You can take different features from different concepts and combine them into a more cohesive design. The next step is to take all those different ideas and refine the design. Design refinement is where you start to utilize computer aided design tools to start building the product. It’s a terrific tool as a way to visualize the part with all the features that it needs to be able to be manufactured. The CAD file could go directly to a 3D printed part or a machine part. Engineer David Recker says it’s important to have somebody who is in tune with all the different types of manufacturing processes. Work with somebody who’s got experience in that area because it can have a great impact with the choice of process or choice of materials. Dennis Shaver from Products On Demand says you have to make sure that the person doing the work for you has design for manufacturability experience or DFM.
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In this episode, we have our expert Dennis Shaver. He’s from Products on Demand and he has an engineering viewpoint. He decided to do a prerecorded video of his engineer where we could ask him questions. This is critically important because both of them have an inventor mindset so they get you. They get where they’re coming from, where you want to bring a lot of inventiveness and originality and innovation to the table. How do you get that from your idea all the way through that engineering and not have it cost too much and not have it be un-manufacturable?
My name is Dennis Shaver. Welcome to this Summit, Invent-Promote-Profit, where you’ll learn from leading experts how they got their ideas from their mind, to a design and eventually into a prototype, so that they could get it out into the marketplace to reach its full potential. That is profitability. My guest has done a lot of work for my company in designing products for our aspiring inventors.
My name is David Recker. I’ve been involved in product development for several years. Some of my best solutions have come from stepping back and saying, “How else could I do this?” All of a sudden, it comes to you and that’s what I love to do. That’s what I live for, that inspiration, that little thing that says, “A-ha.” Every project is different. It is understanding what is it you’re trying to achieve. The most important question is, “Who are you serving?” Your unique product idea is serving someone. Who are you serving? How do you go about saying, “With my idea, how am I doing that?” You have to go out and look for experts in that field or even talking to people that are in that field, or finding vendors that have a particular expertise.
There’s no simple answer to that. You want to align yourself with people who are going to listen to what you’re saying and to add to what you’re doing because there isn’t any idea that can go from idea to product in just one step. How do you keep iterating and making it better? How can you draw in the right people that are willing to add to the product? It seems a little obscure but there’s no magic formula. It’s a matter of finding those people, those vendors, those resources that seem to understand what you’re doing and are willing to be a helpful hand.
David, you come to us with many years of experience in engineering and there are different titles of engineering. Can you elaborate on what your passion, desire and your focus is on helping aspiring entrepreneurs with the type of engineering support that you’re able to offer?
It’s a design process and it’s starting with brainstorming. For example, somebody comes to me and says, “I’ve got this idea.” One of the first steps is to sit down and say, “How can we implement this idea? How do you see this being done?” You come up with thousands of ideas and no idea is a bad idea. It’s important to write those down and say, we could do this. That brainstorming becomes an important process. The next phase would be conceptual development. That would be taking those brainstorming ideas and trying to funnel those down into a number of concepts that says, “What if I did this? What if I did that?” This incorporates this number of features, “Maybe this is too many features. Maybe I can make it a little bit simpler.”
You have a breath from what you’d expect to see to something that’s a little bit more avant-garde. There’s something always in the middle. In that conceptual design phase, what I always find inspiring is that you’re looking for something you didn’t expect. It’s almost like pushing that idea a couple more steps further. That conceptual design phase allows you to narrow down what you’re going to do. That’s the stepping off point of how you start an engineering phase.
They need to better understand what you mean by the conceptual stage. What do they need to do to come to a professional like you in engineering and be as prepared as possible, so that they can get their point across to you, so you’ll know how to help them get that idea from their mind to an official design?
It’s important to do research. Number one is you have to have a good idea what your concept is. What is your product idea, what are you trying to do, and who you’re trying to serve? Second is you’ve got to do the research. Who else is doing or having products out in the same area? That can be done in so many different ways and it needs to be thorough. Google, eBay, United States Patent Office, there are number of different things to understand what your model is. Who else is in that market place. That very intense research is critical to have, before you can start the engineering phase. You should have a good idea where this is placed in the marketplace and what you’re trying to accomplish.
