Vizy AI Camera

Posted February 10th, 2021 by Bailey Jones

We are excited to be part of the team that designed the Vizy AI Camera by Charmed Labs. This camera can do some amazing stuff – like identify a squirrel intruder at your bird feeder. Or calculate the trajectory of a ball in motion. Check it out HERE.

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Humanitarian Product Design

Posted May 15th, 2020 by Bailey Jones

UT students working on a project for the International Red Cross.

UT students working on a project for the International Red Cross.

Last Fall I started teaching a new course at The University of Texas through the Mechanical Engineering Department: Humanitarian Product Design. Students of different majors and disciplines come together to learn practical hands-on skills and product development methods. They work together in small teams on projects proposed by the International Federation of the Red Cross. These are projects that focus on helping people and I’m proud of what the students were able to accomplish. We look forward to continuing these projects next semester! The students have posted pictures and info about their projects here.

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Design Plastic Stuff Right, Part 2

Posted March 27th, 2018 by Bailey Jones

SINK: How to Avoid it

If you hunt around the house and inspect some plastic things, you will see that many of them are basically a hollow cup on the inside. You’ll also notice that the inside is full of little features such as ribs, hooks, and screw bosses. These features must follow special design principles in an attempt to prevent bulky, thick areas of plastic that will deform the part. If designed too thick, the little features will tend to create sink, which is a divot of imperfection on the cosmetic exterior of the part caused by non-uniform shrinking as the hot plastic cools.

Back to our sandcastle form, you’ll see a new thick rib. The rib is improperly designed. It adds such a localized mass of material that the outside surface will sink in as the part cools in the mold. This forms an unacceptable, and unnecessary, imperfection in our part. Thick sections like this can also cause functional problems if the sink is severe enough to cause the part to warp.


With plastic injection molding there are many competing priorities to balance. But the beauty of the process is that all this effort to get the plastic design right results in elegant, inexpensive parts. When you are producing 100,000 parts, the up-front fixed cost becomes a small component of the final piece price. We’ve just scratched the surface here. Go a bit deeper and check out The 9 Fundamental Plastic Design Principles 

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Design Plastic Stuff Right, Part 1

Posted March 13th, 2018 by Bailey Jones

Injection molding may be the most common plastic production process. This popular method can accommodate complicated shapes and a wide variety of features such as snaps, screw bosses and ribs that are all formed at once as molten plastic is injected into a mold under high pressure. And it requires careful design so that the parts will come out right.

A good analogy to this manufacturing process would be using a form to make a sandcastle at the beach. You’ll see that the form for the turret has angled sides that allow the sand to slip out of the mold. All “vertical” walls of a plastic part must have this angle, which is called draft.

Also consider that a large mass of plastic, which is hot as it goes into the mold, will warp and shrink as it cools. To mitigate those effects, plastic parts should incorporate a uniform wall thickness. Our plastic sandcastle form is a good example of this. The inside shape precisely follows the curves and contours of the outside shape.

Our plastic part, whatever it is, has likely ended up being some sort of cup shape at this point. If you hunt around the house and inspect some plastic things, you will see that many of them are basically a hollow cup on the inside. You’ll also notice that the inside is full of little features such as ribs, hooks, and screw bosses. These features must follow special design principles in an attempt to prevent bulky, thick areas of plastic that will deform the part.

We’ve just scratched the surface here. Go a bit deeper and check out The 9 Fundamental Plastic Design Principles. Also, stay tuned for Part 2 where I discuss sink and how to avoid it.

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Product Development Steps And Timeline

Posted February 27th, 2018 by Bailey Jones

Get the whole chapter here.

You should plan on constant, dedicated effort for twelve to eighteen months—in some cases even longer—with a complete team, in order to go from a well-defined product idea to a finished product that is ready to ship. It is impossible to anticipate all delays and complications, so be prepared for these setbacks from the start and schedule a realistic timeline with this in mind.

To understand what sort of roadblocks you might encounter, take a look at some of the funded design projects on Kickstarter. Scroll through the updates and check out the explanations for delays in the schedule. These are all normal, and your project will be no different. Before crowdfunding, these delays were opaque to the consumer because the process was hidden inside corporations until they were finally ready to launch. And on top of the public scrutiny that crowdfunding is subjected to, product development delays in that arena are often compounded by an inexperienced founding team and underestimated budget requirements.

