Around here, I’m primarily known for my cufflink store, Cufflink Junkie. Aside from cufflinks, and working as a full time Industrial Designer, a friend and I recently started a brand new company making soft lures for bass fishing called BioSpawn Lure Company, and Shapeways and 3D printed prototypes were an integral part of our development plan.
My friend is an avid bass fisherman, has a marketing background, and does some work in the fishing industry. While working to distribute soft fishing lures, he found that there was an opportunity in the market for a cooler, edgier brand experience. We realized for a new lure brand to be successful it would need innovative, cutting edge, and in-your-face design. So about 2 years ago we paired up to create something new.
We discovered that getting started in the industry of soft lures had one advantage over many other product industries. The plastic used for soft lures is a low heat resin, so you don’t need big tooling (and big tooling costs) to get going with a new product. You can make a mold at home, in your basement or garage, heat up the plastic in your microwave and get good results. What this meant for us is a way to test our bait designs with the actual material they’d be produced in, and that we could keep costs down. All we needed to do was design some bait and make some molds.
And this is where the Shapeways came in.
Over the next few months, we developed 3 distinct lure designs. I would model them up in Solidworks, and we’d send them off to Shapeways to print.
With our first round, I took the models we printed, and using modeling clay and wood forms, we poured some silicone molds, and then cast the lures in Plastisol, the lure plastic used by the industry. They were a bit rough, but it gave us a good baseline. Now we needed to iterate these designs.
We knew we had a good look and idea, we were onto something, but our mold making process was too complex, messy, and imprecise. Instead of making Strong White Flexible (SWF) parts of the actual iterations, we realized it was more important to print mold-making forms. So I took our iterative 3D designs, and using Solidwoks, I split them, blocked off the backs, and made mating pegs so that all we’d need to do order the split mold-ready parts from Shapeways, slide them into pre-cut wood forms I had made, pour the silicone, peel it off, and then pour the lure plastic. It was way faster, and the quality we got from the molds went up a ton. The detail was amazing. We got consistent parts, and our iterative process moved along much faster. Better yet, we had prototypes we could test with accurate results.
With one of our lures, we went through probably a dozen or so iterations, and the ability to turn these around with our sample mold process was integral to us hitting target deadlines. With a quick turnaround for SWF, we were getting parts within a week.
Even when doing concept packaging, we were able to send Shapeways parts to our packaging designers so they could work around that while we were waiting for finalized parts to come off the tool.
Our website, BioSpawn.com, has been up and running for just under a year now, and we’ve been getting a great response from our designs and brand, and have steady growth. Our sales keep jumping, and some large on-line retailers have picked us up, both in the US and abroad.
In addition to our online success, we’ve been able to catch the attention of various sales rep groups and distributors who are interested in getting our products in front of larger retailers. Through these relationships, we’ve been lucky enough to get in to one of the larger big box stores who will be doing a trial run with us, both on-line and in a selection of stores, this coming spring.
Even though we have a small product selection compared to many of our competitors, we’ve been able to bring some great detail, nuance, and innovation to these generally ho-hum kind of products, and all because of our prototyping process using 3D printing at a fast pace, with high detail, and low-cost.
Update from Shapeways: BioSpawn’s great story resonated with the fishing community and the company was featured on BassResource.com and FishingTackleRetailer.com. Check them out!