Research first is key. They can find that out with “sweat equity” where you can get online and just study. Let’s say for example, we have this coffee cup here and this person wants to create a new type of a design of this lid. At least 10% to 15% different. What would they do in a scenario like this or there are lids out there in the marketplace but there’s also markets for these lids. What would they do to come prepared to you?
Document all the different types of lids that are out there, who’s manufacturing those lids, and what are all the different designs? I’d be buying each every one of those and saying, “What’s good about this one? What’s bad about that one?” Document that and know and be very clear, “Why do I need another coffee cup?” There’s a number of them out there and a very successful lid design could be the next big thing. It’s knowing who else is out in the marketplace. Is this a marketplace that has room for you to come out with a new lid?
In a situation like this, they could do what you said, get the lids that are already out there in the marketplace. They could research about what people are giving for feedback about the current lids in the marketplace. That feedback might be positive and that feedback might be constructive or negative. All of that is very valuable, especially with an engineer to share that with.
If I’m starting a project and I know all that, it gives me a place to start from and not reinvent something that’s already out there. It’s potentially a cost saving in the long run having done all that research.The design process starts with brainstorming. Click To Tweet
We’ve done our research as an aspiring inventor and we bring that to you and that could be in the form of a crude prototype to photos of something that looks like it to what’s already on the market. Bring that to you, as well as having structured objectives of what I’m striving for. The benefits of it and everything I can find out about it but be able to get it all in one page.
It’s very important to have that competitive market place research. It’s very important to define what you’re trying to do. What is different about your idea? It doesn’t mean that that is going to be set in stone because part of this process is going out and developing, how can you stretch this idea, and be open to new ideas around this particular product idea.
Can you give us an example, this lid that we’re talking about?
For instance, do I want to make that a disposable lid or do I want to make that something that’s reusable? How am I impacting the environment by making those choices? Do I want to make it spill-proof or do I want to make it less expensive? What exactly is my goal? It’s defining that and you can come up with a lot of different things just with that particular lid. Do you want it to be something that’s more ergonomic? Is it something that is more environmentally friendly?
When they come to see you, David, it’s probably appropriate that they would bring a nondisclosure agreement or unless they have applied for a provisional patent application. They would probably want to have an NDA even though we keep everything confidential. You might want to have an NDA in place.
As a professional, I would keep that trust with the client no matter what. It’s important for an inventor to have an NDA so he can keep the process of intellectual property in the right order. He’s not disclosing publicly what the idea is. The purpose of the NDA is to say, you can’t disclose anything about my idea. When I go through my intellectual property process patent that hasn’t been disclosed publicly and somebody else is doing the same thing. It helps protect you. Protection is an important thing. There’s an easy way to do it and anybody who is not willing to sign an NDA, don’t disclose. It’s that simple.
Our aspiring inventor has done their research, they have all this information. They at the phase where you’re talking about the conceptual side of it. What is it that you do as an engineer to help that aspiring inventor at this stage? What is it that you would deliver to them when they come to you with an idea in the conceptual stage?
I like to involve my clients in the conceptual design phase process. I’ll go out and do a number of different sketches of other product examples but mostly, it’s a free form of saying, “What if you do this? What if you do that?” Nothing cast in concrete but it’s just saying, “What if we did this with this idea? What if we push that a little bit more?” Instead of looking at it in just one way, you’re looking at it in ten different perspectives.
You’re probably trying to get into their head and find out exactly what their idea is to get as close as possible to what the finished product would look like in a conceptual design.
