Instructables

How to manufacture your own designer toy or start a new small business

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Picture of How to manufacture your own designer toy or start a new small business
      I want to start with full disclosure. I am a trained and practicing industrial designer. I have spent the last 15 years deeply immersed in both traditional and cutting edge visualization and prototyping tools. This particular project was possible because of all that i have learned and the tools i have access to through professional relationships. However, because of this amazing time we are living in most of these tools are becoming easier and easier to get access to.

     This is my first Instructable, I am primarily interested in sharing my process because i had a lot of fun with it and also want to encourage more making. A second less intrinsic reason for posting is to enter the "make it real challenge". Although i have access to some amazing tools my personal projects are always limited by the boundaries of my professional relationship. Having unmitigated access to certain technologies would give me complete freedom to pursue projects of unparalleled absurdity.

   So, in a step by step personal diary format i present to you the Ice Scream Man or The Birth of Brutherford Industries.
 
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Step 1: Content

Picture of Content
I have a long history of goofing off and generating images, models and sometimes even products with the express purpose of making people laugh.  In august of 2011 i worked up a digital doodle and shared it on my blog which i thought maybe 8 people even knew about.

The model started with some basic volume created in Solidworks, I prefer to start most of my digital modeling in a program like Solidworks because as far as 3-d modeling goes it is my native language and really helps me understand the scale i'm working in.

Once i have a basic form and proportion i am happy with i'll transition to another more freeform type modeling program.
In this case that program is actually called Sensable Freeform. This program is operated by a haptic sculpting device that  allows you to "feel" your model and provides for a much more sculptural manipulation of your digital file.
You'll see the progression from step 1 which was a fairly controlled geometry through step 5 where i was pushing and pulling the model in to a more organic shape.

Initially i was only interested in a rendering and not an actual physical output, but once i decided to bring the product in to the real world the model made one more trip back in to Solidworks for some engineering details since i wanted to make the base and cone in two parts that had to fit together well.



Maditri7 days ago
I appreciate your article. I'm interested in creating a model/prototype of a baby product. Although I invented/developed it I'd like to collaborate with someone more knowledgable regarding materials safety and engineering. I'm unsure how to proceed. Would you be interested in such an endeavor?
bryanbrutherford (author)  Maditri7 days ago
You can email me at brutherford@brutherford.com if you want to discuss a project.

i have been in product development for 14 years.
I spent 10 years working in the pet industry where there is a huge overlap with infant toys in materials and manufacturing. Many of my factories produce both pet toys and baby toys.

I am currently making my living as a design/manufacturing consultant.
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Super information, and congratulations on bringing your ideas and vision to fruition. I'll have to say I am somewhat old school and wondering are these pieces practical and have playful use or are they just decorative? We were all kids once and we love hands on creativity, and just wondering if I was missing something. Thanks for the step by step accomplishments, and good luck with your next project. If you have suggestions or advise about grass roots start up and any design classes that you might have taken, that would be appreciated. Have you ever created any wooden toys??

dap201210 months ago
cool! Since I am not remotely talented/skilled in anything engineer-esque, I will say you did a great job explaining this project to right-brained folks like me. That is no small feat!
My interest in "making a resin figurine/model" is quite recent. Searching online for some quirky, yet respectful, Christmas ornaments featuring U.S. Presidents, all I could find were ones with the picture, scene/quote on them. My vision in my head was quite different. I realize that there is not a hot demand for these items; well, in certain history buff circles, (haven't exhausted my search) but for this history teacher, I thought Really? no easy google search! Thank you for explaining the process and how incredibly awesome it must be to see that ice cream man come "alive" ! Any suggestions my way would be appreciated. My goal is not to start a company but who knows? stranger things happen everyday!!
bryanbrutherford (author)  dap201210 months ago
thanks.
not sure about presidents, it would be a huge undertaking to sculpt them all and cast them. Maybe images engraved and laser cut out of wood or printed on something... shrinky dinks? Seriously.. i've made some pretty cool stuff with shrinky dink material.
legit. respect.
lbutcher11 year ago
Would you happen to know the names of some of the service bureaus you've mentioned before in a comment off hand? Sorry, this is new territory for me
bryanbrutherford (author)  lbutcher11 year ago
empire prototypes in Mass. or you can upload your model to shapeways.com end buy from there.
For the non-commercially-linked: Buy a makerbot or build a reprap.
how much does a 3d printer cost?
Depends on the printer. They can range anywhere from $300 upwards, but don't count on finding one below $600.
bryanbrutherford (author)  willrandship2 years ago
I'm not knocking either of those options,. They are both fantastic tools, But if you need a higher quality output, can't justify the expense vs. volume or just don't want to learn a new tool but would like to be able to use it there are also plenty of service bureaus out there that will print your models for a reasonable fee in a wide variety of processes.

