3D-printed Reusable Water Filter

As well as some other cool work in progress

Furniture designer Pablo Peani of Virginia, US decided to branch out to digital fabrication when he discovered Ponoko after some Instructables and Make-related internet research. The aim was to diversify and to de-emphasize making things in his woodworking shop because of his return to being a stay-at-home father. Toddlers and woodworking equipment aren’t a parents’ dream combination.

Since discovering the online making services, Pablo has been developing a charging station (for phones, cameras, etc.) which is in its second prototype iteration and ready for a third. Another one of his projects is a game board and game pieces. These will make use of components made by Ponoko as well as parts made with his Roland MDX-40A CNC mill.

Pablo decided to try Ponoko’s new 3D-printing service as an alternative to Shapeways. Signing up to Prime early on paid meant cheaper pricing, and as a bonus there was the ability to state that those components are made in the USA. The components in question are parts for a pet fountain water filter, called Forever Filter. Initially designed and made for personal use, they turned up to be an unexpected success in the marketplace.

The filter replaces a disposable filter whose active, consumable component is worth less than 10 cents at retail. However, each disposable filter costs about $3.50 and has to be replaced every 2 weeks. After trying to refill the disposable filters himself, Pablo decided to make a refillable one from scratch. He was able to make one inexpensively and realized that with some design tweaks he could make it cheaper, more durable, easier to use, and better-looking than the initial prototype. After a couple of months he had the product ready for sale and has since sold several hundred.

How would you describe your creative process? My design ideas often begin with a detail that comes to mind which I then develop into an object. For example, I might picture bamboo and felt combined in a particular way and that would lead to an idea for an object that celebrates that combination.

I also often start with a particular tool or process and imagine objects which could only be made with that tool or process. 3D printing is especially suited for this approach. There are many shapes that can’t be easily made (or made at all) with other technologies. Do any of those shapes suggest a product someone might want to buy? Or is there a problem that can only be solved by an item which could only be made by a 3D printer or a laser cutter?

My approach is also “opportunistic.” I look for opportunities in daily (or weekly or monthly) annoyances. I try to stay aware of the deficiencies of the products I encounter in daily life and look for those products which I could improve. There are countless products which make me think “this could be better.” Of those, a few make me think “I could make this better.” Of those, there are fewer still which I could actually make better in a reasonable amount of time and with reasonable funding. Of those, there are a handful which I could make better and sell at a profit. There are many good reasons why products are the way there are and it would be presumptuous to believe that all of them could be “improved” and still be successful. However, with access to previously unaffordable manufacturing technologies and to marketplaces such as Amazon.com and Etsy, it truly is possible to create successful products in the spaces that big companies can’t occupy.

Pablo’s philosophy revolves around the idea of replacing the 5-cent part that is with the 1-dollar part that should have been and making that $19 toaster a $20 toaster but with double the utility.

What materials do you work with? I use bamboo, felt, leather, and now 3D-printer durable plastic.

Have you been surprised by anything in the Ponoko process? Obvious as it is, I’m regularly surprised by the influence cost has on determining which products are viable. It’s no accident that there’s so much jewelry being made through Ponoko! There’s a lot of pressure to keep things small and in categories that command premium pricing.

Do you have any tips for other users? Iterate iterate iterate. It might seem like the initial idea for a product is good enough, but there almost always is room for improvement. Although the cost of prototyping multiple versions can add up the knowledge gained is well worth it.

http://forever.peani.com, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0038Q4EZK, http://peani.com

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