Why product design, development and production is more difficult to plan than you may think….

By | Chris Elsworthy Design Blog, Prototype Build | 5 Comments

As you know we have suffered delays with the launch of Robox and on the whole the followers and backers of the project have been extremely supportive and understanding of this unforeseen delay.  It has however given me the idea to write a quick blog about why it’s so hard to nail down dates when designing and developing a new product.

Firstly, let me get down a few of the issues I’ve experienced whilst developing innovative features and functions on products.

You might imagine that copying someone else’s product or design is a quick business, challenges can be confidently predicted and completed after a few examples have been sketched, modelled and made.

Designing a new type of product or feature is the opposite of this; although I often start with a clear and structured idea, the path to get there is not clear and has often never been trodden before.

When I start a new project I normally have what I think is the perfect way to achieve my target, and my first task is to get the ideas out of my head and into a drawing or model. Putting the contents of my brain on paper, into CAD or physical models usually shows up many unconsidered problems, and this is where the real work normally starts.

I start to modify my initial concept to actually work in the real world and this in turn often leads to new and unexpected problems, but by diligence and repetition of both drawings and real models I often get to my end goal, sometimes in the most unexpected way. Of course there are really clever people in this world who imagine the full system before putting pen to paper or glue to plastic, and can create the perfect product first time round – but this is a rarity.

Working through the process bit by bit greatly expands on my understanding of the original problem. This means I am constantly increasing my knowledge of relevant subjects and the processes involved in creating the elements required to make them perform as intended. Test rigs and assemblies, paper models, hand made plastic parts, glue, piles of drawings and discarded revisions.

The Eureka moment – finally, after working through the above I finally have a concept which works in theory…time to put it into practice.

So I’ve modelled my idea in CAD and I have a heap of hand-made parts which prove my theories – at this point I get an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and I feel my next logical step could only be to take over the world .. (Evil Laugh).

Just as quickly as I reach euphoria, I’m brought back down to earth by colleagues who try to push me into making something which is less pie in the sky and more commercially viable – and this brings us to stage two of product development.  The point at which all the concepts and solutions you’ve worked through in the design stage get amalgamated into something which can be manufactured at a cost which is commensurate with its intended use.

This is the hard slog in my experience and often takes me back into the design stage a number of times as I tweak things to make them actually possible to manufacture.

I find myself sitting at the CAD station for months on end drawing and redrawing every individual part of my product, considering tooling design, materials, assembly sequence, durability, safety, aesthetics, quality and a million other things. Every time I think I’m getting to the end of this process I would normally order and build a prototype. This once again reveals a massive list of things that don’t work as well as I had wanted.

This process can happen again, and again, and again, as I try to perfect the design once and for all.

During this time, I need a huge bucket of faith as things can seem impossible… At some point, when things seem almost perfect, I make that final decision to start the tooling and put the project into production.

The next stage is costly, risky and takes you to the point of no return in terms of investment.  You are relying on a production team to take what they see as a half-baked design into full production by using all your drawings and prototypes to make and produce the product on mass scale.

Before the production line gets going, it starts to feel like Christmas as I receive boxes and boxes of off-tool parts from the factories, which again highlight more problems and weaknesses that need adapting, changing and re-designing to get things perfect.

Finally I get to the stage where I’m happy with the product I have, my designs have finally come to light, I’m feeling pretty good.

That’s it then? Finished?

Well, not quite.  It’s time for testing, getting safety certs, tuning tooling, writing user manuals, designing packaging, and all the ‘User experience stuff’. Then comes the time-consuming task of setting up a production line and getting a team of skilled workers on board who understand every miniscule element of the product.  Discovering my telepathic abilities are lacking means hours spent explaining the thought process behind every single nut, bolt, wire and plastic feature.  And things still come to light which need to be changed and tweaked.

