For small businesses that make things and for entrepreneurs who dream of doing the same, the greatest challenge is almost always the cost of technology for turning an idea into a tangible product.
Often, the chore of even creating a prototype is so daunting, great ideas are simply left on the table.
That common obstacle is exactly why 3D printing technology is a potential game changer for small business. While manufacturing was once a big money, big business proposition, these new gadgets can put the power of prototyping and one-off manufacturing into the hands of the little guy. With one machine and a digital design, 3D printers can build a three-dimensional object of virtually anything right on the spot.
The Advent of Affordability
One of the most surprising things about 3D printing — besides what they can do — is that the technology isn’t actually new; it’s just newly affordable.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the large, industrial versions of 3D printers are now as relatively inexpensive as $5,000, though some cost as much as $1 million depending on their capability, and can print in a variety of materials.
The market for 3D printers is currently at about $1.7 billion. Contributing to the affordability of the more basic models has been a consolidation of the industry, with mergers between rival 3D printing companies, as well as hardware, software, and design businesses.
“As so often happens with industrial-grade technologies,” writes Ashlee Vance for Businessweek, ”3D printing has flowed downstream to consumers.”
One example is a product by 3D Systems called the Cube, an inexpensive and pre-assembled 3D printer for beginners.
“For $1,299,” says Vance, “anyone can now buy a 3D printer, hook it up to a wi-fi network, and begin downloading files that will turn into real objects.”
What that means for small businesses is only limited by the imagination of each entrepreneur.
CNBC.com presents the example of London-based toy company Makielab, which has allowed customers to design and create their own real-life dolls with 3D printing technology.
“It is a big deal, especially for designers,” says Andrew Sissons of the Work Foundation to CNBC, highlighting the power of bypassing all of the middlemen normally standing between a designer and his or her end product. “These days you can just start websites, get a 3D printer, start making it, and start selling it to people.” …
Every Thursday is #3dthursday here at Adafruit! The DIY 3D printing community has passion and dedication for making solid objects from digital models. Recently, we have noticed electronics projects integrated with 3D printed enclosures, brackets, and sculptures, so each Thursday we celebrate and highlight these bold pioneers!
Have you considered building a 3D project around an Arduino or other microcontroller? How about printing a bracket to mount your Raspberry Pi to the back of your HD monitor? And don’t forget the countless LED projects that are possible when you are modeling your projects in 3D!
The Adafruit Learning System has dozens of great tools to get you well on your way to creating incredible works of engineering, interactive art, and design with your 3D printer! If you’ve made a cool project that combines 3D printing and electronics, be sure to let us know, and we’ll feature it here!
I gathered this list of investors who are hardware specialists or have expressed their interest for hardware startups. Most of them are consumer oriented. Be warned that their position regarding open source hardware might still be unclear. Gather your best convincing skills, and rock on!
At Adafruit we received the most offers for funding as word got out we are a profitable self-funded company making hardware in NYC, so that’s another way to roll too.
Major shifts in hardware design and production have allowed the “maker movement” to mature rapidly. The next generation of fantastic hardware could very well come from the startup up the block.
Just a few years ago, it would have taken a corporate empire to design, build, and market a hardware game-changer like Apple’s iPhone. Today, there’s far more hope — and excitement — surrounding the little guy, and for good reason.
Many people have noted a shift in the hardware landscape and the emergence of new, smaller companies. In his book Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, Chris Anderson writes extensively about the rise of the “Maker Movement.” Paul Graham’s recent essay “The Hardware Renaissance” mentions the recent uptick (7 out of the latest class of 84) in hardware startups at Y Combinator. In his blog, Erick Schonfeld wrote that “Hardware is the New Software,” and that VCs are pursuing hardware startups more aggressively as well.
“When you off-shore hardware, every mistake, and there will be mistakes, causes a delay chain that multiplies by physically shipping prototypes, samples, tester units and more half-way around the world,” said Limor Fried of Adafruit Industries. “One of the best things you can do is keep your supply chain as close as possible.”
n an exclusive essay the Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA, Fortune 500)chairman and CEO explains why women are key to America’s prosperity.
In the flood of words written recently about women and work, one related and hugely significant point seems to me to have been neglected. It has to do with America’s future, about which — here’s a familiar opinion from me — I’m an unqualified optimist. Now entertain another opinion of mine: Women are a major reason we will do so well.