Sources for delays include potential manufacturers overpromising what they can deliver; it is easy to simply underestimate the complexity of various parts that will end up requiring revisions and adjustments. And these adjustments might come after the time that you had planned for them to be in full-scale production. I backed the Tiko 3D printer on Kickstarter in March of 2015 and it was scheduled for delivery in November of that same year. At that time, the founding team was small and competent, yet inexperienced, and they had a working prototype. A critical component of their design was a plastic extruded chassis that contains precise rails for a gantry system, and their manufacturer had indicated that it should be no problem to make. They related their manufacturing difficulties in an update as that year came to a close. They had started extruding the chassis in May but it had come out as a crooked, ugly, and inaccurate mess. Finally, by the end of that year, they had achieved the chassis quality that the design required, but they were still nowhere near delivering their product as scheduled…

…So, taking caution, let us now look more specifically at the steps and timeline for delivering such a product. This outline would be for a handheld-sized consumer product. Let’s use the mustache comb as an example. First, why an Internet-connected mustache comb? Absurd! Indeed it is. (That’s right; we are leaving the market analysis to another book.) Let’s claim that the comb monitors mustache health and uploads the data to a personal facial hair grooming app. This indispensable tool is comprised of several parts. The body of the comb is injection-molded plastic. The design will depend on a research phase to be sure that the handle is comfortable to hold and that the teeth are spaced just right. We don’t want to take anything for granted or to simply copy what has been done before. There will be a…

I have posted the whole chapter for you here.

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QTY 5000, Make Some Money! Contract Manufacturing Part 2

Posted February 13th, 2018 by Bailey Jones

So you’re selling 5000+ of your product per year. Well done! Now you’re set up to make some money. Let’s look at your contract manufacturing options:

5000-50,000: Use a small to mid-scale contract manufacturer close to home or abroad. Use more efficient tooling (read: more expensive) to begin to take advantage of scale. Contract manufacturers in this volume category expect their customers to generate hundreds-of-thousands US dollars revenue per year for the factory.

50,000-250,000: Use mid-scale manufacturers in worldwide manufacturing centers. Leverage production tweaks to make the manufacturing process more efficient. Use full hardened steel tooling, multi-cavity molds and other tooling to bring down individual piece price. Contract manufacturers in this volume category expect their customers to generate millions of US dollars revenue per year for the factory.

250,000-1 million+: Use large-scale manufacturers in worldwide manufacturing centers. Request detailed quotes with individual part breakdown and negotiate terms and price for individual part procurement and manufacture. At these volumes, it pays to work for continual price reduction and to increase production efficiency. Take the initiative to negotiate lower prices as the production becomes more efficient, while also allowing your production partners to make a fair profit. Companies producing at these volumes will have departments dedicated to sustaining engineering, procurement, factory optimization, and contract negotiation. Manufacturers in this volume category expect their customers to generate tens-of-millions or more US dollars revenue per year for the factory. These contract manufacturers include such recognizable names as Foxconn and Flextronics.

Find this and more in the book, The $39 Mustache Comb: The Start-Up Guide To Manufacturing.

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I’ve Pre-Sold 100 Trinkets: Contract Manufacturing Part 1

Posted February 6th, 2018 by Bailey Jones

I’ve pre-sold 100 trinkets. Do I have a business? Not yet, you don’t. Most products we see and buy in stores are produced in the tens-of-thousands per year and higher. To reach a quantity of scale that allows for efficient production and reasonable consumer prices you must normally produce in the 1000s at least. Not to mention that you will want to attract a dependable and experienced contract manufacturer – and that requires an assurance of minimum revenue for your contract manufacturing partner. Here’s a rough breakdown of production methods for different yearly volume categories:

10-100: Use any variety of prototyping methods to produce parts. Hire temporary workers for assembly and packaging. Solicit workers through Internet job boards and pay by the hour or by the part.

100-1000: Good luck. Few products could be profitable at this volume. Exceptions to the rule could include expensive custom built items like furniture or expensive medical and surgical products.

1000-5000: Use a small-scale contract manufacturer close to home or abroad. Some prototyping facilities fulfill this quantity niche with streamlined, low-cost tooling. This is a difficult volume category to fulfill—too big to do it yourself, and too small to take great advantage of the efficiency of scale. Many new companies start with products in this category. However, long-term business health usually requires growing into higher volume production and sales.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I discuss higher production volumes; it’s where the profit really starts to take off.

Find this and more in the book, The $39 Mustache Comb: The Start-Up Guide To Manufacturing.

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3D Printing Price Comparison, uhg Expensive!

Posted January 30th, 2018 by Bailey Jones

SLS prototype is on top, and the polyjet prototype is on bottom.

Processes: Polyjet, SLS, and SLA

I designed an adapter for a small home appliance. The production part will be injection molded, and we needed some prototypes to test the function and appearance before going to tooling. We sent the CAD out for quote with several different 3D printing processes in mind. An SLS part would provide the most durable prototype and for that reason was the best stand-in for an actual production part. So, we made one by SLS. However, we also needed an appearance model. SLS parts always tend to retain their rough sandy look and paint does nothing to improve the matter. So, we quoted SLA and polyjet. Both of these can be sanded and painted to a very nice surface finish, but in this particular case, I was concerned that the screw bosses would crack (and they did.)

