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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 email@example.com
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
Crowdfunding can help hardware startups launch not only a product, but an entire company. The power of “the crowd” is strong and can be a great asset for entrepreneurs. However, by now we have all heard of those crowdfunding campaigns that make headlines, for all the wrong reasons—Coolest Cooler and Pebble stand out, both raised a considerable of money, but stumbled when it came to production manufacturing and order shipment. In order to avoid issues early-on, there are a few considerations to take into account before you launch that crowdfunding campaign.
Is there a business out there with a similar product? If so, how is yours different? “Start by reviewing any patents marked on similar competitive products, product packaging or your competitors’ web sites. If your product is similar to a specific competitor’s, you can search patents by owner of record. You can also search on Google for any patent-infringement lawsuits related to the same or similar products/services. (Entrepreneur)”
Do your due diligence and research patents that are similar to your product. You can be liable for patent infringement whether you knew about the patent or not.
Consider trademark and copyright protection for your product and startup as well. It is better to have your logo, tag line, text and photographs protected, than to risk someone else using them without your permission.
Securing and protecting the intellectual property (IP) rights to your invention is key to successful commercialization. As soon as you make your crowdfunding campaign public, you forfeit your right to obtain a utility patent on that product unless you have previously filed a patent application. Costs can be an issue when it comes to filing a utility patent, however a provisional patent application is cheaper and still protects your invention. A provisional patent application will allow you to keep your rights to a utility patent for 12 months while you decide the next move for your startup. You will also be able to use the coveted, “patent pending” term as you market your product.
A design patent is another option if the value of your product lays largely in its unique design. This design patent can block competitors from making an exact copy of your product, but it doesn’t block them from making a functionally equivalent product with a different appearance.
A functional prototype is necessary when you are trying to get people excited about a new product. While people can indeed envision a product from a great description, there is no substitute for the actual thing. This prototype not only shows potential investors what your product can do, it is also necessary for the marketing material on your crowdfunding page.
Let’s face it, you can’t have an exciting video unless you have a functional prototype. The video portion of your page is where you let your product shine. You want to demonstrate your product to potential customers and let them get a feel for what it has to offer. The more descriptive and creative your video is, the more people are going to get truly excited to contribute to your campaign and share your campaign with friends.
While there are many moving parts to a crowdfunding campaign, these four considerations should be thoroughly reviewed by your team to set yourself up for success right from the start.
Have questions related to product development? We are happy to help! Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
Our 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.
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 email@example.com, we are happy to help!
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
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.
If you are in the preliminary stages of product development or still considering whether to pursue the innovative product idea you have, the list below will give you an idea on what challenges will arise and how to navigate the hardware landscape.
Design for Manufacturability not only matters, it can truly make or break your startup. 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 for quick time-to-market.
Overall development costs are minimized when DFM is utilized because the product design, from the onset, aims to reduce the number of parts that need to be manufactured which speeds up assembly. The entire goal of DFM is to produce a product that is easily and economically manufactured.
If you start down the road to product development without DFM in mind, you are embarking on a much more expensive journey that is full of delays and unnecessary frustrations.
Developing a product from scratch comes with costs. There are ways of minimizing costs, but you will still face expenses on the path to commercialization.
The cautionary tale of the Coolest Cooler shows what can happen when you don’t accurately estimate your costs—the company raised nearly $13 million dollars on Kickstarter, yet the Coolest Cooler almost shut down. The startup miscalculated not only costs, but their development timeline as well and ended up having a lot of angry customers and major delays.
Research is vital—you should be constantly researching your target market and the industry you are venturing in to. Too many startups build their products in a vacuum, only to realize later that they are not meeting the needs of their targeted consumers.
Understand your customer base and obtain their feedback throughout the development process. This validation will not only allow you to modify your product to meet their needs, but to also validate each product iteration. At the end of the day, you want to be sure that you have customers that are as excited about your product as you are.
The product that you dream of developing might be drastically different than the product you end up developing. Your design might change because of customer preferences, manufacturing constraints or simply because there is a better and more streamlined design option. No matter what the reason, be open to change. It is great to love an idea, that is why you are embarking on this journey in the first place, but be prepared to modify that idea.
When the time comes to manufacture your hardware product, having the right manufacturing 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. Building a supply chain from scratch is challenging and the pressure is high to find the right match.
Make sure that you are evaluating factories that have proper documentation, strong referrals and the ability to communicate effectively and in a timely manner with you. Many startups realize that it is advantageous to work with smaller factories at the beginning so that their product gets the attention it deserves. A large factory that produces millions of parts a month might not be willing to take on smaller batches or give you product adequate attention.
Now that you are aware of these common pitfalls, navigating the hardware landscape just became a bit easier. If you still find yourself with product development questions, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, we are happy to help!
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.
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is one of the most buzzed about technologies of the past five years. The hype around the technology has certainly diminished since its fever pitch in 2014, in which Forbes published, “3-D Printing Is About To Change The World Forever”—and now the genuine potential of the technology is emerging. Certain industries have taken to the technology quicker than others and have been able to successfully implement it into their supply chain. Below we discuss three areas in which 3D printing technology really shines.
It’s no secret that customers are evolving and their preferences are changing. Where once customers were happy with the “Big Box” store approach, this mentality is starting to shift and customers are looking for more customizable products that meet their specific needs and preferences.
Customization is one of the major benefits of 3D printing. Companies are able to print one-of-a-kind products. One industry that has had great success implementing 3D printing for customization purposes is the designing of prosthetics. Companies and patients have found that they are able to create custom prosthetics at a fraction of the cost with the use of 3D modeling and 3D printing technology.
Like anything, traditional manufacturing has its limitations. Until recently certain designs could not be manufactured simply because they were deemed “not possible” or the expense was too exorbitant to be justifiable. However, 3D printing allows for greater design flexibility.
Biomimicry has grown in popularity among product designers and architects, however, these designs are usually manufacturing headaches. “The purpose of biomimicry is to learn from the way nature has optimized structures, designs and objects for maximum performance so that we can use them to create better solutions.” The curvature and delicate nature of the designs are very organic, which poses a challenge when it comes time for production. 3D printing has enabled designers to step out of the traditional way of designing and focus more on what makes the most sense for the product.
High variability, low demand products cannot be effectively served by traditional manufacturing methods. If you are a collector of any type of vintage item, then you understand the issues that arise if something breaks or you need to restore a piece. “3-D printing readily solves the challenge of manufacturing rare replacement parts, while also overcoming the obstacle of distribution: a plant exists wherever a printer does.”
Certain components cannot simply be bought, and this is where 3D printing comes into play. With a 3D digital design and a 3D printer, a piece that once was impossible to find can now be produced and put into use in record time.
3D printing technology has found its place in the business landscape. With the continued developments of the technology, it is poised to continue to grow and become even more valuable to businesses.
Building 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.
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.
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.
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 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 email@example.com
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”.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org