12 ways to effectively document your new hardware business concept / idea without needing an engineer.
- Take photos of the problem / sketch out the use case. Pictures are worth 1000 words.
- Write down a basic description of how you believe your hardware concept solves the problem(s) at hand.
- Who cares? List at least 3x different types of people who you believe would want this solution. Write down 3x different types of people who you believe would pay for this solution. See the difference there?
- Materials? List the top 5 materials you think the hardware product should be made from.
- Other tech? Are there any other features which are not simply passive materials that are required for your concept to function properly? Electrical engineered circuits? Software interactivity?
- Patent worthy? Try to identify at least 10+ aspects / features of your concept that are new, useful and non-obvious.
- Patent ready? Review your work and then write down 10+ steps on how to make and use your concept (step 12 may be essential to complete this step). These details are important for securing IP rights.
- Your Budget? Determine how much money you’d be willing to lose on developing this concept. How much is it worth to you? Will you regret not trying? Relative to what you spend on coffee each year, is this more or less important?
- Why now? Why is this problem important to solve now?
- Get feedback. Talk to 10+ people you trust and tell them your “crazy colleague at work” came up with this idea and see how they respond. Jot down their feedback.
- Talk to a patent attorney. Talk to a patent prosecuting attorney to protect your invention / concept / idea.
- Build your concept! If you’ve made it this far, then odds are you’re ready to start prototyping! Submit your project details to You3Dit.com and we can help you make your vision tangible!
1.Take photos of the problem / sketch out the use case. Pictures are worth 1000 words.
The massive success of companies like Instagram and Pinterest should help convince you that photos are important to convey an idea, concept or context. Take more photos than you think are enough to make sure you have every aspect of a problem context / design solution well photographed. Use your favorite systems to take and store your photos but as you know, it’s context dependent. Are you driving? At your computer? Out with family? Smartphone cameras, screenshots and Google Image Search are your friends for this step.
2. Write down a basic description of how you believe your hardware concept solves the problem(s) at hand.
Here are the typical three steps to documenting your idea:
A. Ultimately, write down your concept in the moment! Like on your smartphone notepad or send yourself an email. As quickly as an idea can come, it can go. Also date stamp your idea as well.
B. Then, when you’re at a place where you can detail your concept, do so in as much depth as you can; to better articulate to someone all the various aspects of your invention.
C. Then summarize the whole thing by imagining that you were explaining your concept to a five year old, or your grand mother. Short and sweet, concise, crisp, etc. Here are the questions we ask in our project intake form which allows our design engineers to be actionable.
For the remaining images, we’ll use the Coaxial Cable Clamps as an example case study.
3. Who cares? List at least 3x different types of people who you believe would want this solution. Write down 3x different types of people who you believe would pay for this solution. See the difference there?
You care and your mother cares…and for many ideas…that’s about all who cares. And while those people are important, they don’t typically justify the massive time, money and energy investment into bringing a hardware product concept to life. Thus, it behooves you to think about other people who *might* care about your product concept and those who *might* pay for it.
4. Materials? List the top 5 materials you think the hardware product should be made from.
We say list top 5 materials mainly because we want to see what types of materials you’re actually considering and also if you’re even familiar with the material selection process. There are six fundamental classes of materials: plastics, metals, elastomers, glasses, ceramics and hybrid materials. Most folks can identify plastics, metals, glass and ceramics. And intrinsically know what elastomers and hybrid materials are but might have difficulty articulating. But either way, the material is the foundation of your hardware product design and the mechanical properties of those materials provide the foundational limits to which your product might perform. Here are three good references for you to start your materials search starting with most easily accessible to most useful from a product development standpoint:
- Google – Google image search is imperative for generating ideas for materials selection
- The Materials Sourcebook for Design Professionals – Rob Thompson, Martin Thompson. Amazing photos and detailed descriptions of a variety of engineering materials. Great coffee table book gift idea for your design engineer friends. You can see the category chapters below and the book itself is very visual.
- Materials Selection in Mechanical Design by Michael Ashby – the foundational book series on how to methodically choose materials that will meet the functional requirements for your engineering task. As you can see below, Ashby is much more technical in nature.