Barrettkg2 years ago
I'm in love with the ingenuity, the drive and the whole story behind that handsome devil. Well done guys.
Idea for you though: How hard would it be if you instead casted wax and made candles. In my mind, wax is cheaper so you might be able to reduce the cost on the candle models and depending on the difficulty, add the scent of the icecream they represent.
Once again, beautiful execution start to finish
bryanbrutherford (author)  Barrettkg2 years ago
Thanks for the compliments.

It looks awesome, but what can I do with these? I might considering buying one, but it's too expensive for me.... What's it made out of. Anyways, Nice work. It would be awesome if we can eat it... OMG, CAN WE?!?! That would be cool. How big is it? Sorry for asking so many questions. By the way, I checked out your blog, and I really like it. Are you selling the knuckles APPROVED stamp? I would buy one of those.
patman012 years ago
how much would it cost for you to do a 3D "spider tracer" for me that i can have 3D printed :)
Have you tried Shapeways, they do 3D printing inexpensively.
hi! i am familiar with shapeways. i actually have access to an Objet 3D printer. unfortunately, i don't have the talent to design a 3D model hehe. but thanks for the suggestion.
bryanbrutherford (author)  patman012 years ago
sorry, i don't think that's a job for me.
Arleatir2 years ago
That's a realy inspiring story, thanks a lot for sharing.
bryanbrutherford (author)  Arleatir2 years ago
Thank you.
Very Cool Product and I like how you explain the making of a toy from begining to end and everything in between.
Beanbob2232 years ago
I have to sayquite hard to make
jtraub012 years ago
I am 50% complete in bringing a product online. Great ible!

I like the packaging solution! Very nice. Can you share how you were able to get your products in retail locations?

Thank you,

Jim
bryanbrutherford (author)  jtraub012 years ago
I'm both proud and a bit embarrassed to say that i have done little to directly initiate my retail partnerships. Once i started sharing images on instagram and twitter people started coming to me. I knew i wanted to move product through wholesale channels so i developed a wholesale model very early on and had it ready when people asked.
Dude, you'll get there. Soon people will come to you. Your stuff is definitely hot and people go crazy for it. Email me if you want to talk about, I have kind of been doing similar things for myself and while working at Pale Horse Design. Keep up the badass work!
L O L !!!!

XD

...I bet nobody has commented 'cause nobody found this funny XD
yeah... i'm not sure whether it's good or bad that no one is commenting on it.

clearly... i think it's hilarious
Wow, this is incredible! I loved reading/seeing your process (I've always wondered about how to make my own molds/forms) and seeing the final product. Where are they available for purchase? I founded and run the Visalia Zombie Ball & Crawl in my city every year and these would make wonderful additions to the prizes.
Thanks!!! they would make awesome prizes.

They are available on my website www.brutherford.com

glitterboy2 years ago
hi, very nice table, but i don't know, it feels kinda..shallow, but been a entusiast of toys myself find this very useful
On the other side, someone knows if there is a instructable about vinyl toys production or processes?
Congrats and good luck
bryanbrutherford (author)  glitterboy2 years ago
shallow in content?
or
shallow in that it's an expenssive plastic knick knack?

