Starting from nothing and getting to a finished product is a daunting proposal, but there are ways to de-risk innovation with the right service.
I spoke recently to Chris McCoy, PhD, Co-Founder and CEO of You3Dit and Lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, for insights into how to take an idea sketched on a napkin into reality, as well as how a company offering such a service is leading pandemic relief efforts.
California-based You3Dit offers an intriguing Hardware as a Service product development approach.
Services are geared toward early-stage startups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses — exactly the types you’d expect to be sketching out ideas on napkins, receipts, bits of toilet paper, or any other paper-type product that sits still long enough.
“We offer a one-stop shop to take a napkin sketch to prototype and then to real. It’s really getting your prototype ready for your pitch,” McCoy told me. “Often, clients describe it as helping them to take action, to take in idea in their head on to the next steps. We see it as a professional service; you wouldn’t hire your cousin to be your doctor or your lawyer, so if you need hardware development help, you hire a professional.”
The company, he continued, takes a distributed manufacturing approach that at “last calculation had about $10 million of registered equipment available.”
Since the last time I spoke with the company, You3Dit has updated its HaaS product development approach. They now involve an educational component directed specifically in the domain of the client’s need, they explain.
You3Dit operates from the perspective of three primary value propositions, which they explain as:
- Action — How many of you have had an idea, but failed to act? You3Dit helps you take action — get you unstuck / avoid Analysis Paralysis
- Aptitude — Professional Services are Professional for a reason
- Access — Design + manufacturing capability and capacity, including the flexibility to scale up and to scale down until you know what you need
This all rounds back to McCoy’s point about the operation acting as a one-stop-shop, as they help pave the way “from zero to prototype” and serve to help “de-risk your new innovations and in/validating your product in the ‘unforgiving marketplace’” to create a pitch-ready prototype.
You3Dit has worked with clients in the IoT space, and has established partnerships to support its multidisciplinary product development process. Among those partners are, for example, Breadware and Ioterra.
The team explains of additional updates:
“Our clients have indicated the value in our documentation and ‘the ability to quickly ramp new teammates up on project status’. There still however, is push back regarding the value of outsourced work vs. hired engineering talent in their ability to share their learnings with the team. So to that end, we’ve developed +EDU-STARTER package add ons that will educate our clients either generally–in the engineering disciplines used to develop their products–or specifically– the +EDU-PRO which walks our clients through exactly our thought and development processes with short, video lectures.”
You3Dit COVID-19 Response
Because 2020 is what it is, the team has also been engaged in pandemic response activity, which McCoy described as “not terribly unlike” other efforts we’ve seen in this industry.
That’s a good thing, really, as it again highlights the community-mindedness of industry participants to band together to offer resources toward fighting the spread of this virus that has impacted the world.
“What’s been new for us, and what we’re hoping to add to the conversation, is watching a community of people come together to tackle the seemingly unending demand for medical PPE,” McCoy explained. “We have about 1,000 machines in our network. We’ve been relatively slow to deploy them because first we wanted to be sure we were deploying a good solution. We’ve been working closely with doctors and medical personnel to get to that point.”
If the team were to engage everyone in their marketplace, running 1,000 machines each making 100 face shields per week would produce 100,000 shields weekly. You3Dit notes that “that aligns with approximately the demand of one big city for first responders.” They’ve been asking that more manufacturers register their machines and quote the work that needs to be done.
These efforts have seen a significant ramp up of production of face shields and other personal protective equipment (PPE), underscoring the usefulness of 3D printing as well as the distributed manufacturing model.
“Not only is the distributed approach enabling that level of supply, but it can be localized; we don’t have to have people in California shipping to different parts of the world,” McCoy said.
“It’s unfortunate, but this is one of the unique values of a distributed manufacturing marketplace. We have a call to action on our landing page, and are running a sustainable pricing model so we can pay fabricators for their work. This operation is sustainable, and we can hopefully be there for the long term supporting needs, as well as regular manufacturing needs.”
While much of the PPE production was funded by donors, that model is itself not long-term sustainable, so the company has also been exploring more robust systems to support this work. They’re also noting that any donations-based operations can see the You3Dit eCommerce shop, which allows for certain discounts on PPE and other pandemic response items. Furthermore, for every $100 spent on their site, the team is donating a face shield to a local hospital.
They also emphasize that such PPE efforts are truly community-driven, and with the help of You3Dit Design & Manufacturing Services, anyone could have started this work. (And still can; the pandemic is still unfortunately spreading across the US especially, keeping demand high for PPE.)
You3Dit is among the companies in this space pivoting as needed in response to market conditions — however usual or, as recently, unusual they may be. The fast response time possible with 3D printing and distributed manufacturing enable such a pivot, as do the receptiveness of teams like that at You3Dit ready to undertake new challenges to put their know-how to use in helping when it’s needed most.