Startup businesses, like those raising funds on Kickstarter, face many challenges when trying to develop a niche product out of a compelling idea. Kickstarter product design funding and resources may be limited, or they may struggle to carry a concept through to market completion. Because of the diverse inputs required to succeed, product development is often difficult and risky.
San Francisco boutique design firm, Nanu, successfully launched their first product: a reimagined tally counter, called the Nudge, that quickly sparked interest from Kickstarter backers.
Nanu then launched another Kickstarter product design project called the Arc Clock: “an alarm clock that re-imagines waking up in a digital era.” Their concept, clear vision, and design aesthetic struck a note with Nanu project backers who couldn’t wait to see the concept reach its funding goal.
“…a reliable foundation for a healthier sleep routine — no more apps, notifications, excessive features, or addictive touchscreens.”Nanu Arc Clock on Kickstarter
AC Joins the Nanu Team with IET Support
Nanu’s Kickstarter product design approach brought engineers together through the highly collaborative approach of Joint Development Management (JDM). Through JDM, the Arc Clock’s industrial, electrical, and mechanical design were completed domestically and then sent to Nanu’s selected overseas contract manufacturer (CM) for the detailed design work.
“…the JDM model is about collaboration from start to finish…[working] together to navigate tradeoffs, obstacles, design revisions, testing, factory flow, and more, until you have a shipping product.”– AndrewJDupree.com
De-Risking the Material Housing Coating
AC’s Product Development team selected Technical Lead, Aaron Nelson, to protect the integrity of Nanu’s mechanical design. He reflects on our targeted support for the project:
“Nanu’s vision was already well-developed on Kickstarter as a product design for a cool retro product with a durable high-end look that reflected their brand. So, our role was to analyze and safeguard the mechanical performance to drive manufacturing success within a very short window.”
Integrating with Nanu quickly, AC owned a narrow set of requirements in preparation for an Engineering Build of the Arc Clock, including:
> Reviewing existing mechanical architecture and CAD
> Organizing communications and ME materials for the JDM engineering team
> Defining deliverables and tracking progress in collaboration with JDM
> Identifying and monitoring technical risk and design elements critical to product quality and user experience
> Driving the JDM mechanical engineering team through design activities with regular checks on progress
While reviewing the mechanical design and manufacturing plan, Aaron noticed that the housing coating for the Arc Clock wasn’t pinned down yet:
“The outer housing of the clock is a die-cast zinc part, but it wasn’t determined yet if it would require a wet paint or power-coated finish. This is an uncommon material choice today because many products are made of polymers. But that’s what makes Nanu different – they want to use durable, sustainable materials that last.”
IMAGE CREDIT: Nanu | Arc Clock Concept Drawings
Decoupling Objectives to Work in Parallel
Because of this undetermined factor, there was a risk to the project. Aaron describes the potential impact to the schedule:
“One of the steps that could present risk later in the project was the quality coating for the Arc Clock. But the design wasn’t complete yet, which meant that the tooling could not move forward. Without the tooling, testing of the coating could not proceed. It was a serial set of milestones. We had machined parts, but they were expensive to make. Also, they would not have the relevant surface quality necessary to solve all the cosmetic issues that could arise when testing the coating on the production material.”
When we asked Aaron how he approaches multiple concurrent design priorities, he replied:
“Decades of trial and error teach that you can’t afford to wait to test your mechanical design, material selection, coating, or tooling. We often think of a project as a series of steps in a checklist, but in reality, you need to de-couple certain processes to hit the overall schedule. This requires working in parallel.”
So, to safeguard the project, Aaron recommended that the team create a cloned tool for the housing. This would enable the team to immediately begin investigating their options for the coating before it was too late in the schedule.
At first, Nanu was skeptical of adding cost to the tooling budget. This is always an important concern, especially for startups who have finite budgets. They also owe it to their crowdfunding backers to be responsible with the funding for their Kickstarter product design.
Engineering Solutions to Enable Progress in Parallel
To make working in parallel affordable for the team, Aaron recommended scaling down the size of the clone to one-quarter of the scale of the production housing:
“Instead of making a production mold, I thought we could make a clone mold as a mockup to investigate issues related to the coating. The clone didn’t have to be the same shape or even the same size. The housing just needed to be made from the proposed material, have the same processing steps (machining, deburring, polishing, acid etch, primer, coating, etc.), and be large enough to conduct paint durability tests.“
Aaron recalls how the solution suited their budget and opened up greater opportunities for design evaluation:
“Once we headed down the path of creating a scaled-down version of the part, it occurred to me we could use it for other purposes:
> Testing the sizes of thread-forming screw boss holes
> Investigating shrink caused by the screw bosses
> Evaluating the effectiveness of machined radii instead of molded radii
> Comparing various post-molding finishing options
Scaling down the size of the cloned housing reduced the cost of the temporary tool. This saved Nanu money while enabling evaluation at the same time.“
Nanu loved the idea and gave AC the green light to order a scaled down, testable prototype.
Strategic Decisions & Beneficial Tradeoffs
AC was able to keep the project on schedule by de-coupling the coating testing and improvements from the main project timeline. Strategic decisions like this exemplify the tradeoff and benefit of incurring a slightly higher tooling expense to save months of delay later in the program.
We are delighted to have partnered with the team at Nanu to develop a Kickstarter product design that meets the high expectations of their backers. We can’t wait to see what they dream of next!
DFX Engineering Solutions for Startups
Startups enjoy the freedom to develop their vision and fill a niche in the market, as with Nanu and their Kickstarter product design. But they are also exposed to a lot of risks. Most significantly, startups have limited resources to ensure a high level of technical quality. Whereas larger developers may invest more into de-risking and extensive hardware testing.
It is at this inflection point where selecting the right engineering partner makes all the difference. Engineers with comprehensive design experience use a holistic approach to product development by designing for excellence (DFX).
DFX requires a deep understanding of interdependent objectives that influence design decisions. This creates a de-risked approach for design solutions to be thoroughly vetted at the right stages throughout the development cycle. This level of expertise and working in parallel from a holistic perspective has a profound impact on successful outcomes.
Kickstarter Product Design | Engineering Solutions
Whether you need engineering support from concept through product launch or to sprint through a specific Kickstarter product design objective, AC offers solutions that add certain value.
|Product Design Concerns
|AC Engineering Solutions
|Product Development Engineering
|> Multi-disciplinary engineering resources for DFX
> Support for R&D, product development, hardware testing, and custom manufacturing automation
> PM and manufacturing ownership; management of overseas CMs
|> Scalable IET for specialized AC engineering talent
> Support for targeted objectives or end-to-end product development
|Schedule & Speed
|> Rapid integration with project teams, internal and external
> Efficiency through teams skilled at working in parallel
|Cost & Limited Budget
|> Expertise estimating rough order of magnitude (ROM)
> Careful tracking and reporting of time and materials
|> Client-owned IP
> Client-centered partnerships
Is AC’s IET service the right solution for you?
Let’s talk. AC has over 20 years of product development engineering experience.
How can we support your startup business or crowdfunded project?