For prototyping purposes, most materials are very easy to come by and low cost. You need to be OK trashing ideas which don’t have legs and thus, a quick prototype should die as fast as it comes to life if your target users / customers do not like aspects of the design. This is one challenge with prototypes and materials in that it’s often difficult to create low-cost prototypes with the materials desired for the final product.
5. Other tech? Are there any other features which are not simply passive materials that are required for your concept to function properly? Electrical engineered circuits? Software interactivity?
These details are important to determine who else your mechanical design engineers might have to work with to make your concept development a success. Because the You3Dit community is well versed in digital design and manufacturing, most understand the connectivity piece to new technology. We regularly work with companies like Breadware.io and others to procure the key electrical engineering, firmware and software development needed to bring Internet of Things (IoT) products to life.
6. Patent worthy? Try to identify at least 10+ aspects / features of your concept that are new, useful and non-obvious.
The key words to this task are new, useful and non-obvious. These are terms specifically used by patent prosecutors to help inventors craft sound Intellectual Property (IP) protection. Read more at our You3Dit Learn Page to better understand the basics of IP protection and speak to a legal professional if you’re serious about pursuing and protecting your concept.
With respect to the coaxial cable clamp concept, heres how you might describe the newness, novelty and non-obviousness of the concept:
- New – from a person “skilled in the art”, in this case a TV installer, this person hadn’t seen this concept before hence the “new idea”
- Useful – for anyone who has attempted to install a TV, the coaxial cable is a headache to get on quickly and efficiently. There’s typically minimal space, the cylindrical nut has very little torque advantage to overcome the frictional resistance from the male side of the connector.
- Non-obvious – this is more difficult but your patent prosecutor might argue that the geometry is not unlike a wrench or pliers. Upon an IP search, it’s also quite plausible that this has been “invented” already and either you’d have to license the technology from the inventors or the patent has expired and you have free reign to pursue commercially. Talk to a patent attorney to confirm the non-obvious nature of your device.
7. Patent ready? Review your work and then write down 10+ steps on how to make and use your concept (step 12 may be essential to complete this step). These details are important for securing IP rights.
Let’s continue with the coaxial cable clamp concept. It’s important to detail how to make and how to use the invention.
How to make:
- Find two high-strength, high stiffness materials
- Shape them into a hexagonal nut based geometry such that they can be inserted onto the coaxial cable. Shaping can be achieved through plastic injection molding, CNC machining, additive manufacturing, laser cutting, waterjet cutting and many other forming and cutting methods (hybrid manufacturing).
- Ensure there’s a lever arm to generate a force sufficient to secure the female coaxial cable to the male counterpart typically on the television / cable box.
- The lever arm can be formed by plastic injection molding, CNC machining, additive manufacturing, laser cutting, waterjet cutting and many other forming and cutting methods (hybrid manufacturing).
How to use:
- Place the open end over the coaxial cable
- Slide down onto the female side of the coaxial cable nut
- Confirm both coaxial cable clamp and nut are on the male end of the coaxial cable connector on the TV / cable box / other device.
- Rotate clockwise until nut and cable is secure / snug onto the receiving device
- Slide clamp / wrench device back off the nut
- Remove the tool
- Confirm with hands that all is properly affixed
- Return tool back to tool box.
8. Your Budget? Determine how much money you’d be willing to lose on developing this concept. How much is it worth to you? Will you regret not trying? Relative to what you spend on coffee each year, is this more or less important?
Are you prepared to swallow the costs to develop an idea? It may seem like a “cheap piece of plastic” but the engineering that goes into most products you use on a daily basis is quite immense and you benefit massively from years of development such that the products you use can be made and used with safety and ease. For example, in the Product Design and Development textbook written by Ulrich and Eppinger from MIT, they have a helpful graphic which walks folks through the true development costs of several common products you likely have used or do use on a regular basis.
As can be seen in the second image, even a simple screwdriver can cost up to $150K in engineering development costs and another $150K in production tooling for that USD $5 screwdriver your spouse picked up at the grocery store. This because that product and others include all the engineering decisions required for that screwdriver to survive all your intended and unintended uses. Forces applied to the screwdriver tip that far exceed that of any screw yet users apply when prying two things apart (paint can maybe, engine gasket).