i don´t mean any disrespect, it´s very informative and well estructured, but maybe was hoping a more "in deep" immersion on this "adult" toys subject.
Maybe it´s a little contradictory that i am willing to spend $50-75 in a resin scale model figure, but i´m more than dubitous about one of this art toys...(not in this case, i think this is cool) . and i´ve seen some of this pieces to go far above $200-250
Perhaps in the blooming of the 3d print technology its a plus to put some human touch in the production
again congratulations, great job!
robbied2 years ago
That is a really cool 'blog' style instructable of how events unfolded. Love the photography too, it's got me interested in websearching to find one, as I have one of those left-of-centre humours.
Although I can't follow along, (I'm a technophobe-lol) I think your invention is very cool. Thanks for posting your Instructable. Hope you post many more :0)
thanks, i've already posted another and i'm working on a couple more.
Li Sashay2 years ago
This is awesome! I voted for you. Best of luck.
bryanbrutherford (author)  Li Sashay2 years ago
thanks!!!
I am confused about the price point $50-$75 per seems extremely high. Who is your target market? I mean great if they are flying off the shelf. Are you targeting more of a artistic/design niche market? I am curious what your margins are, just confused, no disrespect meant.
I'm pretty confused too.... It's a plastic knick-knack as far as I can tell.

But hey, if you're making money and people are buying your 50-75$ knick knacks, then who's complaining?
bryanbrutherford (author)  Xyver2 years ago
No worries, this product definitely falls in to a niche collector market. If you're not familiar with the designer/collector/urban vinyl world, a good place to start is KidRobot.

I grew up around expensive ceramic figurines, painted porcelain plates and strange crystal butterflies. Maybe plastic is the Lenox of the new generation?

I certainly have a very comfortable margin in my retail pricing but an important detail to note is that i'd prefer to sell more pieces wholesale. Wholesale partnerships with established retailers will give me broader exposure and lend credibility as a relatively new name in this market. While i've been collecting for 20 years and working as a professional designer for over 10 this is my first independently branded piece. On top of that it's a lot less work for me to ship large orders to a retailer than shipping single orders all over the place. I set my wholesale pricing at the minimum price where i was comfortable moving the product, that scales up to the retail cost based on a long standing model that I wasn't really trying to buck with my initial launch.

Aside from some fancy machines i am still basically a 1 man show, i am designing, sculpting, prototyping, sourcing, producing, doing secondary cleanup, signing and numbering, packing, marketing, dealing with all the support accounts (visa, amex, web services, printers, shippers, etc.) processing orders, shipping and customer service. If i broke down my margin on these pieces and looked at it as an hourly wage, I'd quit tomorrow. That is without considering the equipment i purchased to start the project or any overhead for rent or utilities.

Collectors are buying exclusivity and art, in this case i am both the artist and manufacturer. In my current situation the only projects that make even a little bit of financial sense are those of small volume <1000 pieces with high margin. Ultimately it would be fantastic if i could expand my capabilities and my Brand in a way that would help bring the cost down and volume up. Right now it is what it is and i completely understand the shock at my pricing if you're unfamiliar with the market.
Thanks for the answer. I was unaware of the market (obviously). I suppose it's a reflection of my own cheapness perhaps. What your doing makes a lot more sense. I am in a similar situation with the business my wife and I own. It's rough to wear all the hats, but you do what you have to do to get things rolling. We are constantly having to figure out how we can keep our overhead down without effecting quality, and still make enough money to be happy with the margins.  It's a familiar song your playing for us.

I spent a portion of my university education in industrial design, unfortunately I had to drop out because of medical bills from our first child.  But loved the time for what I did learn, and has been a big help in my product design.

Anyway really great that you are taking it all on.  And I wish you the best of luck with your endeavor.  I am sure it will work out well for you.  Sorry if my previous comment came off sounding snooty.  

You should check out my instructable about how I built some manufacturing machines.  Maybe you'll find some inspiration to help streamline your process even more. or at the very least may be interesting.

Also I really liked the design of your website.  Very nice.
bryanbrutherford (author)  pastprimitive2 years ago
No worries, your comment was valid and i have no problem addressing it. If more people were willing to listen to the answers they might understand why we (the united states) are in the position we are regarding manufacturing. We stopped caring and understanding process and focus only on product. Clearly the discussion is much larger than that but i think you understand what i am saying.