Start with the fact that our country’s progress since 1776 has been mind-blowing, like nothing the world has ever seen. Our secret sauce has been a political and economic system that unleashes human potential to an extraordinary degree. As a result Americans today enjoy an abundance of goods and services that no one could have dreamed of just a few centuries ago.
But that’s not the half of it — or, rather, it’s just about the half of it. America has forged this success while utilizing, in large part, only half of the country’s talent. For most of our history, women — whatever their abilities — have been relegated to the sidelines. Only in recent years have we begun to correct that problem.
Today we toured just a few of the expansive electronics markets in Huaqiangbei, Shenzhen. Our tour guide was Zach Hoeken Smith, program director for HAXLR8R and former co-founder of Makerbot.
Imagine a Costco-sized warehouse densely packed with 10×10 stalls dedicated to every conceivable piece of the global electronics supply chain. Now imagine a building with 6 floors of that. Now imagi
ne 10 buildings like that. That begins to describe the electronics farmer’s market that is Huaqiangbei, located literately across the street from HAXLR8R in Shenzhen.
Oscilloscopes and multimeters, connectors of every shape and variety, LCDs and LEDs, motors, wheels and buttons, resistors, capacitors, miles of USB cables and row upon row of copper tape, soldering paste and every manner of specialized glue. Hundreds of stalls each with hundreds of components organized and displayed for browsing. You may never have seen a reel of PCB components for loading into pick-and-place machines. At Huaqiangbei you’ll see thousands upon thousands of them.
I found out this week that sometimes goods and services purchased in China can be of low quality. I just spent last weekend installing the LED modules on the QR clock PCBs that I discussed a few posts ago. At the time of writing, I was really impressed with the overall quality of the soldering job on the PCBs I received from Myro, and although I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the prospect of soldering for 20 to 25 hours, I was excited to finish my QR clocks and ship them to my customers. Unfortunately, I ran into a few hiccoughs.
When a lot of people get excited to have all their sourcing and manufacturing done for them, they often don’t realize how often complications occur.
Ms. Stark is one of the Postal Service’s data conversion operators, a techie title for someone who deciphers unreadable addresses, and she is one of the last of a breed. In September, the post office will close one of its two remaining centers where workers try to read the scribble on envelopes and address labels that machines cannot. At one time, there were 55 plants around the country where addresses rejected by machines were guessed at by workers aided with special software to get the mail where it was intended.
But improved scanning technology now allows machines to “read” virtually all of the 160 billion pieces of mail that moved through the system last year. As machines have improved, workers have been let go, and after September, the facility here will be the post office’s only center for reading illegible mail.
On Tuesday, Jawbone, which makes wireless headsets and music accessories, announced that it acquired BodyMedia, a company that sells wearable sensors, for about $110 million.
Jawbone declined to comment on how much it paid for the acquisition, but a source close to the deal who was not authorized to speak on the record confirmed the price.
“It’s a significant deal because it’s a significant opportunity,” said Hosain Rahman, the chief executive of Jawbone. “We looked at the market and what we thought about what we can do on our own or together with BodyMedia, and we found a deal acceptable to our shareholders.”
BodyMedia has been making and selling activity tracking armbands that can monitor exercise and sleep behaviors since 1999. Mr. Rahman said he was most interested in the company’s expertise, and its robust trove of data about how people use and interact with their body monitors and sensors. His plan is to continue to run and sell BodyMedia products and create a platform that will work with Jawbone’s line of wearable products and BodyMedia’s products and software services.
Trevor and Isabel have full-time jobs. Once upon a time, their little idea would have remained just that — an idea. But Marcel, who had considerable small-manufacturing experience, was convinced that they could create a company to make the Spuni, as they quickly named it. First sketched in the spring of 2011, the Spuni saw its first prototype within two months. Using a 3-D printer, they went through a half-dozen prototype iterations until they felt they had the Spuni and its packaging exactly right.
To raise capital, they relied on crowd-sourcing, generating almost $38,000 by preselling Spunis on the Web site Indiegogo. Marcel, meanwhile, cut a deal with a small German manufacturer he had used before. When we spoke on Friday, he was just returning from Germany, where he had supervised the first quality tests. Within weeks, some 8,000 Spunis will be available for purchase. Marcel expects to be manufacturing 600,000 Spunis within a year’s time. If all goes according to plan, Spuni will be churning out around one million spoons a year by 2015.