Costs go up from there as complexity increases. More engineers, more cross-functional teams, more complicated manufacturing processes and more engineering challenges to solve quickly drive up the cost. Here’s an earlier article on the “cost of a prototype” we wrote w/out the benefit of the Eppinger / Ulrich text and you’ll see that we were naively optimistic, visionary or simply innovative to the point where we’ve been able to provide functional prototypes at a fraction of the cost of the way things were done in the past.
DISCLAIMER: Don’t let these costs scare you away from developing your idea…think big but start small. There are number of resources help you get your idea to a point whereby you can find investors who will invest in you and your prototype to build out the solution properly.
9. Why now? Why is this problem important to solve now?
Timing is claimed to be one of the most critical aspects to business success; second to your team and third to the idea (at least according to Bill Gross in his TED talk). Yes, your idea / concept is truly not that important relative to your success. Your team and ability to execute is more important. This is because it’s widely accepted now in Silicon Valley (Startup Nation) that you iterate often, pivot your business and change the original idea until you find a winning business model. You can learn more about prototyping for business from the Haas School of Business.
10. Get feedback. Talk to 10+ people you trust and tell them your “crazy colleague at work” came up with this idea and see how they respond. Jot down their feedback.
Getting early concept feedback is essential for investing your time wisely on ideas that matter and not on ones that don’t. As mentioned earlier, you and your mother will love your idea, but most others won’t. And having a quick conversation with someone can be enough to help you filter your top 2 ideas / concepts from the 20+ you’ve generated throughout the day.
Now you might be thinking…”Why tell people that some other ‘crazy guy at work’ invented the concept?’ I want credit.” We know you do. And you will deserve credit once you go through the very hard work of invalidating your hypotheses. You want to as quickly as possible, determine if your hypothesis can be proven false. A hypothesis turns into a theory (like that of relativity, gravitational forces, and more) when there is no experiment that can disprove the original hypothesis. Thus you need a “good” and in this case an “unbiased” hypothesis to help you determine if your concept has legs.
If whomever you’re telling the concept, still “likes” the idea even AFTER you’ve told them some “crazy person” suggested it to you, then you know that you may be onto something. But what MOST people do is say, “hey look what I invented, isn’t it cool?” and your friends and family will always tell you “yes” because they love you and don’t want to hurt your feelings. Seriously. If you get good at this process, you could easily have 10 conversations in a couple hour period. But most people are quite uncomfortable talking to strangers, self-bashing their ideas, receiving feedback they don’t want to hear. Just remember, you want bad ideas to die quickly so you can grow quickly with successful ones. Even those will be quite difficult to bring to market.
11. Talk to a patent attorney. Talk to a patent prosecuting attorney to protect your invention / concept / idea.
Yes, if you’ve come this far, you clearly have the energy and interest in your concept (and others do too) and you should protect your concept. Frankly, this has been sore spot for many of the folks at You3Dit because these steps above largely squash the spirit of most would-be inventors. The cost, time, energy and effort it requires to bring something to life is non trivial and once you hear the cost of some patent attorneys filing fees, what it costs to offensively protect your invention / IP, you’ll likely give up.
But there’s a silver lining…
The massive amount of effort required is also likely to deter your would-be competitors. Thus, so long as you are willing to take your idea farther than the other average inventor out there, you’ll win.
12. Build your concept! If you’ve made it this far, then odds are you’re ready to start prototyping! Submit your project details to You3Dit.com and we can help you make your vision tangible!
Well, if you’re reading this, you’re clearly interested in the process of invention and you’re not easily deterred. The invention process is a lot of work and if you can enjoy the process, it can be quite rewarding to watch someone use your products. The first sale you make to someone you don’t know is a high that only inventors / entrepreneurs can know.
Humans have always been inventors and was once the primary differentiating factors between humans and other animals.
So what are you waiting for? You just compiled all you need to get started at You3Dit and we’ve got design engineers, fabricators and all the engineering resources you need to make your vision tangible.
Take a bet on yourself, your concept and let us help you make the world a better place via hardware design and prototyping.