How 3D Printing Services Enable the Spread of Lean Hardware
Find out everything about lean hardware, and how 3D printing services are its best allies.
Today, the hardware industry is changing faster than ever. It is now strategic for big companies and young startups to design, produce and iterate their prototypes with always shorter deadlines. Therefore, the main challenge for entrepreneurs is to have their first products in a few weeks, even in a few days or – one can dream – in few hours. The “lean hardware” method aims at shortening this deadline.
Thankfully, along with this new method, developed less than 10 years ago, came the “factory of the future”, a set of manufacturing techniques including 3D printing that enables hardware professionals to work faster every day.
What is “lean hardware”?
“Lean hardware” refers to the methodology of the “lean startup” applied to hardware productions. The lean startup methodology was developed by Eric Ries in 2008. His book “The Lean Startup” was published in September 2011 and is now a bestseller.
His method aims at shortening product development cycles thanks to a three step process: learn, build, measure.
- “Learn”: it’s the research phase. What is your product? How do you want to build it? What are people going to do with your product? etc.
- “Build”: it sounds obvious! Build the prototype of your product thanks to all the information that you collected in the “learn” phase.
- “Measure”: test your product on potential buyers. Then, go back to the “learn” phase!
The “lean startup” methodology is the best way to avoid expensive mistakes, which is even more important for hardware startups. If you go straight from design to production, any initial mistake in your product would turn out even more costly than for software or services startups.
The main hypothesis behind all of this: if your company invests more time into iteratively building prototypes that suit the needs of your customers, you will reduce both market risks and costs, avoiding funding expensive products that will fail by lack of adequacy to the markets.
How can a 3D printing service help me for my lean hardware startup?
According to the hardware startup accelerator HAXLR8R, the first revolution in lean hardware was due to new incredible technologies such as trackers, 3D-printers, CNC machines, laser-cutters, drones… But all of these technologies are often too expensive for small hardware businesses and startups to invest in.
Concerning additive manufacturing, the main defect is the cost of desktop 3D-printer, the one that you would use to rapidly print your prototypes in order to test them on your customers as fast as possible. Indeed, even if the cost of 3D-printers are decreasing, you still need at least $1,000 to own and use one (including material costs…). And for higher quality of your 3D print, the prices go up rapidly: an SLS machine can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. As you may guess, few startups have that kind of money to invest.
Therefore, online 3D printing services like the ones Sculpteo offers, are crucial for lean hardware entrepreneurs. In a week, you can have your own prototype in your mailbox. It has never been easier, faster or cheaper to experience your products: you don’t have to invest in the machine, learn to use it, and take care of maintenance. You avoid the costs of injection molding, without any added complexities. Once the alpha is tested and once all its flaws have been put in light, you just have to upload your new design to get the beta another week later.
Of course, 3D printing is not the only one concerned. Manufacturing services in general are now easily available online and every startup, designer, engineer can access what we call “the factory of the future”: this is why we launched our online laser cutting service. 3D printing, laser-cutting and CNC machines are the three main components of this new factory, also labelled as part of the fourth industrial revolution, making it easier and cheaper to conceive new products every day. It allows an iterative production, beneficial to meet consumer’s demand. Quicker and producing high-quality prototypes, digital manufacturing enhances productivity. If you want to have a closer look, read our beautiful infographic about digital manufacturing!
Which companies used the “lean hardware startup” model?
- An international example: Helix Cuff: the world’s first wearable with Smart wireless extractable bluetooth headphones.
The Singapore startup chose 3D printing for rapid prototyping in the design process. Angela Pan, the CEO of the company Ashley Chloe that launched the Helix Cuff, said that it is extremely convenient to verify the user experience and have good feedbacks from her entourage and her first customers. In an interview to Tech in Asia, she declared: “It is always easier to get more relevant feedback if you can show your product and let the other person feel it and use it.” In only a couple of weeks, she got her first prototype and her first feedbacks, saving both time and energy in her design process and her business plan.
- At Sculpteo, all of our customers use the lean hardware method!
When we began to write our article, we took a look at our clients to try and find out which ones would make good examples of the lean hardware method. And we realised: it’s pretty much all of them. Lean Hardware is a term we don’t hear much, but it is everywhere, because it simply makes more sense, today, to manufacture iteratively, using easily available and affordable services like ours. It allows to gain efficiency in terms of cost and iterations. And like we said earlier, our customers also all confirmed that Sculpteo services made it way easier for them to access their first prototypes quickly and to iterate them in accordance to their customer’s needs.
2 of our favorite lean hardware customers’ stories:
- Nano-racing is a startup launched in 2015, which makes mini 3D printed racing drones. Here is what they have to say about 3D printing and lean hardware “Obviously, 3D printing is an outstanding tool for prototyping and short-run production. That’s what we offered our first clients: an early bird short run of 320 products. And for us, 3D printing allowed us to do the tests, the crash tests, and adapt the product. All of this while avoiding the costs and delays that go along with injection molding: rheology tools, molds, injection, and the validations between each step.”
- The Slovenian startup Norduung created an urban electric bike to mix biking with music and introduce innovative solutions. Norduung is very enthusiastic about the lean hardware method combined to additive manufacturing: “Additive manufacturing is GREAT! Prototyping with 3D printing is fast and relatively inexpensive. I think the future of crafting new products lies in 3D printing. We absolutely love Sculpteo service design! Great website, smart updates, unbeatable delivery times. Sculpteo will be without any doubt our reliable partner for future prototyping which is in front of us.”
Online manufacturing services are definitely the tool if you want to follow the lean hardware method to launch your production. In terms of cost-efficiency, since you don’t have to invest in an expensive machine, and can just produce one prototype that is easily iterable, it turns out to be the best solution. You will also gain time, a decisive asset for hardware firms to be relevant today.