There are entrepreneurs who come up with new products at lightning speed in crisis situations. For example, a corona test stick from a 3D printer. How do you get an idea ready for production? And what requirements must your product meet? In this article you’ll read about the phases you go through before your ‘golden egg’ rolls off the production line.
Oceanz 3D Printing in Ede came up with a solution for the shortage of corona test material in March 2020. The 3D printed ‘swab-stick’ is a test stick for taking cell tissue from the nasal mucosa. In a week and a half, the company managed to turn their idea into a medical device that was approved by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). They did this with the help of so-called ‘rapid prototyping’, with which you make a first prototype of your new product with a digital 3D model.
In April 2020, a week later, the company will deliver 17,500 pieces to laboratories and GGDs, thanks to 3D printing and engineering. This is the design process where, based on the idea, you keep improving and refining the final design. In May 2020, production scaled up further to 30,000 pieces per day. Despite the painful occasion, CEO Erik van der Garde is proud of the rapid result. “We are happy that our test bar held up when all delivery routes from Asia were blocked.”
Got a new idea? Some tips:
1. Find out if you have a good idea
How do you know if your idea is good? Ask yourself who needs your product and why. What will be the revenue model, or business case? Check whether your product already exists. And check which products are already registered in the patent database.
When the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS) called Van der Garde in March 2020, he knew their idea for the swab stick was a good one. “They asked if we could urgently provide testing capacity. I was 100% sure we could fill this gap. With 3D printing, we could quickly deliver large numbers of corona tests and help the Netherlands get back on track in the first wave.”
OceanzErik van der Garde, CEO of Oceanz
2. Create a prototype
If you turn your first idea into a working example, you immediately experience what works and what doesn’t yet. A (digital) sketch, a 3D printed example or a more advanced working prototype: you decide. When you get to work, you find out which material is suitable. And whether your product does what you expect of it.
At Oceanz, we had a first prototype within a few days. After a request for changes from the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport and the RIVM, the design was finalized. “The rod had to be able to pass through the patient’s nostril and collect sufficient cell tissue, for example,” explains Van der Garde. In terms of material, the choice fell on the plastic nylon ‘polyamide’. Because this can be processed by the test equipment in the laboratories.
Because the swab-stick is a medical device, validation was mandatory. This means checking whether the product meets the set use and safety requirements. Van der Garde asked two other companies to do the packaging, sterilization and the preparation of the technical file. With a technical dossier, you demonstrate that you have organized the process properly.
3. Make sure you have sufficient financial resources
Does your prototype work and do you want to start serial production? Then the costs will increase and you will need sufficient financial resources. Think about how much money you will need and how you will pay the costs. There are various financing options, subsidies and tax breaks, or other schemes. If you have any questions, contact the KVK Financieringsdesk.
Van der Garde: “We incurred a lot of initial costs and had to fund production from our own resources. Because the government does not pre-finance. So it was ‘head in the wind and ram’. We produce the sticks without a profit motive. But we got a neat deal.” He does advise the government to think along with SMEs about financial resources when they ask SMEs for quick solutions.
“When you do something new, you always incur a little more expense than you’re used to,” he says. Van der Garde therefore advises not to look at costs alone. “Innovation starts with a crisis. Dare to make some small investments against the grain, for example in a new website or takeaway. And find someone who wants to join you so you can share the cost of changing your business model.”
4. Checks you need to do before you start production
Before you can start production, there are two things you need to think about.
Do you need to comply with laws and regulations?
For example, Oceanz required a CE mark for the swab stick. With a quality mark or certificate you show that your product meets certain requirements. The company was already ISO certified (13485) for medical devices.