In the conceptual design phase, you’re not worried about how the final product is. You want to think about it in a number of different ways. If it’s something that’s held in the hand, how important are the ergonomics to this product? In most cases, you want to be very cognizant of how this is being used, from the performance standpoint, and from safety standpoint. In this phase, you’re not worried about all those finite details, it’s making sure you’ve covered all the basis in thinking about this different idea. It’s a way to expand the idea. Take it one, two, three, four more steps beyond what you thought it might be.
For example, I want to get a coffee lid. I want to have a new style of a coffee lid. What you provide me with are several different concepts that are different perspectives of this idea and then I, as the inventor, can look and say, “I like option A a lot but could we add under the feature on the one side of it here on option C and put that under option A and combine that?”
You can take those different features from different concepts and combine them into a more cohesive design. The next step is to take all those different ideas and you don’t need to have it down to just one particular idea at that point. You want to go to the next phase where you’re refining the design. You’re looking at, “How am I going to manufacturer this? Is this an injection molded part? In the case of the lid here, a vacuum form process? Is it a sheet metal? Is it machining? Is it injection molded metal?”
There are so many different ways. “Do I want to sell millions of these or do I want to sell 500 of these?” It’s important to know where this product is. You want to have in the next phase this idea of a product that I want to do 10,000 a year. In doing that, I’m going to approach it very differently than if I’m doing ten of these a year and I’m going to approach it differently if I’m going to do 100 million of these a year. Those kinds of considerations are very important about how the choices you make in the details of that product.
You’re at the conceptual stage and we’ve figured out that out of options A, B and C, we liked A the best. They might change their mind after a while. It’s just a concept. We take that concept as an aspiring inventor and they want to go to that next stage and that is to get to an official design. I need to be able to find out the cost to manufacture it or to make a prototype so I can take the prototype out into the marketplace. What’s that next step once they’ve chosen that conceptual design that fits what they’re looking for, what do you do next?
It’s design refinement. That’s where you start to utilize CAD tools, Computer Aided Design tools to start building the product. It’s a tool as a way to visualize the part with all the features that it needs to be able to be manufactured. It’s a terrific tool in today’s world. What happens is that CAD file could go directly to a 3D printed part or a machine part. It can also be used to cut an injection molded tool with that same file. If you have this part modeled in CAD doesn’t mean it’s manufacturable.
They show you the patent and a lot of people are not aware of this. They come to you with this patent and say, “I need to know what it’s going to cost to manufacture 5,000 parts a month.” Can you share the void what’s missing here with what we call an illustration? It’s not a design, it’s an illustration.
It’s a conceptualization of the idea. In order to manufacture, you need to identify every single part in that product. The only way that you can get manufacturing costs is to have those parts designed for manufacturing.
It may be mechanical design, right?
Correct, but not everything is mechanical. There might be circuit board involved, there might be software involved but to be able to visualize this thing, it’s really a mechanical design. It depends on what the product is. It’s such a wide variety and it’s important to have somebody who is in tune with all the different types of manufacturing processes. Work with somebody who’s got experience in that area because it can have a great impact, choice of process, choice of materials. I always want to be conscious of how’s this is impacting the environment. I like to use things that are biodegradable. I like to use things that can be recycled. It’s important to have that stance. It’s like taking this lid, and I’m going to model this lid exactly like this in my CAD system. Then with this data, it’s a parametric data that says, this is all the geometry of this cup. With that data, I can now go and get a 3D printed part to look at the concept.Always go for the simplest solution because the more complex you get, the more things can go wrong. Click To Tweet
You would not only bring the lid examples, you would also bring the mating part, the cup that goes to it as well.
Is the lid the product or is the cup the product? A lot of people think this lid is the product. The experience for the user is this cup. You have to take all of this under consideration.
There are many different types of engineers with different backgrounds out there. What you want to look for in an engineer is a professional who has expertise in not only designing cool designs, for example, the concepts. We have the industrial designers who do the beautiful look of a concept, but it may not be manufacturable. It’s important to make sure that once the concept is put together, that you go to a mechanical designer, if that’s making a coffee cup lid, for example. Make sure that the person that you interview for doing the work for you has design for manufacturability experience, DFM.