We ended up going with polyjet because we were able to print it in a grey color that closely matched the rest of the product. A sanded and painted finish in either polyjet or SLA would have looked better, but would have also cost more. 3D print build prices are usually related to the material volume. This part was basically a hollow shape, 13.5 x .75 x 4 inches and with .079 thick walls (342 x 19 x 100 mm, 2mm thick.) The quotes varied considerably, by both vendor and process:

  • Polyjet $572
  • SLS $220
  • SLA, vendor 1 $420
  • SLA, vendor 2 $189

News reporting these days makes it seem like 3D printing is inexpensive. It can be, especially if you do it yourself on your own machine. And prices will probably drop more as the industry becomes commoditized. But for now, high quality prints from professional service bureaus do not come cheap.

Find this and more in the book, The $39 Mustache Comb: The Start-Up Guide To Manufacturing.

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Will Regulatory Testing Sink My Hardware Project?

Posted January 23rd, 2018 by Bailey Jones

Many products require regulatory testing for FCC (Federal Communications Commission), UL (Underwriters Laboratories, USA), and CE (Conformité Européenne) compliance. You should start this process before your product is complete and submit it to be tested early, likely at the point of the Engineering Build (EB), or Manufacturing Build (MB), which consists of the first fully-assembled, as-manufactured examples of your product. The MB units are used for product evaluation and testing. Testing can consume several months (yes, really) and UL testing alone can run well over $10,000 while FCC testing can come to $15,000. Regulatory testing for a small home appliance I worked on tallied up to about $25,000. Budget for the time and money up front to avoid surprises.

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Tooling: Why Does It Take So Long?

Posted January 16th, 2018 by Bailey Jones

It takes a long time to manufacture tooling. The tooling fabrication may be done in-house at your contract manufacturer or, more likely, the manufacturer will sub-contract it out. Why does it take so long? One, to precisely manufacture tooling from large blocks of solid steel takes several time-consuming steps. First the tooling must be designed. The factory will work from the documentation of your product as a starting point. For injection molded parts they will consider gates, runners, vents, cooling systems, and mechanisms such as lifters and slides. Then they can manufacture the tooling using various machining and finishing steps. But secondly, tooling manufacturing takes a long time because your project is likely not their number one priority and you must get in line behind previous commitments. Depending on your relationship and your good fortune, it could take from a few weeks to three months to manufacture the tooling, which often represents one of the largest capital expenses of product development. It is common practice to make partial payment up front with the remainder due upon delivery.

Find this and more in the book, The $39 Mustache Comb: The Start-Up Guide To Manufacturing.

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How Long Will My Hardware Project Take?

Posted January 9th, 2018 by Bailey Jones

Short Answer: 18 months. That is if you have your engineering team, design team, and production arrangements already in place. Small projects and large projects alike must march through these stages on the way to completion:

  • Design and Engineering                                3-6 months
  • Validation and Testing                                   1-2 months
  • Find and Vet Manufacturers                         2-3 months
  • Manufacture the Tooling                               6-12 weeks
  • Produce First Parts, Adjust Design              2 weeks
  • Manufacture Production Parts                     2 weeks
  • Regulatory Testing                                          1-2 months
  • Assembly and Packaging                                2 weeks
  • Shipping and Clearing Customs                   1-2 months
  • Fulfillment to the Customer                          1 week

No doubt you are making a mental note of your own timeline. Please resist the urge to squeeze down your delivery forecast to less than twelve months. Reality will surely intervene and push that release date back out.

Find this and more in the book, The $39 Mustache Comb: The Start-Up Guide To Manufacturing.

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Bright Product Development: What We Do.

Posted January 2nd, 2018 by Bailey Jones

I had the privileged of participating in a FastForward business development course through the University of Texas and sponsored by the City of Austin. At the end of the course we presented our companies at City Hall. In less than 2 minutes, here’s what we do at Bright Product Development:


Bright Product Development: What We Do. from Bailey on Vimeo.

Check out the book here.

At Bright Product Development we guide growing tech companies through product development and design-for-manufacturing for greater company profitability.

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Manufacturing Talk – From Prototype to Production

Posted July 12th, 2017 by Bailey Jones

I gave a talk at Capital Factory about a year ago to the Austin Hardware Meetup Group, but I’ve just now tracked down the video and posted it. I discuss the details of design for manufacturing (DFM), tooling and part price, injection molding, sheet metal forming, and extrusions. There’s also some good discussion based on the questions at the end.

