In short, you are going to use many different types of software to design your invention in the virtual world. You can then take those designs and output them to 3D printers, laser cutters and other cool tools. At this stage you will only be building what is known as a a proof of concept.
I get many good questions from our audience here at Invention Therapy. Knowing how to make your invention idea can be challenging but don’t worry, I promise you that you probably won’t even have to use a screwdriver these days. There are plenty of companies and people out there willing to help first time inventors. I am going to assume that you have already gone over my previous post on how to come up with good invention ideas. If not, make sure you head on over there and read it first.
Steps for turning your invention idea into a product.
- Create a sketch of your invention idea.
- Model the parts in 3D CAD or PCB design software.
- Build a proof of concept if necessary.
- Refine your design into a final prototype.
- Build your fully functional prototype.
- Improve your design.
- Ready your product for manufacturing.
- Release your product to the marketplace.
Create a sketch of your invention idea.
You will hear this topic of sketching your invention idea over and over on Invention Therapy. That’s because the more you work on your idea visually, the easier it will be to get it turned in to a product that you can hold in your hand and be proud of. If you don’t know how to sketch your invention idea, I have created a few sketching tutorials to get you started in the right direction.
Don’t worry about being a good sketch artist or expert on the computer. Just pick up the pencil or use the mouse and start getting your thoughts down on paper. You will be amazed out much closer you will get to making your invention idea a reality.
Model all parts in 3D CAD or PCB design software.
This is the part that you guys are very lucky to have. When I started out, CAD software was reserved for universities and very large corporations. Nowadays, anyone can purchase 3D design software for a few hundred dollars and many of the companies offer it to students for free or almost free.
This is where you must learn to use the power of computers to make your life easier. Once you get enough experience using 3D modeling pr PCB design software, you will lower your cost of prototyping a ready for market product down to almost nothing.
I know this sounds hard to believe but many of my products that went on to make millions of dollars were, in fact, prototyped and ready for market for a few hundred or a few thousand dollars. This is the power of computers when used by us inventors.
Build a proof of concept if necessary.
What exactly is a proof of concept of my invention idea? More often than not, you will have to at least build some kind of crude version of your product. This is NOT THE PROTOTYPE. This is more of an object that resembles the form and function of your final product. This will be used to work out the details of how the device operates in the real world.
To simplify our task here, we can first learn to use some 3D modeling software or in the case of electronics design, there are a number low cost development systems available.
Our inventions usually fall into a few basic categories.
- Injection Molded Products.
- Machined products.
- Stamped or laser cut products.
- Electronic Circuit Boards.
- Products made from readily available components.
- A combination of the above.
There are many other types of products we can manufacture but they can either be too complex or too expensive to make. If we stick to the basics, we are more likely to succeed in our effort to learn how make our invention ideas.
Build your fully functional prototype.
How does Invention Therapy define a prototype? Invention Therapy is very different in its approach to inventing. You may think that a prototype is some crude, duct taped cardboard version of your invention idea but in fact, it must be a 99% ready for manufacturing version of your invention.
There is no room or excuses for mistakes here. With the advent of 3D design software like Fusion 360, Soildworks and Eagle PCB we can do pretty much the entire design in the virtual world to work out most of the bugs. We can then use low cost online services to either 3D print our parts or make a few test circuit boards for us. We may have to do this process over and over several times but once we get it right, it will be an easy jump directly to manufacturing and releasing our first one hundred units.
Improve your design.
This one is kind of obvious but while your are designing your prototype, you will inevitably find ways to improve the design. This part of the process not only includes improvements in function but more importantly ways to reduce the manufacturing cost by making changes to individual components or parts within the design.
As an inventor, even pennies that can be shaved off of the price of each part can make a huge difference when you are selling thousands of units each month.
Make sure you look at everything, many times and find ways that you can improve your product. Turn to other products on the market that use the same manufacturing techniques and see if you can get inspiration. Often times, components that look nicer or are more durable may be cheaper than your choices to manufacture. With design and manufacturing experience comes the knowledge of how to design the cheapest but best parts possible.
Ready your product for manufacturing.
if you made it this far, you will be ready to manufacture your first product. The good news is that it probably won’t cost you as much as you think if you have followed all of my advice so far.
The hundred unit rule should never be broken.
I haven’t discussed my hundred unit rule up until this point so it would be a good idea to at least introduce you to this concept. It is one rule that I have lived by for over twenty years and I learned it from Apple computer. That’s right, even Apple started by building one hundred units of their Apple One computer and as we know, the rest is history.
As I mentioned in the video, you may get a cheaper price on one thousand pieces during your first run of manufacturing but your initial investment could be as much as seven or eight times the cost of a one hundred piece run. Sure, each part will cost more to make at only one hundred units but your risk will be much lower. Once your product is successful, you can easily make the choice as to whether or not to make the next one hundred pieces. In fact, to this day, many of my products are still built in 100 – 250 piece runs because I simply don’t want to pay for all the extra inventory. Products cost money to store and you have the issue of possibly be stuck with parts or products you can’t sell. In the event you want to do things like product improvements or even new version releases you will probably have to sell all of your old inventory first.
This method of only keeping small amounts of inventory and being able to shift quickly on demand is actually more common than you think. There is even a name for it as it was invented by a Japanese car company. Known as the Toyota Production System, it is now more commonly called Just-in-time manufacturing (JIT)
Release your product to the marketplace.
Releasing your product to the market place is not as straightforward as everything we discussed so far. You will have many options available to you in order to sell your products to the public. Here are a few avenues through which you may be able to offer your products to customers.
Notice here that I do not mention retail or any kind of local sales. There are two reasons for this. The first is that retail sales through local stores is too small of a market when you compare it to the billions of willing spenders you can find on the internet. The second reason is that in order to distribute through the big box stores, you have to jump through all kinds of fulfillment obligations that basically can put you out of business.
We are going to talk in much greater detail in later posts related to selling your products over the internet. This was just a brief look into all the opportunities that wait for you as an inventor.