We love to hear all about the amazing products we see here at Shapeways. What was the inspiration? How many times was it printed before it was perfect? This series is about exploring the stories behind the creative and unique products that go through our printers.
The Pocket Clip for Fitbit Flex has been a popular product since it was introduced. It’s the perfect example of a product that fulfilled a market need – something that really can’t be found anywhere else. We caught up with the designer, Tom Felker, to find out more about how the idea came about and how he works with customers to create various versions and improve upon the model.
Where did the idea for this product come from?
I think this fell into the “necessity is the mother of invention” category. My job’s health insurance program gave everyone Fitbits as part of a fitness incentive, but I already wore a watch and didn’t want two bands. My friend and I were talking about it, and we thought maybe we could 3D print something. The way it snaps in was sort of inspired by how the Fitbit USB charger works, though that snaps in a little differently and uses a spring.
I think I just got sort of lucky in that the problem I solved is shared by lots of Fitbit users, and there are quite a few of them out there.
Walk us through the iteration process? How many designs did you go through?
I iterated the design on paper a little bit before even making a model. At first I didn’t have a great idea for how you’d take the Fitbit out, and I was thinking about having a bendable tab you’d push or something. I decided to figure that out later, make a model and sent it to Shapeways to be printed.
When I got it, I put the Fitbit in and it snapped in perfectly – but I forgot that I had no way to get it out so prying it out was quite a project. Around then I had the obvious-in-retrospect idea to add a hole in the back so you could just push it out with your finger. First I just used a rasp to add the hole into the model I had, and then I changed the 3D model and ordered version 2. I think I made one more version with some minor changes to the geometry to make it snap harder.
Somewhere along the way, I also tried different materials. I found that alumide was too stiff, and I knew the UV resin materials would be a little too brittle but WSF worked great. I had tried rubber and realized I would need a very different design to make that work. Much later, I tried a different design to work with metal but I haven’t gotten too far with that yet. I also tried a version my friend printed out on his hobbyist FDM printer in ABS, but it wasn’t dimensionally accurate enough and was way too stiff – and didn’t look too good.
How important has customer feedback been to you?
When making the first proof-of-concept model I wasn’t talking to customers yet, but later I was. There was a customer who wanted to put it on a pendant, so I made that variant for her and have sold a few of those. Another wanted the pendant loop to go the other way, and so I modeled that, then added a ring to it so you’d have a choice, and at that point you might as well add a chain, and the keychain version was born. Somebody was asking about a version you could use to make a paracord bracelet, so I did that as a beta model. I also ended up strengthening the clip on the pocket clip version due to customer feedback.
What have you learned about the 3D printing process through this product?
I think a lot of what I’ve learned has been more about selling things. The power that exposure can give you. The need to be very clear when communicating to customers.
Do you think gadget accessories will continue to be a popular category for 3D printing?
I think gadget accessories will always be a pretty big part of 3D printing. I come from an engineering side of things, and I probably don’t have a good understanding or appreciation for art (or a lot of budget or space to spend on purely artistic objects), but when you have a dealy-bob and you really need a widget holding bracket for it, 3D printing is perfect for that.
Thanks for the insight into this popular product, Tom. We’re excited to see what else you come up with in the future!