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Patent: Flexible Charging System

Posted March 13th, 2017 by Bailey Jones

Utility Patent WatchbandWe were recently awarded a utility patent for our design work with Reserve Strap. One of the main innovations was the way we packaged the PCB and batteries. We maintained a robust electrical and mechanical system while also allowing the components to flex to the shape of the body, thereby overcoming this fundamental challenge of wearable electronics. The patent also illustrates our novel method of achieving a miniaturized, robust,  multi-pin connection to the watch. We achieved these features in balance with real manufacturing processes. Design For Manufacturing (DFM) remains one of the top priorities for the development of consumer products. If you can’t make it you can’t sell it!

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Some Words on Vendor Selection

Posted November 10th, 2016 by Bailey Jones

We have lost much of the meaning of the words, “quality control”.  It sounds like a good idea, and it is.  To me it sounds like a system that I would want to put in place once the company got big enough to funnel resources towards it.  Then we would get our guy with a clipboard checklist on the factory floor.  This misses the whole point.

Quality control is, simply, control of the supply chain.  This includes control of each of the individual purchased components, custom manufactured parts, assembly processes, and so on.  It begins with the very act of vendor selection.  What does this mean for a business with limited resources?  First, this means vetting all of your suppliers and manufacturers.  Do your key suppliers care that you exist? Are they responsive to questions over the phone and do they address your concerns?  Can you talk to the boss of your contract manufacturer and are you assured that they are committed to success of the project?  Secondly, the manufacturer should have internal quality control measures and they should be able to demonstrate that they work.  Your impressions here matter, even if you are a novice at vendor selection.  It is important that that your vendors and manufacturers are attentive to your business needs and concerns, and conversely, you to theirs.  It is a partner type relationship, and if you get a bad feeling, it probably is not a good fit.

Steve Fridley of Beam Lokr adds to this critical principle, “As a small company or entrepreneur you have to vet twice as hard as large corporations because the corporations have the resources and the money to weather a storm of difficulty whereas the entrepreneur does not.  And the supplier can kill your business right out of the gate.  That’s really critical.  Your margin of error is very small.”

Your insurance against catastrophe starts at this early stage of manufacturing.  Research the management team and philosophy of potential contract manufacturers.  Ask for references and check those references.  Be sure that they want, and need, your business.  A committed manufacturer will make a difference in your venture’s success.

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Rapid, Low Cost Living Hinges with 3D Printing

Posted August 30th, 2016 by Bailey Jones

We’re privileged to be featured in a 3D Printing Report that was presented at the annual IDSA International Conference. We detailed our experience in creating a flexible electronics housing.

Design Firm: Bright Product Development

Application: Functional prototype for consumer wearable product

3D Printing Technology: Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) – outsourced

SLS PrototypeSLS Prototype

Bright was contracted to design and prototype a new wearable product including a wristband with integrated batteries and electronics. This watch band by Reserve Strap extends the battery life of the Apple watch and integrates the electronics and batteries into a flexible wristband in order to charge the watch while you wear it. For aesthetic and functional reasons, it was decided to build an articulating frame using five living hinges between electronics compartments to provide the necessary flexibility to wrap around a user’s wrist.

3D printing was used to manufacture a functional prototype of the wristband because it allowed the prototype to be created quickly and at low cost. Using Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) with Nylon 11 EX material enabled the part to be produced with the living hinges, providing very similar functionality to the production part.

living hinge partLiving Hinge Production Part

While the final production part would be made of injection molded PP, the prototype was 3D printed in nylon. The prototype unit was designed to conform to guidelines for 3D printing living hinges in nylon. A key guideline was the minimum wall thickness requirement for SLS nylon. This posed a challenge because the final part design called for living hinges which were slightly thinner than could be produced using SLS. To resolve this, the 3D printed hinges were manually filed down to the final part dimensions.

The 3D printed prototype enabled the performance of the prototype to be tested quickly and with low prototyping cost. In fact, when the 3D printed part was inserted into the TPE sleeve, the product was indistinguishable from the final product.

The SLS process is especially suited to living hinges since nylon is one of the few plastics that can withstand repeated bending.  Although Bright did file down the wall thickness in the hinge area after printing it, they discovered that the minimum SLS build thickness of .025” provided for an adequately functioning hinge without any further modification.

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The Start-Up Guide to Manufacturing

Posted June 22nd, 2016 by Bailey Jones

For about a year now I have been writing a book to capture industry knowledge about manufacturing called The $39 Mustache Comb: The Start-Up Guide To Manufacturing.  Currently I am working on collecting client stories and interviews to intertwine into the, admittedly, dry material of the nuts-and-bolts of manufacturing.  It covers prototyping, Design for Manufacturing (DFM), where in the world to manufacture, discussions of tooling and capital expenses, forecasting timelines, and more.  You can check out progress and get updates on the publication date here.