I have already seen your instructable (and voted for it), i think it's fantastic. Beyond being a good example of how to automate or make something real, it is an excellent example of using these tools (3-d printers, cnc machines, laser cutters, etc.) that have become fetishized as a product as part of a process to create another tool that is part of another process... was that too rambling? did it make sense?

aside from my own personal toy factory, i get to spend a lot of time in larger more traditional factories. I am obsessed with automation and efficiencies and have had a lot of opportunities to design machinery and systems to ad efficiency to production unfortunately those are not exclusively my personal work so i can not share them here.

That whole mindset definitely lent to the Ice Scream Man project, if i hadn't been able to think of the entire process as a system i'm not sure it would have ever made it past a prototype.

Thanks for the compliments on the site, the graphics were done by my good friend David  http://www.davidayllon.com/
Thanks for the vote, and compliment on my ible. I spend a lot of time researching production techniques; because one, they are fascinating, two that's the business I am developing, and three I am interested in showing people that the United States can compete in the manufacturing market effectively. I think it require a different kind of innovation in the product development cycle. But before I go off on a soapbox there...

As far as understanding what you meant, or if it was too rambling... I think I got it. I assume you are saying all these amazing tools we now have access to have become part of an inane and endless cycle of creating more intricate tools, and other processes that bring little benefit. Or at the very least that's how they are mostly though of as. Instead of what I think another untapped potential which is feasible end user customization of products. They are amazing short run production tools that can bring otherwise unfeasible products to life that would otherwise be too costly or impossible to execute without traditional mass production techniques. I see them doing the same thing for physical products as the computer and printer did for printed material. In time I think we will see a 3d printer in every home, and the ability for consumers to customize products to their exact needs, and print them out at home. There is much to be done to bring the price of the technology down, and create the appropriate economic vehicle for companies to be interested in developing products on an intellectual level only, but I think that is where the future of consumer products is headed. Just needs a little more time.

I have a theory that there is a general economic/product development cycle that we have repeated throughout history with technology. It centers around economy of scale.

Essentially as new technologies are brought into being there is an initial centralization of production--economy of scale--mass production brings the cost of production down. The consumer likes this, because they have access to more solutions at an affordable price. Many assume this is the holy grail of manufacturing because it brings down price. And that the more the price drops the more accessible the product is, and therefore more money, more investors, happier businesses, and happier consumers.

But I think that in order to further develop any product there is another key stage after mass production, which is mass customization. After a product is mass produced as good as that product may be at solving a given problem it's made some sacrifices in end user customization to allow for mass production. Which I am sure you are familiar with.

So the next key stage I believe is mass customization which is essentially developing the mass production process to the point where you give power of the exact configuration of a product back over to the consumer in order to meet their situational needs while maintaining economic feasibility even if there is an initial rise in cost. This may happen through secondary means such as mass producing for example a 3d printer. Which allows the end user infinite customization at an economy of scale that is affordable to them. In many ways it is the opposite of mass production. But regardless a good place to go with solving end user problems.

Anyway I apologize for my long winded ramblings if they are dry. This stuff just keeps stuck to my brain like super glue.

In conclusion, good job, thanks for the vote, awesome ible, and best of luck in the contest. May we both win a 3d printer!
bryanbrutherford (author)  pastprimitive2 years ago
as a maker i agree with you on some points but as a designer and someone taking a long-term view of the technology I'm not sure we're on the same page.

I think a huge part of interacting with any object is experiencing it's design and the conscious decisions of its designer. There is certainly a huge community of people who are interested in customization. i am part of that community but i think that has and always will exist regardless of 3-d printers, routers, lasers, etc. and is separate from the masses.

