How 3D Printing is Changing the Hardware Game

There has been more and more talk about 3D printing as of late.  I’ve even heard my friends call it the start of the third industrial revolution.  But what’s lost in all of the futurism is how 3D printing is helping small startups like Quitbit test, learn and iterate like never before. 

“Rapid Prototyping”

When we wanted to create our first prototype we were faced with the very real challenge of where to put our electronics.  In 2006, my cofounder Kuji was the 2nd engineer to join a sleep tracking startup called Zeo when he faced a similar challenge. What they ended up using was an Altoid tin for their first housing.  It was about the right size to fit a small breadboard and provided EMI shielding.  It wasn’t pretty, but it was good enough and became a legacy in the story of Zeo for years to come.

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The start of a new consumer electronics giant?

Fast forward 6 years when we had the same problem.  We had heard about 3D printing, but had never actually used it.  But after a day or two of re-learning how to use SolidWorks and a couple more hours designing a housing we went off to search for a 3D printer.  By chance, Kuji was also a registered student at RISD at the time and RISD had some awesome machines.  So once our designs were ready to print, we sent them off to RISD and a few hours later we had our first housings.  By the next day we had packed our electronics into them and had our first fully functioning prototypes.

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One of quitbit’s early prototypes

3D printing let us quite literally “rapid prototype” our first lighters.  It’s enabling a whole generation of makers to hack together hardware projects, and it’s allowing hardware startups not to have to invest in tooling or manufacturing before getting something that’s good enough.

“Rapid Learning”

The real benefit from having the housings was it allowed us to quickly learn and iterate.  We were able to put our prototyped lighters into the hands of real people who wanted to quit smoking, and immediately start the learning process.

To this day we’re still using 3D printing to quickly test new ideas coming from our talented team of designers.  We print each new design they come up with to get a real grip on its look and feel.  When they’re all assembled, we test the new forms with smokers, and iterate on how the design can be improved.

The best part of the whole process… I can stream live video of my print, view temperature stats and queue up new designs without getting up out of my desk!

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Making sure my print is OK without getting up.

–  Ata

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