If you are thinking of doing a hardware startup, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Manufacturing. Many hardware startups stumble when they try to go from prototype to large-scale manufacturing. There is no AWS-equivalent for hardware. To get manufacturing right, entrepreneurs often end up living in China for months and even years. The difficulty of manufacturing is one reason that hardware entrepreneurs tend to have more work experience than software entrepreneurs.
- Defensibility. Hardware companies generally have economies of scale but hardware products generally don’t have network effects. This means that as soon as you prove the market, you’ll face competition from lower cost manufacturers. The best startups complement hardware with software and services that have network or platform effects. Think of hardware as bringing the revenue and software/services as bringing the margin.
- Planning. The build-test-iterate model that is popular in software startups doesn’t translate well to hardware startups. Proper planning is essential because mistakes can be unrecoverable. For example, you might create a design that fails environmental tests but only discover this years later when you are about to go to market. (See all those symbols on the back of your phone? Those are regulatory certifications).
- B2C vs B2B. Consumer hardware tends to get more attention, but B2B hardware has a number of advantages. You’ll have fewer startup competitors, because entrepreneurs who have both hardware and business domain expertise are rare. You’ll also have fewer incumbent competitors, because B2B hardware usually requires local sales and service teams, making it harder for foreign competitors to copy you. Finally, manufacturing can be done locally because higher price points mean you can be less sensitive to labor costs.
Eric Pan and his company, Seeed Studio, are showing the future of hardware development: hackers around the world innovating on open prototyping platforms, raising funds through crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and partnering with Chinese studios to create manufacturable designs in small batches using technology like 3D printing and open source hardware components.
Chris Anderson wrote Makers and went from editor-in-chief of Wired to CEO of 3D Robotics, making his hobby his side job and then making it his main job.
A new executive at Motorola Mobility, a division of Google, said that Google seeks to “googlify” hardware. By that he meant that devices would be inexpensive, if not free, and that the data created or accessed by them would be open. Motorola wants to build a truly hackable cellphone, one that makers might have ideas about what to do with it.
Regular hardware startup meetups, which started in San Francisco and New York, are now held in Boston, Pittsburgh, Austin, Chicago, Dallas and Detroit. I’m sure there are other American cities. Melbourne, Stockholm and Toronto are also organizing hardware meetups. Hardware entrepreneurs want to find each other and learn from each other.
Ken has accepted a position as the Editorial Director of Make.
If you’re not familiar with Make, here’s a quick summary. Make is a magazine (both print and digital). It’s also a blog – makezine.com. It has a retail arm — MakerShed. And it also just happens to be the host of an event that bills itself as The Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth. And if you’ve never attended a Maker Faire, you’ll just have to take my word for it that it’s two days you’ll never forget.
And Ken is now a part of that family.
So, what does this mean for GeekDad? Well, it does mean a change in leadership. Ken will be stepping down as Editor-in-Chief, and taking charge will be Matt Blum. The writing staff at GeekDad isn’t worried, and while we’re all congratulating Ken, we’re also congratulating Matt. As I told Ken in an email, he’s now involved with two of my most favorite resources.
When we started in 2007, very few people had even heard of 3D printing outside of the engineering and design communities. It was mainly used for prototyping. Today, 3D printing has taken the manufacturing industry by storm and everyone is talking about this groundbreaking technology. President Obama even recently called out 3D printing as one of the important technologies that can bring manufacturing back to the USA.
We believe that 3D printing is fundamentally changing the manufacturing ecosystem in its entirety – how and where products are made and by whom. For the last century, big companies were in charge: they determined what consumers wanted and made those products in large quantities using mass manufacturing. Now, thanks to 3D printing, those days are over. This technology enables everyone to create unique products on demand, putting the customer in control and localizing the manufacturing process.
CEO and Co-Founder, Shapeways
Peter Weijmarshausen is the Chief Executive Officer for Shapeways, the online marketplace and community for personalized production where anyone can make, buy and sell their own products. Custom-made products are created one-of-a-kind and on-demand in a variety of materials using the latest 3D printing technologies. Prior to Shapeways, Peter was the CTO of Sangine, where he and his team designed and developed satellite broadband modems and Director of Engineering at Aramiska, where he was responsible for delivering a business broadband service via Satellite. Earlier in his career, Peter worked as ICT manager for Not a Number where he facilitated the adoption of the widely successful open source 3D software Blender. His global expertise is in the fields of Entrepreneurship, Internet marketing and business development, 3D printing, designing and implementing scalable Internet services.