Materials and methods of manufacture
You need only watch a few episodes of “How It’s Made” to understand there are countless materials and manufacturing options. Every design decision, including the desired shape, material and manufacturing method has cost implications.
The BlueSky Designs team is acutely aware of how product and part design impacts manufacturability. It not only broadens or narrows manufacturing options it affects the ease of assembly. Material, processes and finishes are selected based on many factors: function, touch and feel, aesthetic considerations, strength and durability, lubricity and friction, visibility, weather and wear characteristics. The shape of a component, whether it is 2D or 3D is a key determinant of which manufacturing options are used, and has significant cost implications.
We have experience with plastic injection molding of ABS, Delrin and Zytel; magnesium die-casting; stamped and laser cut metal-formed parts; aluminum extrusions; investment casting; custom screws; die-cut and vacu-formed plastics; and CNC machining. Each has their benefits and limitations, tooling and piece part costs and tolerance implications.
For specifics on the BlueSky products, look on the individual Product Pages.
Cost of production
Accessible products must be priced so that people can afford them or insurance will pay for them, otherwise they are NOT truly accessible. Many factors affect costs, including estimated quantities, minimum quantities for a specific manufacturing method, set up costs, tooling costs, part costs, finishing and packaging. Part design drastically affects your costs. Tooling costs for 3D parts involving die-casting or injection molding are far more expensive than tooling for 2D parts (extrusions, stampings).
Materials and processes impact the unit costs: plastic injection-molded parts will cost pennies on the dollar relative to metal parts. Quantities impact the cost as well because set-up costs are spread across the number run.
To patent or not to patent?
Patents and/or a Patent-pending status can serve as a barrier to competition. If you are planning on licensing your design to others to produce, a patented product will command a higher royalty rate.
Each company needs to decide whether to pursue a patent or not. There can be significant costs and time associated with the filing, writing and drawing preparation. Depending on the market potential and whether or not you would defend the patent if someone infringes on it, you may decide not to pursue it.
A Utility patent holds more weight than a Design patent. A Utility patent demonstrates you have a truly novel idea that provides a benefit, and the idea was not obvious to others in the field of practice.
BlueSky Designs currently has 8 patents (4 utility; 4 design) for products ranging from its tent design to a wheelchair mount with locking joints, to a stool with a rocker base, primarily used for gardening.
Do no harm. Safety is as important as function, and is always considered in our design process.
Design for Safety: We design the product to be safe. Smooth edges, remove sharps, and design in safety features. Do what you can to make the use obvious and intuitive. When necessary, add a label to illustrate proper use or to alert them to a hazard. Make sure it will handle all the loads specified.
Conduct a Risk Analysis: During the design development process, we consider what could go wrong, and how people could use or misuse the product. We explore and experiment to determine what will happen if they use it in different, even unintended ways. We test it to the breaking point, and make certain that this does not pose a threat to the end user or others.
Test it with end users: In testing your device with end users and others, pay attention to how people use the product, what may confuse them about how it operates, mistakes they make, and the consequences. Consider—can the design be changed to eliminate the problem? Could a label be added as a reminder? Did we provide adequate instructions?
Ongoing review: Once it is in the field, listen to customers’ questions and examine repairs. Continually improve the product and inform your customers and Resellers if critical issues arise.
Bringing it to market
BlueSky Designs started as a design and consulting firm, specializing in universal design, ergonomics, rehab engineering and assistive technology. In the early days, we licensed our designs to others. We didn’t have a Sales and Marketing presence, nor did we have Production and Customer Service staff. Both the Garden Rocker and Freedom Tent were universal designs, and fit in mainstream companies.
As we developed the Mount’n Mover, we opted to manufacture it ourselves for a number of reasons. Royalties alone were not sustaining us, and we wanted to move from a grant revenue-based company to a self-sustaining one, based on product revenues. Other factors in deciding to take the plunge were that we had a product we really believed in, and wanted to see on the market; we wanted to ensure its quality; and we wanted to make sure our customers were supported.
We took the plunge. At this point, we’ve got a growing business, are employing people and seeing the impact our product has on the lives of our customers firsthand. It’s a decision we’re happy with.
Both approaches have merit, and we will consider both as we develop new products.