Everybody is convinced that hardware is hard. It doesn’t matter who you talk to, it has been drilled into our minds that making real things is tricky. It’s true, it is tricky, running a product design firm, I can confirm this. And when I say hardware, I mean anything physical – anything that isn’t an application or program. But there are many revolutions that are now making their way into the mainstream; these are changing everything.
So what are some of the issues?
Hardware is deemed expensive – tooling, revisions, time, labour, materials all factor into this. If hardware is to be easier, it needs to be cheaper.
Getting something just right takes time, whatever it is. But factor the time it takes to produce something between every revision you make and you soon start watching the clock. Or at least the freckles on your wrist that once supported the watch you sold to fund your project!
How do you know this won’t fail after several years – do you sit and test for a few years until it breaks? (Note how time is a recurring factor)
Where can I get this made? Sure there’s loads of places, but which can I trust – do I use more than one. Do I stay local or go abroad?
So now I’ve convinced you that hardware is most definitely hard and you should give up now, let’s look at what’s shaping a new age of easier hardware.
The fight over the term ‘engineer’: is it a specky hipster writing in reptile based languages (Python) or the specky guy with a spanner? Regardless of this one cannot work without the other.
Software is saving time; modern 3D CAD (computer aided design) software packages are getting cheaper, and more intelligent. By simulating and refining a design to a fine detail before even considering a first moulding is a huge step towards saving time and money.
CFD has been around for many years now. You have been able to stick your shiny new car in a multi million pound wind tunnel without leaving your bed for a long time. But recently those professional read expensive systems are being trickled down into simpler packages. Allowing you to test designs and find flaws before wasting excessive sums on tooling and trial runs.
Everybody is on the 3D printing bandwagon lately – but not everybody truly understands it’s real advantage. At Miproto, and for many years before I have been using 3D printing – Selective Laser Sintering – to cut costs and reduce lead times in early stage prototyping. And you should too.
No longer is it necessary to have a mould machined and mounted, to perform a single batch of 10 test units. We can simply export our, already trialled and tested, 3D CAD file into a printer and hold it in our hands a few hours later.
To give you an idea of just how much this has changed product design let me use an example. A few weeks ago we demonstrated the difference to a customer – they needed to test their design for form and function, they wanted 10 units to pass around the office. We quoted to have them moulded from Polypropylene and then again to have them printed. Even with our recycled mould program that saves costs on runs 10,000 units and below, it would cost £1,000+ to have the mould machined, the batch run and the shipment flown over from China in a few weeks. Alternatively – it cost the vast sum of £50 to have the 10 units printed, and shipped to the client’s door in 48 hours.
Another of the journalist and bloggers favourite terms right not. I won’t explain it fully, I’m sure you know what the term means by now. It is the culmination of a group of people to achieve a goal.
It’s something very useful to a lot of businesses, but none more so than product design. One company that use this to great effect are Quirky. Quirky rely on user submitted ideas, to be developed and vetted by users. They are then refined and manufactured by Quirky and sold successfully into market with a cut of profits divided up for the contributing parties. It’s great! What better way to ensure your product sells than to have it developed by the customer!?
You too can use it to your advantage. Not sure about that shape of that casing? Got a few active followers on twitter? Post a picture and get market response right now. It’s much cheaper than employing a market research team to find out for you over a 12 week study.
The crowd can also be utilized in funding. Not just as investors i.e. Kickstarter, but why not try pre-selling? If you’re struggling to find, or just reluctant to risk, the upfront cost of a large production run, you could pre sell your product before it is even manufactured. Giving you the capital you need, and even guaranteeing the sale of your first batch. We work with partner www.Swish.com to help our customers take their designs straight to market. Once they’ve raised their money, they can come back to us for a big batch of their product.
Components and Sourcing
Drawing out every component of a large assembly takes time. It’s especially frustrating if the component you’re drawing is already in existence. Dassault Systèmes host their own library of user and supplier submitted models to help you save time in creating your drawings. It’s not just high end software packages that host libraries – Google’s free Sketchup CAD software also has an extensive library of user submitted models.
What if you have already drawn all of your components but you need to know whether any of your fixings are already in production elsewhere? This will avoid having to manufacture yourself, saving time and cost. Companies like www.3DPartSource.com help you find the components you’re looking for by searching with shapes. Much like Google’s image search, 3DPartSource allows you to upload your CAD model and lists all similar shapes as uploaded by suppliers and manufacturers.
This is harder – it takes a long time to build a trust relationship with a manufacturing facility. There are now several agencies who list manufacturers in your area and abroad. In the US www.makersrow.com represent a large selection of American factory facilities. Alternatively at Miproto we do the factory liaison for you, we use our long standing relationships to process your products with confidence.
So that’s just 5 reasons why hardware is getting easier. I hope that in a few years time there will be a booming investment industry for physical products again as the new age industrial revolution takes place.
Josh Valman is 18 from London and Managing Director at Miproto. Miproto is an Internet based product design, development and prototyping platform. It allows anybody to upload and develop their product idea into something real. www.Miproto.com @Miproto
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