I think the next evolution of this technology will happen when people get past the whimsy of "oh look that cool little robot is making something" and start focusing on a library of beautiful and functional objects that can be had on demand. That's when the world at large will care and the technology will be seen as more than a 30 second news bite about this "crazy new thing".
Although I'd still argue that rather than a 3-d printer in every house, it's more likely that you'll have localized service agencies "Kinkos 3d" where you could bring your own files or browse a virtual store then dump a handful of quarters in to a machine and get your item. Even though the base technology is getting cheaper and cheaper, in the foreseeable future we will still be limited by the ability for any given process to output only specified materials.
i certainly think it would suck if all of my future possessions were made only of abs.
Yeah, Yeah but there are metal printers, glass printers and even printers that print rubber but until all of those materials and more come out of one machine... i don't see the reasoning in the "a 3d printer in every home" argument.

to me a 3-d printer is no more or less valuable than a hammer. it is a tool in my tool-belt sometimes it is the right tool and sometimes it is not. I feel like a lot of projects actually suffer because people are so eager to shoehorn part of the process in to some unnecessary technology because it's cool. Maybe the output doesn't suffer but the efficiency and budget might. Some time the output does suffer and it ends up with a giant digital fingerprint on it because the use of a specific technology was unskilled or not implemented in a fluid way.

You mention photoshop, this is a good parallel, first because you do need a software for content creation and you need a certain level of knowledge and skill with that tool before you output to any of these technologies. So for mass customization you not only need to have the technology to print but you you have to know how to create content for the technology (unless you can pull down a full library of amazing designs and choose what you want).
The second reason photoshop is a great parallel is because i'd argue that it's easy availability has allowed for some of the worst designs in history to be unleashed upon this world. it proves that the ability to create content and the ability to create "good" content are not the same.
The ability for anyone to be able to create content has done a lot to devalue design as a profession.

Please don't misunderstand, i think open access is amazing and important and i wouldn't ever want to take photoshop away from anyone. My point is that we are now in a place were only the strongest designers are surviving so you have a wide gap between good work and "i know a guy with photoshop who will do that for 1/4 the price". I don't want to get too deep in to that discussion but it is relevant and some what predictive of one of the stumbling blocks we will face as the technology expands. Of course there are trained designers that suck and untrained designers that are amazing, i get that all these issues are complicated. I'm just saying that i don't think the technology as a whole is important to the general public without good content.


Also, i really hope none of this sounds combative, i very much appreciate the conversation.

Not taken as combative at all.  I think you misunderstood a little bit.  When I refer to 3d printers I am referring to the general idea of outputting a physical objects from a computer file.  And I agree that a 3d printer for home will need to be able to utilize multiple technologies in order to output multiple materials.  Perhaps that is all with extrusion, although more likely it will be a combination of subtractive and additive processes; some of which still need to be developed; in order to create objects out of multiple materials.  Although even that has always been a challenge when manufacturing any item, because the more types of materials and parts added to an item the more cost, and time it requires to build. 

Also I envisioned like you that you would need a library of intelligently designed objects, perhaps it would work on a similar model to the music industry.  You purchase a product file, and it's sent to your printer/mini manufacturing machine.  No technical capability required except being able to navigate the internet, and press print.  Granted even this type of model is still missing important parts, like a machine that is as user friendly as an inkjet.  But I think that is not too far off. 

Also I agree that making the tools of design more readily available certainly does present some challenges to the professional world, and it's been that way in every industry when the tools of the trade are within the reach of the masses.  But I think that those challenges help evolve the industry as a whole.  I think you were hinting at that.  Although I am not quite sure where you got me referencing photoshop.  I was referring to what the inkjet/laserjet have done to allow people more access printed products from there own home whether they design them or someone else. 

So I am not really talking about open access to design tools, as much as I think the distribution model of physical products will change to allow more localized manufacturing.  And I think you are right there will be a 3d kinkos eventually, but I also think like kinkos there will be plenty who will want there own product production machine where they can print from home(like printers).  I am actually working on developing some tech to help solve some of these problems, but can't elaborate too much on how it works.  Of course like you mention that station would need to be as easy to operate as a printer is.  In other words you keep the materials refilled, and only have to click print. 

