Bill Phelps has a home office in Tarrytown, NY, a 35-minute train ride from midtown Manhattan. It occupies 100 square feet between the ground floor pantry and a playroom. There are bookshelves, a swivel chair, and a desk with a computer and a MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer.
“What you’re looking at here — this tiny space — is a product innovation hub,” says Phelps. And from this space, Phelps brought more than a dozen products to market in a year for an $80 million consumer-product-goods company. When the MakerBot Replicator 2 launched, “one of the best things was it was completely affordable, so I went and purchased one on my credit card, and I later asked to expense it,” says Phelps. In two weeks, he printed 50 to 100 parts for prototypes — “and that alone paid for the printer.”
Before MakerBot, Phelps says, one of his new products would have a prototype budget of $10,000 to $20,000, which was enough to pay for two or three mockups. Rapid prototyping allowed him to be more nimble while spending less. Moreover, he said, “it took away a lot of the arguments.” If a designer makes something one way and the boss thinks it should look different, they can print both options and compare.
A few months ago, Phelps co-founded Ringblingz, a startup that makes rings that allow teenagers to put their phones away yet know when they have an important message: a text from mom, a Snapchat from their best friend. During a three-month residency at the R/GA Connected Devices Accelerator, Phelps and Ringblingz had access to an array of six MakerBot Replicator 2s and a MakerBot Replicator 2X Experimental 3D Printer, and Phelps was able to try hundreds of ideas on his way to launching Ringblingz. Phelps and his team launched Ringblingz at SXSW last month, and Wearables Week named them Best Newcomer.
Phelps says there’s no difference between the difference between the set of Ringblingz prototypes made on a MakerBot and “what I used to spend thousands of dollars on” for each prototype. For a product designer today, he says, “you literally don’t need more than a MakerBot and a computer.”