I've spent much of the past few weeks thinking about how to proceed on my DMLS seatmast topper project. Since I posted my findings on DMLS pricing in mid January, it has became the most viewed thing I've written here. It's also become (aside from my home and "feed" pages) the most popular landing page on my site, due to both high search term ranking and the fact that it's been shared around the 3D printing community extensively.
There are a few distinct goals moving forward, which represent partially overlapping ideas of what I'm working on.
- Develop a body of knowledge and understanding which encompasses the advanced manufacturing industry and the supply chain logistics required to sustain businesses selling engineered 3D printed consumer products.
- Develop deep experience operating the toolchain required to design said parts for manufacturing. Includes parametric solid/NURBS modeling, organic T-spline modeling, topology optimization modeling, and DFM/CAM software.
- Design said parts, and have them manufactured & tested. Use the resulting data to develop an understanding of the mechanical properties and DFM guidelines for parts made via DMLS and other advanced processes.
- Develop & launch distribution & sales operations (likely e-tail), and sell physical product there.
- Do some/all of the above with bicycle parts as a specific focus.
Many of the points here are not mutually exclusive; point 5 certainly entails many/all of the previous items. But my path forward depends crucially on whether I approach this as primarily a research project - or as a business.
On one hand, I'd like to move forward in a rapid, directed manner. Doing so will require resources, however, and may inevitably constitute a full-time job. In order to fund such an effort, I'd need to show a near-term market fit - which will require me to approach this specifically as a business.
On the other hand, I'm aware that there are benefits to approaching this primarily as research. I ultimately want to learn; building a business is just one of many ways of doing so. Moreover, there are any number of businesses which address parts like mine, and selling bicycle products doesn't apply to all of them. It's possible that advanced supply chain logistics is a better fit for my knowledge and skillset. Focusing on the bike market might not be the best way to approach such a goal.
Regardless, it's likely that I refine and then purchase a seatmast topper in the coming weeks. This will require a small investment on my part (a few thousand dollars), plus about a week's work. I'll learn a few things about the process, and going through a build will give me an opportunity to cement relationships with suppliers and processing & testing partners.
Assuming the test part is functional, the next step would probably be to feel around the market a bit. This topper will be on the expensive side, and though I'm confident it'll sell, branding it will be delicate. Finding an audience, and defining the product in a way that they can relate to, will be an interesting exercise.
With a bit of luck, I'll have a working assembly + a landing page with preorders by Memorial Day. Stay tuned.