Tags: desktop injection molder makerbot parent testing peeko product aesthetics
Initially, Rest Devices focused solely on medical devices. We had some great technology, solid engineering know how, and some rough prototypes, but to iterate on our design, we needed data, and medical devices need…medical data. From the start, Dr. Matt Bianchi provided excellent guidance to help us navigate the IRB and BME processes, and we knew our prototypes had to look and feel complete – like an actual medical device.
Then, last summer, we switched over to the consumer space with the Peeko monitor. We wholly expected that our prior requirements for polished prototypes would relax, as we were moving from the FDA to parents as our “regulatory bodies”. However, we quickly found that parents are far more demanding. For a parent to be comfortable testing a new device it needs to be approachable, friendly and most importantly, not look like a device! In short, it needs to be polished. (It’s worth noting that, early on, Dulcie demanded that I never say the word device while talking about Peeko)
This principle of polished prototypes seemingly flew in the face of our entire rapid prototyping philosophy. When we were first developing the Peeko, we probably went through 5-10 different versions of the device every week, but ultimately, we had to be comfortable taking each version to a parent to get their input. If the design ever felt unpolished, a parent would never get past the aesthetic problems let alone talk about the actual usability or the feature set. As a result, we started a culture of refined prototyping right from the very beginning.
And, even before we had a thought about baby products and/or refined aesthetics, we set ourselves up for prototyping. One of our first significant expenditures was actually one of the original MakerBot Thing-O-Matics, which we bought before we even had enough tools to build it. This allowed us to print complete, water tight(ish) cases that would easily pass any BME exam for a quick medical test in the sleep lab. From our success with our MakerBot, we started to collect as many tools as possible to allow us to iterate design in lab. Instead of sending out electronics to be fabricated for us, we built a complete surface mount soldering screening/soldering area (we still pick and place by hand). Instead of waiting 2+ weeks for boards to be etched, we designed our own PCB printing and etching tank. As we started to work closely with parents who required extremely high quality, we bought our own hand operated injection molding machine.
Surprisingly, all the equipment didn’t require much capital expenditures, and now we can completely change design (new electronics, case, sensors) for hundreds rather than tens of thousands of dollars. But more importantly, we can also experiment with new technology amazingly quickly. A few days ago, we decided to hold an internal 24 hour hackathon and challenge ourselves to see if we could integrate heart rate and blood oxygen sensors into Peeko. Because of our investment in rapid prototyping equipment, we were able to test and iterate through 4 designs before finalizing a device that we will likely test in a hospital setting, all within 24 hours. Needless to say, it was mind-blowing to see our capacity to rapidly iterate that wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago.
Sadly, our MakerBot finally wore itself out a few weeks back. After 18 months of printing a few thousand pieces for more than 50 hours every week, it was well past its expected lifespan. The breakdown nearly crushed me, but the amazing team at MakerBot graciously donated one of their new Replicator 2s (R2) to our lab (THANK YOU, MAKERBOT!). We have been playing with the new Makerbot for two weeks now, and the quality and speed is astonishing. With these vast improvements in technology and our iteration philosophy, I predict massive shifts in our manufacturing timelines, particularly the transition from testing to manufacturing. Ultimately, we’re starting to be able to print such high quality devices that injection molding is more or less unnecessary until we produce at scale. This might not seem like a super big deal, but now we can build and iterate entirely new products in less than a week (as opposed to several months with traditional manufacturing processes).
As a startup who prides ourselves on our speed, we could not be more excited about these shifts in timelines. We can’t wait to share our process and technology with other like-minded tinkerers, and I can’t wait to see what’s next!