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3D printing, also commonly referred to as additive manufacturing, is a technology that has grown exponentially over the last five to ten years. It has been a favorite tool of makers and product design professionals alike. 3D printing technology allows designers to quickly, easily and efficiently design and produce a product prototype for review. While prototyping is where 3D printing is most popular and widely used, the technology is beginning to mature and find it’s way into manufacturing for end-use parts as well.
“When it was invented, 3D printing was referred to as rapid prototyping, a method for automating and reducing the labor required to create a prototype model for design validation. Since then, it has found use in a number of other applications, but the technology is still widely implemented to create visual models and functional prototypes.”
A visual model of your product lets you get a better idea of how the product will look and feel. With the rapid expansion of 3D printing materials and colors available, you have more options than ever when it comes to product design materials. Most hardware entrepreneurs start with a visual model and then move forward with a functional prototype for design validation and testing.
A functional prototype allows you to test the form, fit and functionality of your product. Testing and validating your product design with a functional prototype is highly recommended so that any potential errors can be fixed before heading into manufacturing.
The benefits of a functional prototype extend beyond your design. With a functional prototype you can also gather critical market feedback, rally financial support from venture capitalists and your community as well as file for a patent.
A major misstep that can derail your hardware startup is to skip the development of a functional prototype.
As a design moves from the concept phase to the production phase, a manufacturer might implement 3D printing for the fabrication of custom tools that aid in the production process. “This can include anything from guides for precise drilling, dies for forming or cutting raw material into a specific shape and measurement tools, like gauges, to jigs and fixtures that hold a part in place while other operations are performed.”
3D printing is a flexible tool that can be used either directly or indirectly in the creation of tooling for manufacturing. In the case of indirectly, a tool may be made by coating a 3D-printed component in rubber, which is then used to cast the tool itself.
Currently, due to the speed, quality and cost of 3D printing, “the technology is best suited for the production of specialty parts in smaller batches, rather than mass-manufactured goods. However, there is an industry shift towards expanding 3D printing technology to take a more prominent role in mass manufacturing”.
“3D printing brings some important qualities to the world of manufacturing that make it ideal for certain jobs. For instance, parts can have complex geometries impossible with traditional manufacturing processes. It is also possible to 3D print goods on demand, allowing for easy creation of custom parts.”
Because of these intrinsic benefits, businesses that need to create specialty or custom parts in shorter runs will often turn to 3D printing to manufacture their products. The benefit is that they don’t have to invest in costly tooling to mass produce goods that will only see a limited release.
Have additional questions about 3D printing or how the technology can benefit your business? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
Building a startup from the ground up is hard work—it takes total commitment, sheer determination and a great deal of research. To help you on the last aspect, we have gathered a few of our most popular blog posts related to starting, managing and running a hardware startup for your reference.
For first time entrepreneurs, the product development journey may seem challenging and fraught with obstacles. With so much information available it can be confusing as to what needs to be done first and who you can turn to. In this post we discuss the first five steps of product development to help you dig in and get to work.
Yes, hardware startups fail and no, that doesn’t mean that yours will. By making yourself aware of the common reasons hardware startups fail, you are preparing yourself, your team and your startup to avoid these roadblocks. The adage may say that “hardware is hard”, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible—we would even dare say that launching a hardware product has never been easier than it is today.
Newcomers to an industry have fresh ideas, new perspectives and innovative ideas. These newcomers are not weighed down by industry norms and the mentality of “it’s always been done this way”. These fresh faces often see opportunities that industry veterans miss.
One thing we have learned over the years is that, no matter the industry, first-time entrepreneurs have some of the same questions and concerns when they first get started. In this post we discuss three frequently asked questions related to product development.
First-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.
It doesn’t matter what industry you are going into or if you are a first-time entrepreneur or serial entrepreneur, you are bound to encounter one or more of these challenges along the way. By understanding what lays ahead as you start your product development journey, you will be better equipped to successfully navigate it.
Hardware startups have many moving parts and are exponentially harder to launch than a typical software startup. Between product prototyping, testing, material selection, manufacturing and quality control (just to name a few), many days it seems like there just isn’t enough time to get it all figured out. There is a lot of time and energy that goes into launching a product before it hits store shelves.
These articles will help you get started and answer many of your preliminary questions as you begin your startup journey. You can also find additional information related to starting a business over on our blog. As always, if you have a specific question and want to chat with an expert, we are happy to help! Send us an e-mail at email@example.com, we look forward to talking with you.
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
The US Luge Team tapped 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) technology for the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Stratasys played a role in helping the US Luge Team go for gold by incorporating additive manufacturing into the sleds being used in this year’s games. However, this is not the first time that 3D printing technology has made an appearance at the Olympic Games.