Finally the product goes to market, everyone loves it and wants to talk about it but I’m already back in the design chair looking for that Eureka moment once again…

I hope by describing how I muddle through taking a concept to the finished product demonstrates just how hard it is to put an exact timeframe on bringing a new product to market.  I’m still guilty of getting over-excited about what I do, and assuming I can get things working quicker than I actually can.  That’s because I’m passionate about what I do, and I firmly believe in the products I’m producing. Unfortunately, the fact is, when trying to create something brand new and unique, we are always entering the unknown.

With Robox, I’m confident we’ve just about mastered the production and we’re excited to see the product reaching homes soon.

There are still some monstrous challenges ahead, but with the support and backing from our customers we’ll get there.

Robox press coverage January 2014

By | Press | No Comments

28.01.14 – Best 3D Printers 2014 Tom’s Guide
16.01.14 – The state of 3D printing and scanning after CES 2014: The push for mainstreaming begins
MAKE Magazine
16.01.14 – Gallery: 3D printing and scanning at CES 2014 Electronic Design

Rory Cellan-Jones – 14.01.14 – CES 2014 in 2 minutes
Rory Cellan-Jones
14.01.14 – Best of British at CES 2014 – Pure, Damson, Fitbug, CES Yahoo News
13.01.14 – Finally, 3D printers are becoming more beginner friendly Digital Arts Online

13.01.14 – Robox: flying the British flag at CES 2014 TCT Mag
13.01.14 – Robox Sunglasses Thingiverse
13.01.14 – Best of British at CES 2014 – Pure, Damson, Fitbug, CEL IBTimes
10.01.14 – CEL Robox is the King of 3D Printers USA Today
10.01.14 – The coolest 3D printers of CES 2014 InfoWorld
10.01.14 – The 3D printing cagematch The Verge
10.01.14 – Finally, 3D printeres are becoming more noob-friendly Tech Hive
09.01.14 – CES 2014: 3D printing poised to go global, mainstream Crave Online
09.01.14 – Finally, 3D printers are becoming more noob-friendly PC Advisor
09.01.14 – Portishead business Robox raises £200,000 for 3D printer project South West Business
08.01.14 – CES 2014: 3D food printers make their debut BBC News
08.01.14 – They’re multiplying! 3D printers go big and small NBC News
08.01.14 – Top 3D printers from CES IBTimes
08.01.14 – Robox takes the 3D printer crown Reviewed
08.01.14 – 3D printer firm raises £203K on Kickstarter Bristol Post
08.01.14 – Fear and loathing at CES 2014 3D Printing Industry
07.01.14 – Giants and start-up compete at CES BBC News
07.01.14 – Technology firms gather at CES BBC News Video
06.01.14 – Robox first-timer at CES BBC News
02.01.14 – CES 2013 3D printing Techzone gallery TCT Mag

Robox creates a stir at CES 2014!

By | News | 2 Comments

Curved TV’s, wearable tech, internet enabled toothbrushes (yes you did read that correctly!), it’s all being showcased at this years Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and that’s not all…



CES 2014 also marks the launch of CEL’s first 3D printer, Robox, as the team from Bristol in the UK present their latest invention to the world!

Despite being surrounded by a host of other competitors in the ‘3D Printing Techzone’ (this technology now warrants a category of its own at the show), it’s Robox that has created the biggest stir with techies and journalists alike.

On the opening night of the show Robox featured on BBC national news, ABC news as well as being widely talked about online. Robox has clearly impressed as it picked up an ‘Editor’s Choice’ award from the guys at Reviewed.com (http://printers.reviewed.com/features/robox-takes-the-3d-printer-crown) as they describe it as a printer which “outshines the established brands through innovation and open thinking.”

It’s been a whirlwind couple of months for CEL and the work doesn’t stop here, far from it. The next step is production and to get the printers into the hands of our beta testers as soon as possible.

Watch this space!




Robox in T3 Magazine February 2014 Issue

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T3 Magazine February 2014 Issue.


What a great tagline! Front page and 3 full pages of Robox right at the front of the magazine in “Most Wanted”.