There are a lot of resources out there that could design a product but aren’t aware of the manufacturing process. One of the important things in product development is understanding that you’re touching a lot of different people. The ultimate judge of all this is the end user, the person who’s going to buy this. You can do all the right things and if they don’t accept it, you’re nowhere. Part of this process is to prototype as often as you can and get some feedback from your end customer so that you know that this is something that they’re going to go for. It’s not coming out with a single design. There might be some iterations to that that’s going to be more acceptable to the end user than what you expect.
Never assume that you know what the end user is going to accept or not accept. It’s the conceptual development, the design refinement, where you can make parts and get that feedback. The next step is to make that design for manufacturing. Always go for the simplest solution because the more complex you get, the more things can go wrong. It’s finding somebody who knows those little nuances. Every product has these little nuances in it. How do you get all the right ingredients to make this thing sync? It’s important before you make huge commitments to the final design, to do some prototyping of various different iterations of this to get feedback, to know that you’re going in the right direction.
What we’re doing is we’re designing this lid in this scenario so we could take the mechanical design that you provide me as an inventor and take that and get it 3D printed. In that way, you can check the form, fit and functionality verification.
I want to test it with end users to say, “When I use this, is it going to drip all over me? What’s the comfort of this as I’m drinking out of it? If it’s comfortable to me, is it comfortable to you?” It’s those little subtle things that are so important to understand about your product. The answer isn’t in the engineering product. The answer is in developing the product, knowing that there are a lot of nuances. That’s every product, there isn’t a product out there that I’ve been involved in that there isn’t some little nuance that makes or breaks the product.Every time you fail, you learn something. Click To Tweet
When you get your design files from your mechanical designer, chances are you’ll get 3D CAD files, Computer Aided Design files, and they can come in different outputs like IGES file.
There are number of different CAD products out there and they all have different kind of format but they all have standard formats. The important thing is the source file. It’s important that the inventor wants to own those source files and know that he owns those. In part of the agreement that he needs to make with any person that gets any resources that he owns those files. There are situations where that doesn’t happen. This happens for somebody who thinks they’re working with a vendor that’s got a manufacturer and they’re doing the design work. They may find out this isn’t the right vendor. The relationship doesn’t proceed like you hope it would. You find out at the end that they don’t own any of those files. It happens often.
When the mechanical design files are ready, then you as an inventor can take those files anywhere to a manufacturer or a prototype firm that 3D printed parts. Take those engineering files and they’ll have your name on as well. You should have your name on the bottom of it and it’s personal and confidential or whatever the confidentiality language is, and take those engineering files. You can either email them to a manufacturing facility or put them on some type of a thumb drive or something so you can take it to that vendor and have them look at those files. They’ll be able to know based on those files, what they can do to provide you a quote to fabricate the parts from there.
There are so many great techniques for prototyping these days. A lot of them you can download the files directly online and get a quote immediately on that, whether it be machining or 3D printed part or even sheet metal or CNC machining. We live in an age where doing prototypes is so much easier than it used to be and effective because you can test directly using those parts. We’re talking about a relatively sophisticated way to prototype and there isn’t anything wrong with doing cardboard prototypes as you’re putting this together. Taking and modeling it in clay, taking and cutting up cardboard, taking some plastic and cutting it up and gluing it together.