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Manufacturing Volumes, Tooling, and Piece Price

Posted February 25th, 2016 by Bailey Jones

Many manufacturing processes require specialized hardware that is specific to the part being made. This is called the tooling. The tooling is what allows parts to be made efficiently at high volumes. The expense of the tooling is usually covered by an up-front fee (or a partial payment) to be paid to the manufacturer before production begins. Tooling cost could range from less than $100 for a simple sheetmetal part to over $20,000 for a complicated hand-held size plastic part. Injection molding tooling for larger plastic parts can easily run over $100,000. On the other hand, with efficient processes and efficient tooling the individual piece price for these same parts could be as low as a few dollars or even a few cents. So, the natural consequence is that the tooling price has great influence over the practical production volumes.

Let’s take a look at some actual examples. I’ve chosen these examples as good representatives of their categories; there will always be exceptions that vary widely from what I’ve represented here.

Item:               Glasses Frame

Process:           Injection Molding

Material:         Polypropylene plastic

Size:                 5.7” (145mm) wide

Tooling:           $11,860 USD

Quantity:        5000    15,000

Piece Price:     $0.27   $0.26 USD

Country:          Taiwan, PRC




Item:               Watchband

Process:           Injection Molding

Material:         Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE)

Size:                 3.5” (90mm) long

Tooling:           $5470 USD

Quantity:        2000

Piece Price:     $1.10

Country:          China


Item:               Bracket

Process:           Formed Sheetmetal

Material:         .048” (1.2mm) Cold Rolled Steel

Size:                 2” (50mm)

Tooling:           none

Quantity:        16                       4000

Piece Price:     $29 USD          $4 USD

Country:          USA


Item:               Track

Process:           Extrusion

Material:         Aluminum

Size:                 8” (200mm) long

Tooling:           $856 USD

Quantity:        1000

Piece Price:     $1.73 USD

Country:          USA

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Clicking in Creo

Posted January 13th, 2015 by Bailey Jones

I’ve been teaching an advanced CAD class using Creo Parametric (formerly Pro/Engineer).  Part way into the semester I noticed that my students, who are savvy computer and CAD users, were getting tripped up with the, ahem, unique use of the mouse in the program.  So I wrote a book, CLICKING IN CREO: Making Sense of Selection and Confounding Mouse Clicking in Pro/Engineer and Creo Parametric.

For a printed book, please visit the store.

You may find the eBook here.

Clicking in Creo - front cover

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Designing an Air Purifier

Posted October 16th, 2014 by Bailey Jones

One of our clients recently released a new product that we designed and engineered: the Breathsmart Fit50 Air Purifier. This short video speeds through some of the design process. It is 1 year compressed into one-and-a-half minutes. Check it out!



Big thanks to Nathan James and Barry Huttox for use of their song, Macho Man, in the video.

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Plastics Design Course

Posted August 28th, 2014 by Bailey Jones

I started teaching a new Plastics Design course this Fall at ACC.  We are using Creo 2 software (formerly called Pro/Engineer) as we study principles of injection molding.  We’ll get to look at real-life example parts and also will take a field trip or two to local injection molding facilities.  Did you know that Tasus Corporation in Georgetown manufactures large, high-end parts for the Toyota Tundra factory in San Antonio? We’ve toured the Tasus facility in previous semesters.

Here’s an excerpt from the Syllabus:

Course Description:

This course builds upon the concepts presented in DFTG 1433 (Inventor) and DFTG 1429 (Solidworks). The Solidworks class is not a prerequisite, although it is helpful to take it before or concurrently with this class.  This class covers advanced CAD methods with an emphasis on cast and injection-molded part design.

For this class you should have prior 3D modeling experience and be comfortable drafting to ASME Y14.5 2009 standards. We will be using Creo 2 software to take your CAD expertise to the next level.  We will quickly review topics from your previous classes and apply them to this software.  Then, we will move past working with basic parts, assemblies and drawings, and begin learning more advanced techniques such as:

  • top-down design (skeleton modeling)
  • complex surfacing
  • cast and injection-molded part design (plastics design)
  • design standards for mass-production
  • prototyping methods, including the 3D printer we have in our department: a Dimension FDM (fused deposition modeling) machine.

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Design for Manufacturability – Plastics

Posted July 29th, 2014 by Bailey Jones

There’s a difference between designing for a prototype and designing for high volume manufacturing. Often it will make sense to start out with a simple CAD model to prove out a design idea. This CAD model can then be 3D printed to produce a prototype. It might be a functional prototype (to show it works) or a visual model (to show that it looks right).

It is important to know that a plastic part that can be 3D printed may be very different than a plastic part that can be injection molded. To move past the functional or visual prototype we must design for manufacturability (DFM). For an injection molded part we must consider:

  • nominal wall thickness
  • ribs and rib thickness
  • draft
  • texture
  • undercuts
  • minimum feature size
  • material

A CAD model that accommodates these requirements quickly becomes more complicated than our original CAD exploration. The hard work it takes to create a great CAD model will pay off with cheaper, more beautiful parts and less expensive tooling.

