Commercialising in kit form with 3D printing…a new kind of business model

Date: 4th February 2015

The two main options are:

-License it? (to obtain royalties)
-Manufacture it yourself?

This is often thought of quite late. The innovator has been concerned primarily with technical and intellectual property issues (is it new? does it work? etc). So after some months of searches and initial R&D work leading to an eventual patent application, all of a sudden the patent application is filed and the inventor suddenly sees things are they really are…. they are actually right at the beginning!

The truth is, commercializing a new product idea must be treated as a business venture otherwise it just becomes an expensive hobby.

In many ways, it’s possibly one of the hardest business ventures you can embark on. Setting up a business and turning it into something that is commercially viable is hard enough anyway; in the case of innovation, it’s doubly so because before you can sell your product, you have to create it first.

Most inventor’s hope is to license their invention to the industry. This is the Holy Grail of innovation. However, it is harder to achieve than it would at first seem and in fact it is akin to trying to get a book published: i.e., expect lots of rejection letters!

In the end, the only way forward may be to attempt to manufacture the product yourself.

There are two kinds of project that are ideal for this approach. These are products made of fabric and products that are made of steel where the only real industrial process is bending (ignoring products that are made of paper or card which, it can be argued, is essentially printing rather than manufacturing).

There are other kinds of products of course that can be manufactured by small-scale operators but these two are perhaps the most common. The key feature of both is simplicity.

At the other end of the scale is the electro-mechanical device which would typically have a bespoke housing, bespoke electronics, some mechanical parts, switches, a power source and possibly a display. This kind of product is expensive and requires a great deal of development to perfect it before manufacturing and it needs injection molds to be made and a range of other components. This sort of thing can only be attempted with a very large budget.

Somewhere in between these two extremes are less complex projects and for some of these, it may be viable to produce and sell it as a kit to be assembled by the end user.

With the advent of affordable 3D printing, it is now possible to envisage products where the user creates the plastic components themselves and purchases the other items as a ‘kit’ from the seller. The innovator then can give away the 3D models used for the 3D printing in the hope that the user will buy the other materials from them. The business model then is buying a collection of various components in bulk and supplying them to the end user at a profit. This may be viable and no expensive tooling is required.

There are a number of these kinds of kits now becoming available (many are the subject of crowdfunding projects) and I believe that this is going to become a very significant market as 3D printers become more and more mainstream: people will be looking for interesting and challenging 3D printing projects for their older children for instance.

The combination of 3D printing, cheap components from Asia, the internet and social networking have combined to provide a means for creating certain kinds of products in kit form relatively cheaply, which can potentially be marketed worldwide. This presents a new kind of business model to would-be inventors.

The number of sales might be relatively small but if you can start selling the product even in a small way you will be in a much stronger position to interest potential investors who might then consider fronting the money needed to turn it into a conventional mass-produced product.

Please get in touch if you would like to discuss this with regards to your own ideas.