3D Printing Techniques: 7 Prototyping Tips
There is one challenge every hardware entrepreneur must ultimately tackle, and tackle quickly. It’s called “closing the prototype gap.” This can be difficult for hardware startups as the move from idea to physical product is often the biggest challenge these companies will ever face. Especially as they are looking to raise money from investors.
As most entrepreneurs who have started fund raising activities, it becomes abundantly clear that you need a prototype of your product. Not to overstate the obvious, but in hardware and IoT, the physical product matters a lot, especially to investors. According to Eric Hsia, Venture Partner at TransLink Capital in Palo Alto, Calif., who is an expert hardware investor, “A physical prototype definitely helps, even if it’s a pre-production prototype and not fully functional. Of course, all the boxes have to get ticked, from technology, to people, to market opportunity, but from a hardware device standpoint, the more you can make something come alive. A prototype really helps.”
Many early-stage startups start off with a 3D rendering of their product on a slide in the investor pitch deck—that’s a start. But as the fundraising process gets moving, you will need to move beyond slideware and pitch a real product.
Manufacturing-as-a-service, and 3D printing in particular, has revolutionized the building of a pre-production prototypes. Most startups do not have months and tens-of-thousands of dollars to invest in a prototype, and 3D printing service bureaus now make it possible to create a pitch-ready prototype you can slide across the table in the pitch meeting. But 3D printing is still a complex process. What most startups quickly discover is a high-quality prototype can’t be done on a desktop 3D printer. If you’re an entrepreneur who isn’t a designer or engineer, chances are you just don’t have the time to start learning 3D printing from scratch.
Moreau and Machine Design offer seven tips to anyone going down the prototyping path for the first time. Here’s what to expect, problems to avoid, and how to build a great first prototype: