glean as much knowledge as possible from this meeting.

Prepare a brief description of your invention.

The key to this description is to be concise. What does your invention do? What are the main functionalities of your invention? This written summary if often called an “invention disclosure statement”, however it doesn’t need to be formal and can be written in any form. Keep it to a page or less in length, and even a paragraph or two will be sufficient.

Write your description so that someone unfamiliar with the product can get an idea of what it does and the technology behind it. Patent attorneys deal with a variety of technology, but don’t always have an extensive technical background, so you want to be able to bring them up to speed quickly on your specific invention.

Bring drawings or a prototype.

Seeing your invention is a quick and efficient way of describing your product to the patent attorney. A prototype allows the patent attorney to assess the product and understand the exact intricacies behind your invention. Depending on the exact nature of your product, a functional prototype might be just what you need for the meeting. However, line drawings or sketches of your product will also work for your initial meeting. These drawings don’t have to be formal, but they should be thorough.

Conduct your own patent search.

This can sound slightly counter-intuitive since you are meeting with a patent attorney, however you should to conduct your own patent search beforehand. Search patent databases such as www.google.com/patents or www.uspto.gov using keywords from your “invention disclosure statement”.

Print the patent search results.

From your patent research, print and bring the patents that are most similar to your idea. You can either print out the patent references or compose a list of them, so that they can be easily retrieved. This will provide a research starting point for the attorney as they conduct a more formal patent search.

We also suggest organizing the above information into a single file folder and include a business card. This way the attorney will have all of your invention information and contact information in one place.

Adequate preparation for this meeting ensures that you will get the most out of your initial meeting and hopefully gain a better understanding as to whether this route makes the most sense for your invention and stage of business.

Have additional questions about patents, prototypes or line drawings? Please send us an e-mail, 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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Top Four Hardware Startup Articles

We are delving into the archive and sharing our top four blog posts pertaining to developing, launching, and scaling a hardware startup. These articles touch on everything from the complexities of launching a hardware product to the scaling of your startup. Enjoy!

The Top 3 Challenges Between Launching & Scaling Your Hardware Startup

Each stage of launching a hardware startup comes with its own set of challenges. While the challenges are unique for each business and each industry, here we discuss the top three universal challenges we have seen arise time and again.

As you read through the two lists, you will notice a theme developing between the stages. During the launch phase, the challenges tend to focus on the startup founder and business acumen. As the hardware startup scales though, the challenges tend to focus more on the manufacturing side of the business. This is why the importance of finding the right manufacturing partner for your startup from the get-go cannot be stressed enough.

Hardware Startups: Overcoming Failure to Find Success

Building a hardware startup is hard work, and the road to success is often dotted with moments of failure, however these moments of adversity make you stronger as an entrepreneur. We tend to perceive failure as more public than success, and try our best to avoid it so as not to be embarrassed. The simple truth is—no great success was ever achieved without failure. So in order to succeed in the world of hardware startups, you must first understand that failure is just a stepping stone to greatness.

Hardware is a Perfectly Complex Mess

Early-stage hardware startups are faced with complex challenges, a flurry of information and questions, many questions. To sum it up, hardware is messy. However, with technological advances and a shift in barriers to entry, hardware has never been easier than it is today.

Technology is enhancing the ability for fast experimentation, prototype development and manufacturing. Years ago these steps in themselves took months, today 3D printing along with a plethora of other advancements means that you can test designs and prototype in days or weeks. So what exactly makes hardware complex?

Hardware Startups: Can I Patent My Invention?

A patent for your invention is useful, in that it gives you exclusive rights to the idea/product (for twenty years), allows you to license the invention and provides a strong market position. However, to obtain a patent your invention must meet certain criteria. Here are a few important questions to ask yourself in determining whether your invention is patentable.

We have all heard the saying, “hardware is hard” — however, with proper planning and experts by your side, launching your hardware startup doesn’t have to be impossible.

Do you have questions pertaining to your hardware product idea? We would love to help, 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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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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3D CAD: Exploration & Iteration

At its most simple level, the engineering discipline is about exploration and iteration—which are the two principles computer-aided design (CAD) is built upon. CAD has come a long way from the time when its primary use was to document finalized drawings. Where once CAD was a final step in the design process—today, it is a valuable first step. If you are not using CAD from the initial design stage, you are missing out on some of the most helpful aspects of the program.