From the Stratasys blog: “The US Luge Team quickly realized the immense potential for additive to gain a competitive advantage and worked with Stratasys engineers to develop an entirely new process for fabricating their composite sleds. In a matter of days, they were able to design, print, and test prototype sled designs, which would normally take weeks or months using their existing processes. This allowed the team to drastically reduce the design cycle, which in turn, allowed for continuous improvement to create the fastest sled possible.”
One of the main competitive advantages of additive manufacturing is its ability for customization. The team saw the value in this, and had sleds developed that fit each of their bodies. “The design freedom from additive manufacturing enabled the team to create customized sleds that were tailored to each athlete’s body, which in turn, drastically improved comfort, ergonomics and most importantly, final performance. It’s really exciting to see how this technology will push the limits of human endurance for Olympic athletes.”
3D printed apparel was in the spotlight during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. These apparel pieces were designed to be lightweight, reduce the amount of wasted energy given off by the athletes and enhance overall performance through custom designs. Examples of where 3D printing technology was used:
BMW also made a splash at the 2016 Rio Olympics with its ability to track Olympic swimmers in the pool. The renowned car company, stepped off the road a dove into the pool with its LED driven motion system.
“The LED trackers will attach to a swimmers’ wrists, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles and toes through a 3D printed mounting system. The stroke and kick motion received by the coaching staff is an incredibly valuable performance tool as the data will aid in breaking down specific limb and joint angles to optimize performance.” (Sport Techie)
During the 2012 Olympics in London, customized gear through 3D printing was just starting out.
“The British team was noted for wearing customized helmets, bespoke to each Olympic cyclist. Each of these helmets was based upon a 3D scan of the rider’s head and then 3D printed to verify that the fit of the final helmet would be perfect.” (Stratasys Blog)
Renowned swimming company, Speedo, used 3D printing to create goggles that have transparent parts and rubber-like parts printed in a single step. Optimizing design and streamlining the entire design process are just two of the major advantages of additive manufacturing.
As 3D printing technology continues to grow and advance, we expect to see athletes using it more and more to enhance performance and gain a competitive advantage.
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
Failure 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Less 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.
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.
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.
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.
As a product development firm, we often work with first-time entrepreneurs—people who have a fantastic idea for a product, but need guidance on developing their idea and beginning their startup journey. We help entrepreneurs navigate the wild world of hardware startups.
Our team shares their in-depth knowledge on what it takes to get a project going, what a development plan looks like and what the path of product development entails. By assisting entrepreneurs through their product development journey, we aim to set them up for a successful product launch.
One thing we have learned over the years is that, no matter the industry, first-time entrepreneurs have some of the same questions and concerns when they first get started. Below we discuss three frequently asked questions.
It only takes a few things to get started. You may think that the littlest details may not make a difference as you start developing an idea, however, every detail matters. Provide as much detail about your product requirements as possible. A good development company will be able to ask you the right questions throughout the development process, to help you narrow down the requirements and focus on the functionality. You don’t need to know all of the technical details about the product, just how it needs to function.
As the adage goes, hardware is hard. However, it is not impossible. It can sometimes be a long and difficult process to develop your hardware project, but aligning yourself with a great development partner will help to make things easier.
Short answer: It depends. In most cases the answer is yes—you own all of the rights to the design and intellectual property (IP).
In other cases, clients have elected to share equity in their company with product development companies in lieu of paying for development costs, in which case the design and other IP becomes shared property.
Depending on the type of product, the initial prototype may be a proof-of-concept prototype. This is created to prove out your concept or idea. Some view the proof-of-concept prototype as a feasibility study versus the traditional functional prototype. The prototypes created will serve as a one-off design of your product for you to review, test, and make adjustments before the final production design is created. Be prepared that it may take several iterations to get to the final production ready design, but is an essential part of the development process and should not be skipped.
With a multitude of technologies available to build prototypes, 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing will be the front runner in prototyping your design. It is cost effective and provides a quick turnaround, which is why it is also commonly referred to as ‘rapid prototyping’. The design will be prototyped in order to test the form, fit, and function and to make sure that the manufacturing process is attainable.
In a subsequent blog post, we will dive into intellectual property and manufacturing, discussing the top questions entrepreneurs have about these subject areas as well. Starting your product development journey with the right information at hand can make all the difference.
We are happy to help answer any additional product development questions you have, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Quick 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.)
[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.
[C. Kobayashi]: We had the opportunity to visit with a handful of factories, both for product manufacturing as well as packaging manufacturing facilities.
[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.
[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.
[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.
[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 email@example.com
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As news of the latest advancement in experimental 3D printing of tissue and organ regeneration gains attention, it would be easy to believe that 3D printing in the medical field only happens in the lab. However, new equipment and devices are being 3D printed now and in real world settings.
After years of feasibility studies, 3D printing for medical equipment and prostheses is becoming reality.
