Your masterclass in product design and development


Protolabs’ Insight video series

Our Insight video series will help you master digital manufacturing.

Every Friday we’ll post a new video – each one giving you a deeper Insight into how to design better parts. We’ll cover specific topics such as choosing the right 3D printing material, optimising your design for CNC machining, surface finishes for moulded parts, and much more besides.

So join us and don’t miss out.


Insight: Startups


Hi and welcome to this week’s Insight video.  Today I’m going to take a look at some of the problems faced by startup manufacturers and what you can do to reduce your risks in the early days.

But even if you are not a startup manufacturer a lot of what I am going to talk about is still applicable because it’s about reducing risk during product development – it’s just that for startup manufacturers the consequences of getting it wrong are way more serious.

Mostly I’ll be talking about developing that great idea into a manufactured product that you can sell at a profit.  I will also throw in a tip about how you can de-risk manufacturing in your early days when revenue is still low, but mostly I will be concentrating on having a sound prototyping strategy.

And it’s vital that you get that first product right for your reputation and future sales. 

I do however understand that you need to get that product to market quickly so that you can generate revenue.

I also get that money is scarce and all you can see is your investment capital disappearing; but you cannot take short cuts and skip a thorough prototyping and testing programme, because if you discover an error during manufacture then the cost of putting it right is far higher.

It is much better to make any adjustments in design, material, size, shape, manufacturability or strength following testing and analysis.

Yet you want this process to be quick and not cost the earth.  To walk this tight rope, it pays to understand all of the rapid prototyping technologies and when to use them. 

And the technology is evolving all the time.  Take 3D printing, there are loads of different 3D printing processes producing parts in a wide range of plastics and metals.  And that’s before we get onto CNC machining and I bet you didn’t know that you can produce cost effective rapid prototypes using injection moulding as well.

As an aside, if you want to do a bit of background reading about the processes and materials available then it’s worth taking a look at our whitepaper, “A Guide to Prototyping Processes for Startup Manufacturers”.  I apologise for this shameless plug, but it’s worth a read.

Now what prototyping process you choose often depends on where you are in your product development.

But even before you produce anything you first need to check your design for manufacturability – which will save a lot of time and cost later on.  If you can find a supplier where you can upload your CAD into their software you should get a DFM analysis back within a couple of hours and it will cost you nothing.  You might even be able to do this a number of times just to be sure.

There comes a time though when you need to commit to producing something. At this point there are two things to consider, what process are you going to use and what material?

Now you might think that you need a prototype from the same material as the final product.  But that’s not always the case. 

It really depends on where you are in the development process. Early on you might just want concept models to share with colleagues or show investors – so speed and appearance are the crucial factors.

As the design progresses, a prototype that has the size, finish, colour, shape, strength, durability and material characteristics of the intended final product becomes more important.  The final stage may involve market testing so you might need to find a cost-effective way of producing small or medium volumes.

The prototyping process you choose will depend on where you are in the development process. Here’s a tip, think of these three things with your design.

First of all, functionality. If your prototype can faithfully represent your end product then it is functional.

Next manufacturability. This means that you can repeatedly and economically produce your prototype design in a way that supports the end product’s requirements.

And finally, viability.  Even if your prototype design is functional and manufacturable this does not mean that people will want to buy it.  Prototypes are the best way to verify the viability of your design for market and regulatory testing.

Get these three things right and you are well on your way to a successful product launch.

Now you remember that at the beginning of this video I suggested a tip to help you de-risk your capital investment in the early days; well, it’s simple really, think about outsourcing your manufacturing early on.  Doing this will enable you to generate revenue as soon as you are ready to launch after a successful prototyping and testing regime. 

You may choose to do this anyway as part of your market trials, because if you need to tweak something it’s better to do it now than when you have already spent your dwindling capital on equipment.

But that is the subject of a future video.

With that thought I’ll wish you a great weekend and see you next week.



With special thanks to Natalie Constable.


Why not gain deeper Insight into how to design better parts for CNC machining, injection moulding or 3D printing.

Find out how digital manufacturing can support Startups