This issue of T3 is packed with must have gadgets for 2014, Robox is described in the article as “The people’s printer”

“It’s the new desk essential”




Robox press coverage December 2013

By | Press | No Comments

31.12.13 – 5 features desktop 3D printer companies should focus on in 2014 GigaOM
23.12.13 – Start Up to Watch: Robox Simple Web
23.12.13 – Robox successfully completes Kickstarter campaign Start Ups
20.12.13 – Gorgeous Robox 3D printer hopes it can do for 3D printing what the iMac did for personal computing GigaOM
18.12.13 – Cool new innovations for Christmas and the New Year MSN Innovate
16.12.13 – 3D printing week: Holiday gift guide, Robox 3D printer, Kickstarter On 3D Printing
14.12.143- Robox raises the bar for 3D printers and close in on $300K Kickstarter On 3D Printing
14.12.13 – The Robox Personal 3D Printer Fabbaloo
02.12.13 – The Robox 3D printer by CEL is a micro manufacturing platform Trend Hunter

3D printed horse shoes

By | Healthcare | No Comments

Customised to the horse with shaping to enhance gait.

Source: www.abc.net.au

CSIRO 3D printing expert John Barnes says it’s a breakthrough for 3D printing technology.

“You can get an extraordinary amount of detail basically for free, which if you’re doing it conventionally that detail would cost a lot of money,” he said.

“The other area that is important is customisation – he (the podiatrist) can tell us the way he wants the shoe to be designed.”

The “horse-thotic” was specifically designed to help combat a foot disease.

“In this case it had an extra curvature to it,” Mr Barnes said.

“The apex of that curvature may be different for a different horse.

“And that’s what we’re able to design on the computer and that takes a relatively short period of time.

“Then we can print them in our machine which takes somewhere between two to four hours depending upon how many we want and that type of thing.”


Halfway through our Kickstarter Campaign

By | Kickstarter, News | 11 Comments

Well the hard work paid off and after only 7 days of the Campaign we reached our goal of £100,000.

If Robox is the best 3D printer why isn’t the Campaign generating more Interest?

First off, we are not disappointed with the current results, quite the opposite, the process and response has been a great experience. I have never had the opportunity to talk to so many potential customers before the project is finished and I’m enjoying the process, certain that ultimately it will make the product better. We’ve had some extremely kind remarks, my personal favourite and something I have seen repeated is “This is a real game changer” – sorry… patting my own back right now. Saying all this I feel there are some 3D printers that have had better responses from the media and public but are technically inferior. So why the reduced interest?

3D printer fatigue – There has been a lot of 3D printers released into the market over the past year, and I’ve read comments like “another day, another 3D printer.”
Maybe our decision to not release any information or start the Kickstarter campaign until after we had a confirmed production date has not done us favours when it comes to the volume of KS backers. I stand by our decision, especially after reading the bad press that Pirate3D got when they could not deliver on their dates.

Christmas & Thanksgiving – Our timing is not great! A few days after we started the campaign the whole of the US downed tools, left their desks and celebrated Thanksgiving. Also, Robox delivery dates are after Christmas and I think a a lot of people are currently focusing their money on gifts and celebrations.

Poor prints in Video – This is a tricky one… We finished the mechanical side of Robox first, this is where most of our experience lies. Electronics and software are getting polished now, but without all aspects of the product working you can’t show all the functionality. We thought it most important to show the 2 nozzles working together on the video but this system needs EVERY aspect of Robox to be working seamlessly, we could again have waited until it was more complete but we were desperate to show the world what we have done! Also see the first point… waiting longer to release Robox may have further reduced the KS response.

Not in the US – Just a guess but… The biggest following for Kickstarter is in the US – maybe products that are produced and manufactured in the US do better than similar projects from other countries?