Have a look at this video that shows a functional prototype CAD model, and then the more comprehensively designed CAD model for injection molding.

Design for manufacturability – plastics from Bailey on Vimeo.

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Great Idea! First, Design Your Business.

Posted November 22nd, 2013 by Bailey Jones

I often get inquiries from individuals who want help designing a product, when it would behoove them to first design a business.  The point being that even a great product has abysmal chances for success if there is not a good sales and marketing engine behind it. Design and manufacturing has gotten easier these days as it has become more accessible to more people.  And it can be tempting to overlook the even-more-important aspect of business development.  So, I find myself sending out emails like this:

“Hello ——-,

Sounds like your first step would be to develop a business plan; that is, determine who your customers would be, determine if the market size for this product is sufficient, develop a marketing strategy, and understand your sales and distribution channels.  The biggest point (and it can be tricky) is to validate your market before spending much money.

What we specialize in usually comes next. We take the idea and design a product that can be economically mass-produced.  Let me know if/when you are to this point.  Hope this helps!”


There are different strategies for market validation depending on the product type.  In the software or web-service field it could be as simple as constructing a landing page and asking for email addresses, or releasing a limited beta version.  Physical products can be a bit more difficult and sometimes a description in words isn’t enough.  The truth is, you may find that you do need a bit of product design early on to produce a pretty picture (product rendering) or even an appearance model or prototype to convey your vision.

But, at this stage of business development, the design of the product should serve the development of the business – not the other way around.  After all, you may find that the market is invalidated, in which case you should abandon the project.  I don’t have the secrets for market validation and it can be a tricky endeavor, but it is crucial for reducing your monetary risk.

This article was originally written for

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Choose Manufacturers that Communicate Well

Posted July 30th, 2013 by Bailey Jones

This article was originally written for

I recently designed some small pieces of furniture for a company called Staandup Desk. These stands are meant to go on top of a regular desk to allow you to work standing up. I had a conversation by email with the owner, Amber Hagopian, about her manufacturing experience here and abroad. I began with a question about communication.

Bailey: I’ve found that increasing the opportunities for effective communication usually increases the chances for successful product fabrication and delivery. That’s one reason fabricating close to home, versus overseas, can be an effective option. Do you have any comments about this that you can relate specifically to Staandup desk products?

Amber: I would definitely agree with this. Initially it seemed like we could just send over a purchase order with some drawings to a factory but what we found after sourcing in China and then back in the USA was that there was very valuable input on design and materials from the USA based fabricators that we did not get from the factories in China. This was due to several reasons, one being that the USA based manufactures were more willing to work with a new company and provide the input and secondly there was still a language barrier even with English speaking coordinators overseas. Our products have gone through several design tweaks based on suggestions and recommendations from our states’ based manufacturers which has made our products better quality, lighter in weight and more cost effective.
Bailey: What were your biggest hurdles related to manufacturing your first product in China?

Amber: The biggest hurdles we faced fabricating a new product overseas was reaching the minimum order quantity and feeling confident the factory we chose was going to provide what we ordered and get it to us on time and in good condition. We did not use a USA based third party company to choose a factory and ended up with a 20 foot container of product that we ended up paying to have disposed of because there was no quality control in place. The materials used for actual production were much cheaper quality than the prototype the factory originally provided and we were unable to sell the items. We did not have proper agreements or warranties in place and ended up taking a total loss with no recourse against the Shen Zen based company. In addition to taking the loss we ended up without inventory to supply the demand we created for our product which has been an ongoing issue. For one product we cannot get fabricated cost effectively in the USA we are now using a states’ based company that sources factories overseas, provides quality control and coordinates shipping to our distribution center.

Bailey: What were the biggest advantages?

Amber: The only advantage we have to sourcing overseas is cost. Even with shipping cost, materials and labor are so much cheaper over there that if we hadn’t initially sourced overseas we would not have been able to bring the product to market because there was not enough margin to make it worthwhile.

Bailey: How would you compare/contrast that to your manufacturing experience with the current product in the US?

Amber: Here in the states we have been able to order smaller quantities of product as we tweak our design. This also helps with cash flow as we do not have to place large minimum order quantities and then pay to store them as we ramp up our business. Additionally, the USA based manufactures have been very helpful in perfecting the product design for aesthetic and cost. Lead time for smaller quantities is much less in the USA and being able to be in communication over the telephone with the fabricators here has been helpful.