Depending on what the product is, make a 3D as quick as you can. The most important thing in this process is don’t be concerned about failure. Every time you fail you learn something. It’s an iterative process, you build on it. You can’t expect this process to go in a straight line. It’s not linear. Solve this and you create another. It’s always knowing that you’ve got a lot of things to bring together to make it all work. It sounds intimidating but it is part of the process and you’re going to have fun with that. It’s understanding that you’re going to be going through that process, that you are going to fail and don’t worry about that. Be prepared for that and what can you learn from that because that gives you ammunition for the next thing. Thomas Edison said it best, “It’s 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
Let’s say that the design is done with mechanical designer. You go to a 3D printer and you get that part printed and it’s fabricated. You come back to the designer and say, “This works great but that little feature that goes up and down, it doesn’t seem to be big enough.” Who would know that until you try it out on a real part. It could be a good design, yet when you fabricate the parts, it may not feel right. Maybe the ergonomics isn’t right. Maybe it’s not functioning the way you want it to function, so there are some iterations.
It’s important to make sure you dial this in as close as possible and fail forward. Rather than you’d get down and out because it’s not working, find a way to evolve it. We had a client at one point where we did a design for, and you don’t know how that first part that’s fabricated is going to function. You can have a beautiful design, but when you make the product, you’re going to find some flaws. You’re going to find some changes that need to be done. Many people think, “I’ve got the prototype, I’m ready to go to the market.” Take the time to do it right, get as close as possible, so you can work out those bugs. The more time you invest in getting it as close as possible, it’s constantly perfecting on that journey.
You need to think about how all the people that touches this product along the line. You’ve got some parts but you have somebody who’s going to assemble those parts. How is that going to happen? How does this all come together? Ease of assembly is important. It’s part of the design for manufacturing, that you can assemble quickly and easily with the fewest amounts of parts. It also has to be shipped someplace else, to be put in packaging, or put in to package at the manufacturer, but somebody is touching that to put it in the box. How’s that experience? Somebody has to put that on the shelf. If you’re distributing online, how’s that look online?
Even the shipping person has to be able to put this in a box. That box may go onto a pallet, that pallet may go onto a truck, or a ship. You have to think about all those different things in order for this to work itself through and be successful. Each one of those steps can cause issues with the fundamental design. It’s thinking through all those different steps and understanding that you may have done all these things correct, but the packaging is wrong. The packaging is one centimeter too big and now I can’t put it in to a shipping box that can go onto a pallet that’s efficient. I lose three boxes or four boxes on a pallet because I didn’t design the package right.The most important feedback is from the end user. Click To Tweet
It’s so important to have these things figured out ahead of time, especially with your designer to know, number one, how are you going to design for manufacturability? Number two, you can take your design files and find out all the costs that are associated with getting that prototype made, getting the production made, getting the packaging made, getting it shipped and bulk packaging, everything. You can find out by having that design or perhaps the prototype so that when you go to do your pitch, you can share a couple of words. You’ve already done the DFM, files, the design for manufacturability files. You’ve got the packaging figured out from those files. It helps position you at a certain level that when you’re doing your pitch with your potential target market, they know you’ve done your homework.
Whether you’re going for licensing type agreement or you’re going to some kind of financial resource, you want to have that cost of goods. Part of that cost of goods is all your different parts, your manufacturer, your assembly, your packaging or shipping box. One thing that a lot of people forget about is tooling cost. The coffee lids are called a vacuum form process but it requires a tool, and that cost money. What they’ll do is they’ll have a tool that has multiple pieces on this thing. You can influence the cost for every time the press comes down and makes one of these things.
If you do one, it’s very expensive. If you’re doing injection molding, that’s another thing is if you just do one at a time, it’s much more expensive than doing a multi cavity tool and doing four, eight, twelve, or 64. All that has a cost associated with it. There are strategies for how do I start in the market with the least amount of capital, which is always important to make sure it goes. What are my next steps to follow very quickly? This is a success, now I have to deliver. I’ve delivered 50 of these, now they want me to deliver 5,000 or 100,000.
You’ve done the one cavity mold to keep your costs down, to go out and test market and all of a sudden, you’re getting all these letters of intent, “I like your product. How and when can I get 10,000 a month?”
The question is, can you deliver this by then? How do you anticipate the steps involved? One is initial release and how do I keep my costs down there, but what’s my next step to really go in and gear this up and ramp this up for higher production.