Design Iterations

When it comes to designing, iterations are both helpful and inevitable. How often does our first design actually become the final design? Many inventors have an idea of what they want their final product to look like, but often times this initial design idea has to be modified to account for usability and manufacturing. With 3D CAD you can explore a seemingly endless array of design options without the need of “starting from scratch” for each iteration.

Explore the Design Possibilities

Coming up with the best possible design of a product is a trial-and-error process. You try one approach, when it fails, you try a different approach, and so forth until you come up with the best possible design. The features many CAD programs have today allow you to quickly navigate this trial and error stage while honing in on a final design that will meet all needed specifications.

By using a 3D digital design process, we are able to create designs and validate them with up to 95% certainty that they will work before even building a prototype. -Collin Kobayashi, President & Chief 3D Officer of 3D Innovations

Two valuable CAD features are parametric design and direct modeling, as detailed below by Autodesk:

“Parametric modeling allows users to build intelligent and reactive sequences of geometries in which engineers gradually capture their design intent. In this case, intelligent and reactive means the capability to create geometric objects that react to each other and behave as they would in the real world, rather than just on a computer. So as you iterate and change your model, the software’s parametric modeling capability maintains consistent relationships between elements.”

“With direct modeling, you manipulate a model’s geometry by pushing, pulling or twisting it. This allows you to focus initially on creating geometry rather than thinking about building features, constraints and design intent into models. You add features and constraints when editing the model, so you don’t have to edit the interim model stages.”

3D CAD lets you get a real sense for the product you are developing. Not only does it speed up product development, but it brings ideas to life at the fraction of the cost of what it takes to prototype. By shifting CAD to the start of the design process, you are opening the door to an array of design possibilities.

Need assistance creating a 3D Digital Design for your product idea? Contact us! Email us at info@3d-innovations.com or give us a call at 808.722.8667. We look forward to talking with you!

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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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Q&A with Rob Saito of Herbavore

We recently had the chance to talk with Rob Saito, Founder of Herbavore, along with Collin Kobayashi, 3D Innovations President and Chief 3D Officer, about the product development process and what it takes to design, protect and commercialize a product.

Product development with HerbavoreHerbavore is a recent graduate of the XLR8UH startup accelerator. XLR8UH is one of the first university investment programs in the nation, and is a nationally recognized program that educates, mentors, and invests in Hawaii’s top talent. Herbavore’s team was able to leverage the mentorship and industry expertise provided at the accelerator to design and refine their innovative horticultural hand tools.

Like most great startups, Herbavore grew out of a need—in this case, the need for better and less cumbersome gardening tools. Specifically, tools that would be comfortable for different hand sizes and that could accommodate both left and right-handed individuals. Herbavore’s patent pending tools aim to reshape the garden tool industry.

How did you initially approach the product design process?

(RS): Herbavore’s first prototype (homemade) was a great starting point in the design process. It was used as a baseline. This rough prototype was used as a building block for further iterations.

Prior to working with 3D Innovations we didn’t know about the manufacturing aspect of designing. We thought our designs were “ready to go”, but after consulting with Collin, we realized the designs needed to be modified further to meet manufacturing requirements, especially related to injection molding.  While working with 3D Innovations we learned more in-depth about the manufacturing process such as over-molding, which types of molds to use for cost effectiveness, and material capabilities.

(CK): Using Design for Manufacturing (DFM) early in the process creates a much more streamlined design and eliminates the need to rework or change the design to conform to the manufacturing method being planned.  It also allows the client to understand the limits of what can be designed versus what features are critical to the function of the parts. Discussing these options and designing for DFM early in the process allows all team members to be aware of what is necessary to accomplish a functional and manufacturable design.

The patent filing process can be challenging, how have you prepared for this step?

(RS): The initial drawings for our first two provisional patents were made using AutoCAD software. Our team’s strengths are not in mechanical engineering, so we did the best we could. However, we felt these initial drawings did not do our invention justice. We are currently in the process of filing a non-provisional patent, and the line drawings that 3D Innovations has made are top notch. They not only accurately depict our invention in a professional manner, but also will make obtaining a patent easier as these professionally made drawings are sure to impress the patent examiner.

(CK): Most patent applications contain “line drawings” that depict the claims of the patent.  Using professional drawings as opposed to ones that are hand drawn or created using other methods may cause issues when the application is reviewed by the patent office because particular features may not be present or not depicted correctly. Using drawings from the actual designs provide many benefits which include creating section views to show internal features, having all views created to the same scale, and having drawing views automatically update when changes to the design are made. Great control of the output of drawings can be managed when the patent drawings are created professionally.

How have you familiarized yourself with the entire patent process?

(RS): I learned a lot of things about the patent process consulting with IP attorneys, reading, and conducting a patent search of over 300 patents.

(CK): The patent application is very involved and requires a tremendous amount of research of prior art and adjusting the claims of the invention so that the design is unique.

Launching a startup is a team process, how has your team assisted in the development of Herbavore’s product design?

(RS): Input was received from team members throughout the design process. Based on our team members’ experiences and feedback coupled with customer discovery, decisions were then made. Collaboration between team members greatly aided this process.

(CK): It is critical to have all team members be active in the design process. Having everyone on board and in agreement with the design direction will make for a more efficient design process and reduces the amount of rework and wait time, getting to the prototype and manufacturing stages faster. Collaboration among all team members is paramount to ensure the product gets to market in the shortest amount of time possible.

What is one piece of advice you would give entrepreneurs just starting the product development process?

(RS): One piece of advice I would give to entrepreneurs just starting the product development process would be, “to enjoy it with others.” From the beginning to the end.  The importance of achieving an end goal or final product is very important, but more importantly is all the knowledge and networks that were created along the way. Product development, especially hardware, can have a long pipeline, so if you aren’t passionate about what you are doing it will take a toll.  Yes, it is a lot of work and at times can be a headache, but so personally fulfilling at the same time. You are creating something never seen before or a better mousetrap that will improve people’s lives. Enjoy the product development process with your team, customers, and investors.

(CK): Start by making sure team members have capabilities required for the company to succeed.  Fill in gaps by seeking external expertise when needed. Develop partnerships with companies that can add value to your company and/or internal skill sets.

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Top Four Product Development & 3D Printing Articles

We have gathered the top four, most shared, product development and 3D printing articles from our blog and put them here, in one place, for easy access and reference. These articles touch on everything from finding the right product development partner to a glimpse into the future of additive manufacturing. Enjoy!

3D Printing Continues to Transform Manufacturing in 2017

Additive Manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing, is ripe for innovation in 2017. 3D printing technology has been evolving at a rapid rate since it caught the attention of makers and the public alike in 2009. Though the technology dates back to 1986, it wasn’t readily accessible to the public until 2009, when the first commercial 3D printer kit was offered for sale. Since 2009, additive manufacturing technology has transformed in itself, while simultaneously transforming the business and manufacturing landscapes as well. Below are three ways that additive manufacturing will continue to alter the manufacturing industry in the coming year.

Manufacturing Technology: 3D Printing vs CNC

The rapid growth in 3D printing technology and its popularity has manufacturers worried that at-home 3D printers may one day soon replace traditional manufacturing. From our experience though, a maker or entrepreneur is going to benefit the most from a convergence of these two manufacturing methods.

 

Both technologies have their place in the manufacturing landscape. Where one technology falters, the other excels. When designing your product, keep in mind that using both technologies during product development might be just what you need.

Three Common Product Development Myths

Product development is a fluid process that is not truly complete until there is a manufactured product in your hands. However, the process of taking a great idea and translating that idea into a physical product is not as predictable as you might think. Here we highlight three common product development myths…

Five Questions to Ask a Potential Product Development Partner

Product development is a collaborative endeavor, and you want to have a team that is able to clearly communicate, develop and deliver your product on time and on budget.

 

Here we discuss five key questions that you need to ask while searching for the right product development company.

Do you have product development questions? We would love to help, 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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