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Rapid Prototyping and 3D Printing

Posted March 22nd, 2013 by Bailey Jones

I just gave a talk about rapid prototyping at the Austin Hardware Startup Meetup.  We hear a lot about 3D printing these days.  Rapidly diving costs in this industry are fundamental to all the attention it is getting. Make Magazine recently came out with an edition that lists about 15 different 3D printers (all are FDM machines) at around $2000 apiece.  I’ve been using rapid prototyping since the 90s when the machinery cost closer to the top end of 100’s of thousands of dollars.  We now have many different rapid prototyping choices at a more approachable cost.  I’ve watched drastic change in this industry, and even helped design a few 3D printing machines over the years.

We have a dizzying array of acronyms to choose from when it comes to picking a rapid prototyping method (and these are just a few of the most popular):

  • SLA, Stereolithography – laser cured light sensitive resin
  • SLS, Selective Laser Sintering – laser sintered nylon powder
  • FDM, Fused Deposition Modeling – hot extruded plastic
  • RTV, Room Temp. Vucanization – Cast Urethane in silicone molds
  • Polyjet – uv cured light sensitive resin, placed with printheads
  • CNC Machining, subtractive process by computer controlled milling

If you are tinkering around by yourself, FDM is the way to go. If you have a membership to Techshop, you’ll have access to a Makerbot FDM machine and computers with CAD software (Autodesk Inventor).  This machine prints by extruding a bead of plastic though a hot nozzle.

Ideally, the prototyping method would be chosen according to the objectives of the prototype.  There’s a wide range of materials from accurate and fragile to durable and less accurate. The materials available depend on the production method.  Here’s a chart mapping out some of the characteristics of these methods.

The other side to 3D printing is to generate the 3D computer file that the machines print from. This can be a complicated task.  One option is replication, that is to scan and digitize existing objects.  More interesting to me is the creation of new things.  This requires CAD software.  There are a few inexpensive or free options available as I show in the next chart.  Have a look at the chart as a starting point for orienting yourself in this CAD landscape. 

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To Make in China? A Case for Local Manufacturing

Posted February 26th, 2013 by Bailey Jones

Old and new companies alike are bringing manufacturing back to the United States.  Whirlpool now makes a kitchen mixer in Ohio that they previously made in China. Wham-O has done the same with a Frisbee that they now make in California. And GE has two new assembly lines and a new plastics manufacturing plant  in the previously abandoned Appliance Park in Louisville, Kentucky  with two more lines in the plans for this year. These  strategic and financially motivated moves  indicate a shift in the offshore manufacturing trend that began in earnest in the ‘70s and became a forgone conclusion by the ‘90s. Why is it that it now makes sense for these companies to manufacture in the United States?

GE CEO Jeffrey R. Immelt explains in a Harvard Business Review Interview in March 2012:

“Shipping and materials costs were rising; wages were increasing in China and elsewhere; and   we didn’t have control of the supply chain. The currencies of emerging markets added complexity. Finally, core competency was an issue. Engineering and manufacturing are hands-on and iterative, and our most innovative appliance-design work is done in the United States. At a time when speed to market is everything, separating design and development from manufacturing didn’t make sense.”

That is, having manufacturing, marketing, design, and engineering in the same place increases the chances for the success of an innovation product.

A December 2012 article in The Atlantic Magazine gives an excellent overview of GE’s recent manufacturing shifts and the climate and rational behind those shifts.

The  impetus begins with global economic trends as stated in the Atlantic:

  • “Oil prices are three times what they were in 2000, making cargo-ship fuel much more expensive now than it was then.
  • The natural-gas boom in the U.S. has dramatically lowered the cost for running something as energy-intensive as a factory here at home. (Natural gas now costs four times as much in Asia as it does in the U.S.)
  • In dollars, wages in China are some five times what they were in 2000—and they are expected to keep rising 18 percent a year.
  • American unions are changing their priorities. Appliance Park’s union was so fractious in the ’70s and ’80s that the place was known as “Strike City.” That same union agreed to a two-tier wage scale in 2005—and today, 70 percent of the jobs there are on the lower tier, which starts at just over $13.50 an hour, almost $8 less than what the starting wage used to be.
  • U.S. labor productivity has continued its long march upward, meaning that labor costs have become a smaller and smaller proportion of the total cost of finished goods. You simply can’t save much money chasing wages anymore.”

So, they decided to try make the GeoSpring water heater (formerly made in China) in Kentucky. It turns out that the Chinese model was a manufacturing mess. Kevin Nolan, Vice President of Technology, says, “We really had zero communications into the assembly line there.” So they got together a team including factory workers in Kentucky and redesigned it.

They eliminated parts and their material cost dropped 25 percent. The time to manufacture it dropped from 10 to 2 hours. The quality and energy efficiency improved. The overall time to market improved by many weeks. And, the price dropped from $1599 to $1299.