Reports have continually shown that 3D printed devices are both practical and less expensive than traditional options. For example, a University of South Florida study[i] related to prosthesis molds found that “Owing to the similarity of the 3D printed materials and the traditional materials, the 3D printed molds are easily integrated into current processing procedures.” And a UK study[ii] observed that 3D printed sensors added onto a prosthesis could help medical professionals increase comfort levels for the prosthesis wearer. In addition to better comfort, these sensors improved overall patient care.
Alan Louie, research director for IDC’s Health Insights Life Sciences Practice, which helps investors with business decisions, has this to say about 3D printing technology: “There is a lot of investment in 3D printing at the moment because there are some very clear ways that the technology can be used to improve existing processes.”[iii]
Louie sees 3D printers as a way to revolutionize medicine. “There are areas where you can determine that using a 3D-printed replacement for the current methodology can actually save money, improve healing, reduce pain, and improve overall patient care—all positive driving factors that are helping the industry move forward.”
An example of how 3D printing medical tools reduces costs is with this bone drill that required an update to better suit the needs of both the patient and surgeon. The existing drill needed a redesign that would consistently keep its temperature low in order to avoid having to pause the procedure to let the tool cool down. The only solution available prior to the 3D printed upgrade was to pause drilling. However, with the assistance of 3D printing technology, a new drill was made using a biocompatible material “designed with their own integrated cooling ducts”. This new drill could be used for longer periods of time during a surgery. “The tests of the 3D printed bone drill determined that its use had reduced the temperature produced by drilling up to 70%”. This upgraded device has shortened the time required for surgery, saving both time and money.
The design process for medical devices and tools begins with patients, doctors, nurses, and other medical staff. They are at the forefront of the industry and keenly aware of the challenges, limitations and frustrations with existing devices. From their daily observations, efficient product re-designs and new medical device designs can, and will, transform the entire medical support field. These innovative ideas create an opportunity to improve care and support, while reducing costs.
3D printing is quickly reshaping the medical device landscape and creating more efficient tools for the medical community. Rapid prototyping brings to life product ideas that support patient care while keeping innovation at the forefront of design.
[i] Jairo Chimento, M. Jason Highsmith, Nathan Crane, (2011) “3D printed tooling for thermoforming of medical devices”, Rapid Prototyping Journal, Vol. 17 Issue: 5, pp.387-392
[ii] Development and validation of a 3D-printed interfacial stress sensor for prosthetic applications. Laszczak, P. et al. Medical Engineering and Physics, Volume 37, Issue 1, 132 – 137.
About the Guest Author:
Becky Wilson writes about the applications of additive manufacturing and 3D printing, highlighting the heart in the tech. Known as Writing by Becky, she lives in Nova Scotia with her family, including two cat overlords, along with various tech gadgets – maybe adding a 3D food printer someday. You can connect with Becky on Twitter (@WritingByBecky).
A one-size-fits-all approach can be utilized for a lot of things however, product development is not one of them. Throughout development, the stages of the “Product Development Cycle” will remain relatively unchanged (Concept, Design, Prototype, Test/Validate, Manufacture and Commercialize), but the approach and time spent in each stage will fluctuate based on the individual needs of your product.
When it comes to the development of a product, there is a great deal of time, energy and effort that goes into both the specialty design and product launch. Just like the fact that each product is unique, product development needs to be unique and customized in order to be successful.
Below we discuss three examples of why the “one-size-fits-all approach” just doesn’t work.
Chances are that if you are working on a highly specialized product, a one-size-fits-all approach would be detrimental to its outcome. Medical equipment, custom manufacturing tools and prosthetics are examples of products that need specialized attention and where precision and accuracy are of the upmost importance. When it comes to the development of these products, your product design will need to be extremely detail oriented and there is no room for error.
With the help of 3D printing technology, one-of-a-kind products are now feasible and quickly gaining in popularity. In a world full of customers, individuals want to stand out and have their unique style recognized. Customers are shying away from the “big box retailer” approach to purchasing products and instead opting for products that suit their specific needs. Hardware products that are highly customized range from in-ear headphones, replacement car parts to orthopedics. With the onset of mass customization, the phrase “one size fits none” is becoming more of a reality for hardware startups and manufacturers alike.
When it comes to licensing and intellectual property, a highly customized product development plan needs to be in place. Often times the product development cycle will also be slightly altered if you are aiming for a licensing agreement or focused on obtaining a patent.
With a license agreement, you will not focus as much on the commercialization stage of product development, since this will be taken care of by the licensee. Instead, your energy will be on developing a product that meets the needs of customers while simultaneously appealing to potential licensees.
If obtaining a patent is your goal, you are going to need to focus more energy early in the development cycle on items such as: patent research and line drawings. Depending on the type of patent you are trying to get, the process can take months or even years, so from the start you will need to communicate to your team what your goals are after obtaining your patent.
Developing a product is a very personal journey for many entrepreneurs—nurturing an idea and seeing that idea take form and eventually a place on store shelves is no easy undertaking. With the right product development approach and team by your side, reaching your end goal can be both feasible and enjoyable.