How 3D Printing is Bringing Agile to Hardware Startups


This curated column is by Engineer & Hacker Shirsendu “Troy” Karmakar

In the beginning…

There was the waterfall model. During my college that was the only way I was taught on how to build software. The waterfall model has many flaws. The the primary being, in context of a startup, it doesn’t allow you to go to market soon. You need all your requirements, designs, code, bugs? etc before you actually ship the product. That’s impossible! Requirements change, better code tools become available and bugs mutate.

Agile came along in 2001 and changed the way how software was built. Agile must have been a catalyst in the startup ecosystem that we see today. The Agile methodology had a simple core value, iterations. This is taught to us even in nursery school as the “Try, Try, Try until you succeed” rhyme. While there’s lot more to what being Agile is, this is what changed how most people saw software being developed.

Iterating in hardware isn’t very simple. Because its hardware, there is no “Undo” button. The design of the “next electronic masterpiece” needs to be iterated in 3D modeling software multiple times before it goes into production. Everything about the device needs to be imagined without knowing how it feels in your hand, before mass manufacturing begins. This is analogous to the waterfall model we had in software. Well, thats about to change. And this change is not being brought by a methodology, but by a technology. 3D Printing #FTW!

3D Printing makes it possible for hardware startups to goto market fast, validate their idea/product and iterate. 3D printing removes the imagination part in physical product development. Now people can print out 10 different casing designs and figure out which one is the best fit for their use case. Less time in spent on the drawing board and more on the product itself. The chances of failure are decreased. 3D printing sounded interesting to me as soon as I came across it, I got involved with Solidry so that I could play a small part in helping the makers build and iterate on their products.

A few days back I read an article which has affirmed this notion of mine. Most of us are aware of the Pebble watch. Its an awesome product, and even more awesome is its journey. From crowdfunding for a $100,000.00 campaign to raising more than $10 million through Kickstarter and then raising $15 million more through venture funding. Its one of the smartest companies in the hardware business that I know of, especially if you look how they have managed their finances. After they built the first Pebble watch, they started working on their 2nd version — The Pebble Street.

The Pebble Street is the same watch but in an magnificiant steel casing. The magnificence wasn’t a strike of brilliance but it was achieved through multiple iterations. Iterations which were made possible by 3D printing.


3D Printed Pebble Street Credit: Tim Stevens/CNET

Similar to Pebble, more and more hardware companies will start using 3D printing in their workflow and we will see a disruption which might just be another industrial revolution.

Agile came in 2001 and the next decade saw world domination by software startups like Google, Facebook, AirBnB etc. which changed how the world works. 3D printing has just started to mature and I am betting the next decade will be about world domination by hardware startups. Whether it will be the Internet-of-Things, drones, wearable devices, I am not sure. But one thing is for sure, the products will start their life inside a 3D printer.

Disclaimer: This is a curated post. The statements, opinions and data contained in these publications are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of iamwire and the editor(s). The article was originally published by the author on Solidry’s blog.

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