Now of course all this is purely conjecture because at this point we are missing some integral products, technology, and consumer acceptance of course.  But I think those things will come as people see there problems are solved more quickly, efficiently, and more customized to there unique situation.  Of course I think many feel this is too far off, but I would reference plenty of historical examples where new technology was thought of as unnecessary or too cumbersome until someone created a system, product, distribution channel that showed the benefits to them.  I've heard it's reported that many at the time when the automobile was first being introduced said "why would you want that when you have a perfectly good horse?" Of course I think the present answers that quite nicely.  And I think the same goes for manufacturing tech. As it becomes more consumer friendly we'll see more widespread adoption by the laymen, and in the end it will just allow for a better distribution channel for designers.  Intelligent designers will always be in demand.  Because like photoshop anyone can learn to use it, but not everyone has time to learn how to use it well, and perhaps not even the capacity. 

I also agree that it's important not to birth a design from "oh look what this cool tool can do." If you have seen the documentary Objectified most everything that is discussed in there are my feelings about design. Our relationship with the items around us is integral to who we are and how we process our environment.  

Anyway, enjoyable conversation.  Once again much of what I am talking back still needs a lot more tech. and refinement to back it up.  But I think it will come.
bryanbrutherford (author)  pastprimitive2 years ago
Sorry about that Photoshop rant, that was just where i jumped to from computer/printer.

i think we mostly agree, maybe i was just being a grumpy old man about some particulars near to me.

agreed... Objectified is great

and also double AGREED on your earlier point that the first step towards the growth of domestic manufacturing is innovation in the product development process
No problem. You're not the first designer I've talked to with the same sentiments about photoshop. My sister is a graphic designer / GD professor, and brother-in-law is also a graphic designer. Yeah, so I've heard a few rants about everybody feeling like they can design because they can buy photoshop and illustrator.

Besides, it's good to talk stuff out.

Curious, I am wondering what you prefer between Solid Works, and Autocad? I am looking to get away from Turbocad because its really limited, has no analysis tools, and I have always intended to since I purchased Turbocad. Does Solid Works have analysis tools?
bryanbrutherford (author)  pastprimitive2 years ago
I am a big fan of solidworks, but i have been using it since 2001, i've grown with the program and even taught it for a few semesters.

I have no real experience with autocad, i learned Vellum first but as soon as i found solidworks i knew it was for me. Now i transition a lot between solidworks for geometric control and sensable freeform modeling for artistic control. I've been playing around with sculptris and may invest in zbrush soon.

I agree.
no, he's correct. these things do sell at that price range and even higher (some in the thousands if custom made or limited). i'd say $60 is the average price for the common vinyl toys and you pay around $150 to $200 if custom painted by an artist.
When I finally get a job, this has to be one of the first things I buy. It's so random, but it's awesome looking!
thanks

tinker2342 years ago
amzing job thanks i wonder how to do this
bryanbrutherford (author)  tinker2342 years ago
thank you.
I agree with chipper35. This is an awesome tutorial. Im currently in high school and taking an engineering class which has a really high end 3D printer. We do a lot of 3D designing but we use SolidWorks. I think that what you do as an artist and manufacturer is so amazing. I didn't know you could actually make that much money off of designing art figures like the ones you do. I think I might try and design some figures and see how that goes.

I posted a tutorial not long ago on how to design and print an iPhone 4s case http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Make-an-iPhone-4s-Case/ <<-- That's the link to it if you want to check it out. I wonder if I would be able to sell those. o.O
bryanbrutherford (author)  newton.95.dan2 years ago
Thanks.
Use that software and printer as much as you can while you have access. Make that printer do things that no one else is thinking about.

I would caution that although i have been relatively successful i still haven't recouped my initial investment so i really haven't perfected the "print product --count money" business model.

But you should definitely build a basic web-store and get your stuff out there, or even just share your files on shapeways.

luckyone2 years ago
would make cool keychains
bryanbrutherford (author)  luckyone2 years ago
there might be something like that in the works
chipper352 years ago
It isn't just that the product is cool..........(which it is!!).....it's how you walk thru the (often tedious) nuts and bolts of bringing a niche product to market!! This is an excellent instructable!!
bryanbrutherford (author)  chipper352 years ago
Thank You so much.
LucDaRocka12 years ago
kool! i love that look....... would u sell them like on ebay?
They're already for sale on their website $50-$75 http://www.brutherford.com/Store