A misleading allure to overseas manufacturing is the quote for services.  That overseas quote will likely be several times cheaper than a competing quote in North America. However, many times I have seen how that margin can disappear by the time the product is received. Time delays, scrapped parts, travel, and miscommunication can contribute to enormous headaches and financial pain during the manufacturing process.  In 2010 Harry Moser, started the Reshoring Initiative  to evaluate what he calls the “total cost of ownership”. He contends that the savings from manufacturing overseas has been vastly overestimated for many years. The  Total Cost of Ownership Calculator on the organization’s website attempts to put a dollar amount to these often overlooked costs.

An Inc, March 2012 article explains an Accenture study that supports this analysis where “the researchers noted a significant underestimation of overseas manufacturing costs.”

“Our study found … that many manufacturers who had offshored their operations likely did so without a complete understanding of the ‘total costs,’ and thus, the total cost of offshoring was considerably higher than initially thought,” concluded John Ferreira and Mike Heilala, authors of the report. “Part of the issue is that not all costs of offshoring roll up directly to manufacturing; rather, they impact many areas of the enterprise.”

“This overreliance on direct costs to the exclusion of other legitimate cost factors distorts the business case for offshoring, and likely many decisions to offshore were incorrectly made.”

Smaller companies are also recalculating their manufacturing locations. On January 9th , 2013 Marketplace Tech reported on the robotic toy company Cubelets. Founder Eric Schweikert tells of a recent trip to China, “While I was on that visit, we interviewed, I think, six contract manufacturers who would make the entire product for us. Because common wisdom says that when you going into high volume consumer electronics, you have somebody in China make your stuff for you. It was a great visit. We met all those people, and we came back and we decided we’re going to do this ourselves because it’s absolutely insane when you really stop to think about it to make toys all the way across the world. So right now our team is conducting a deep analysis about whether we can build a giant factory outside of Boulder, Co., and hire American labor and build everything here ourselves.”

For 3D Robotics, local manufacturing means manufacturing across the border from their San Diego headquarters  in Tijuana. Company partner  Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired, explains the idea of “quicksourcing” in a January 26, 2012 article in the New York Times.  When they started the company three years ago they produced everything in China, but now they have a second factory in Tijuana. Anderson explains several  reasons for this shift in their company.

1. The short supply chain allows them to manufacture in smaller batches. Their orders from China require large volumes of merchandise that remain static as they are slowly sold throughout the year. Smaller production cycles allow more frequent product innovation, and smaller upfront purchases.

2. There is less risk. They can more easily fix any problems of the design without risking large faulty production runs, and they have more control of inventory. Also, there are fewer potential leaks for intellectual property.

3. It is faster.  Communication is delayed and even urgent shipments take a lower priority for these factories that serve large multinational clients. He says that they have consistently underestimated the time it takes to get merchandise.

4. At almost $6 an hour, wages in Southern  Chinese cities are now almost as high as those in Mexico. Chinese wages have more than tripled in the last decade.

The New York Times continued its reporting on Mexican manufacturing in its February 24, 2013 article “How Mexico Got Back in the Game.”  Mexico has more free trade agreements than any other country in the world, graduates a large quantity of engineers and has a vibrant tech start-up community especially around the manufacturing hub of Monterrey.  They report that Mexico is also taking back manufacturing market share from Asia. Mexican manufacturing has become more productive than their Asian counterparts and over the past decade Mexican businesses have become increasingly globally minded.

We have lost some of our manufacturing infrastructure in the US.  Everything you need to build a bicycle you can find within a small radius on the island of Taiwan for a good price. That’s not the case in the US anymore. Need a specialty screw for your electronic device in China? There’s probably a plant nearby that will make it for you. But, there is a division of Foxxcon in Juarez making Dell Computers.  There’s a plant in Louisville, Kentucky making home appliances. And there’s countless Kickstarter projects being sourced and manufactured in the USA. Take a look at Austin’s own SuperMechanical  and their product Twine for example. It takes a careful study to determine where to manufacture. We can no longer assume that overseas manufacturing is best for our businesses.

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Handheld Diagnostic Device

Posted September 21st, 2012 by Bailey Jones

In this post I’ll go behind the scenes for the design of a handheld diagnostic tool. The enclosure had to contain the circuit board, provide a graphical display and have two input buttons. After finalizing the conceptual design, I created the detailed design with Pro/Engineer. This software creates the files that can be used for prototyping and manufacturing. This video gives an overview of the CAD processes used to create the parts. I discuss implementing draft, which is necessary for the injection molding process, and creating a realistic image rendering.

Custom-enclosure from Bailey on Vimeo.

An important part of plastic design is to incorporate draft into the parts. Draft is the slight angle on the vertical features that allows the part to slip out of the tool. The image below shows a draft analysis of the top part. The two different colors represent the surfaces of the two different sides of the mold.

Pro/E draft analysis

Once all the individual parts have been modeled, they are all put together in an assembly. In the assembly you can check the fit of the pieces, test for interferences and evaluate the device as a unit.

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