Low spend on PR and marketing – “You have to speculate to accumulate”… Wise words, but if you are asking for money to help with development is it right to spend all your money on telling the world? A fine line I think. There is no doubt that the more successful campaigns have spent a lot on PR and Marketing to polish their content and reach more people.

Cost of the product – This one makes me a little cross… We have priced our product so that it has a good future. The RRP of a product has to include development, tooling, material cost, assembly cost and shipping cost including tax and duty, our margin, distribution, resellers margin, etc… you can see that the cost of the materials to make the product becomes only a percentage of the price to the consumer. I think that a few, if not more, of the projects on Kickstarter have not fully considered these costs and if the product is to be truly mass marketable their initial price will later hurt them in the shops because they have had to increase it. As a product developer it is often possible to reduce your price in a market but its much more difficult to increase it unless you include additional functionality or accessories. Also, following the launch of the product, and with Robox in the hands of users, we must consider the cost of supporting those users and honouring our warranty period.

Stretch goal – We laid it all out, everything we have done, everything we are thinking of doing and where we are now. I think if we add stretch goals it’s like not really having a clear idea from the beginning of what it is we have set out to achieve. By offering more than our original plan for the same price we are not being fair to our backers. We asked for backing to help us develop a specific product, adding more complication/development is unlikely to bring us to improve our initial goal. Having said that, we are considering adding further rewards by putting dates against some of the future developments we are planning and asking backers if they want to support these developments now.  For example, one of the most frequently requested extensions is the dual material head. We could add a reward to get this and a second extruder when ready in 4 months for a further pledge of £199…(only thinking out loud here…just an idea) this is possible because we have already included many of the requirements for this item in the original designs and tooling.

All this is just guess work of course and the only true way of telling would have been to amend all the above points and release at a different time.

This is not a gripe, we are extremely happy with our progress on KS, but there is the obvious question; If we think our system is the best in the world, why is it not the best Kickstarter campaign in the world?

This is probably a good time for me to stop talking and let you answer the question.. you are the people looking at the campaign I’m probably too close to the project to see the answer clearly. Your ideas are welcome; how can we make this campaign as big as it should be?

Robox press coverage November 2013

By | Press | No Comments

29.11.13 – “Our dream is to see a Robox in every school, home and office worldwide” Tech Radar
29.11.13 – Robox 3D printer and micro-manufacturing platform passes funding goal (video) Geeky Gadgets
28.11.13 – 3D printers set for big future in our living rooms Bristol Post
28.11.13 – Somerset business launches 3D printer home user market South West Business
28.11.13 – Robox: an accessible 3D desktop printer for everyone PasteMagazine
22.11.13 – This 3D printer on Kickstarter aims for Apple-like simplicity Tech Radar
22 11.13 – Fully charged: Robox’s robot in a box Stuff
22.11.13 – Robox brings 3D printing to a home near you Angel News
22.11.13 – Robox 3D printer kicks off on Kickstarter ahead of CES in January 3D Printing Industry
22.11.13 – Thinking outside the Robox TCT Magazine
22.11.13 – This 3D printer on Kickstater aims for Apple-like simplicity Tech Radar
21.11.13 – CEL’s Robox 3D printer aims to bring 3D printing to the masses MSN Tech
21.11.13 – CEL introduces Robox 3D printers, a computer in a box 3Ders
21.11.13 – CEL aims to simplify 3D printing for everyone Pocket-lint
21.11.13 – Robox 3D printer aims to being 3D printing to the masses Yahoo News
21.11.13 – Robox brings 3D printing to a home near you TCT Magazine
21.11.13 – The Robox micro manufacturing platform passes All About 3D Printing
21.11.13 – Robox 3D printer and desktop micro-manufacturing platform launches on Kickstarter (video) Geeky Gadgets
21.11.13 – Robox 3D printer aims for extreme simplicity but choice features Hot Hardware
20.11.13 – Robox 3D printer does it all 3D Printer
20.11.13 – Robox is a robot in a box that’s ‘not just a 3D printer’ Engadget