You can find out all these answers by using the engineering files. Take the engineering files, you can find out what the prototype costs are, you can find out what manufacturing costs are, low volume, medium volume, extremely high volume, the turnaround time. If you’re going to do it overseas or locally. That’s the magic and the art of engineering. When it comes to the mechanical design files, everything’s there.
That’s the starting point. To get to that starting point, you need to have a group or an individual, an engineering resource that you have confidence in and understand all these different nuances. If you deal with somebody that says, I can produce you an engineering file and gives that to you, it’s not very helpful.
When you take that engineering file and they deliver, then they wash their hands. You take those engineering files to a manufacturing company. All of a sudden, the manufacturing company says, “I have some questions about this design. There are couple of features we can’t achieve with injection molding, but it’s an injection molded part.”
When I’m developing a product, I’m always reviewing this with my vendors before I turn over the final file. That is so important because they’ve said, “If you just do this, we can reduce the cycle time, which reduces the cost.” If you just do that because there are so many experts on how they do something, so I feel like I’m an expert but working together makes it work well. It’s very important that the engineering resource is involved with the manufacturer, so that you can make those little tweaks and it may be very subtle.The most important feedback is from the end user. Click To Tweet
When you’re interviewing your potential mechanical engineers as to find out what resources do they have to get this designed so that it’s manufacturable? In David’s scenario, you’d probably say, “I’ve worked in this business for many years, several decades and I’ve learned a lot. What’s important is that you have the engineers working with the manufacturers because that collaboration is what makes the design successful. You find this out while you’re designing. You might come up with a part in that coffee cup lid that’s like, I don’t know if we can achieve this with a large 64 cavity molds. We might need to change some features on it.
I have one question on behalf of our readers. What is it that you would like to leave our readers with? About the importance of incorporating the most effective design into their invention, so that they can be on the right path to achieve their true potential with their idea.
The most important is to be open to feedback. Without that, you’ll have limited success. You might get lucky and hit the home run, but it’s so important to be very open to modifying that idea so it does become successful. That can come from so many different sources, it’s not just engineering, it’s from marketing people. The most important feedback is from the end user. I have experienced a number of inventors who have not been flexible and none of those people that I know have gone anywhere with that.
To be successful, so many things have to come together. Engineering is so important, the research is so important, the intellectual property is so important, the marketing is all important and it’s not just one of these being successful, all of these things have to be successful. If you can go into this with an open mind and an open heart and look and be open to modifying this idea because every time you are open you’re going to get one step better.
When you take that prototype, you just get to the prototype stage. Up until that stage, you’re all about knowing what you think the needs are based on your research. If you have not went out to your target market, then you’ll convert what you think are their needs. Then you take the prototype out there to your target market and you find out what they want because you’re going to show that prototype to them and they’re going to be so excited about it. We may offer a couple suggestions and you would definitely say, yes. What can I do to help you with this?
This is where you get the buy-in with potential customers. They suggested some changes and you listen because those are then you’re converting needs, what you think they need to what they want. You take those changes, come back to an engineer and say, “This is what the potential client said. They also want to have some type of things features on this. Can you make changes to the design so that I can then go and make a reiteration? A new prototype and take it back out to them.” That’s how you get buy in. It’s the power of the prototype. You have a gift for our readers. Can you elaborate more on that please?
What I’d like to offer is a PDF file that lists important questions that you want to ask your engineering resource. This would be a good guide to help you interview and select somebody to help you out.
It’s going to be very beneficial because I’ve heard David’s questions before of aspiring inventors, about where they want to go with their idea. To be able to have something on paper that you can look at first, and then get acquainted with that. The more prepared to ask the most effective questions of a potential engineer, the more effective your journey will be in getting your idea from mind to market. Thank you very much.
Tune in to Dennis Shaver next Office Hours. Connect with and find out more about Dennis Shaver in our Experts Directory.