From Concept to Prototype with Connor Kirk of MTRL Kyoto

“I don’t have an engineering background, but I have this amazing idea to make 10,000 smart phone covers and sell them to the world!” STOP before you go any further. Have you thought about visiting a fab lab or makers space? In this segment, I had the opportunity to talk to Connor Kirk, director of MTRL Kyoto (a co-working / makers space located about 10 minutes north of Kyoto station), about the ins and outs of testing out your ideas and prototyping at places such as MTRL Kyoto.

Where do I start?
“First of all, whatever you want to make, understand what tools are available and what those tools are capable of doing,” Connor says. Keep in mind the limitations the tool’s capabilities as you do not have 100% freedom in building something. “Can you make the object in one piece or is it better to break them into parts and assembled later on?” Connor asks. Your imagination is unlimited, but each tool still has its limits.

What tools are currently available and that you have access to?
Which tools would best suit your needs?
Who would be happy to give you some design tips?

What’s next?
Now you have a better idea and feel you are ready to build a prototype. “Whichever tool you decide to use, you need to understand the software,” Connor suggests. Teach yourself with the unlimited information and resources out there on the web. Also check out YouTube videos and online tutorials and courses and it may take you two to three months to get a good grasp of the software. Fusion360 and Sketch Up are common software currently available.

“Keep in mind what types of things work and don’t work within the limitations,” Connor recommends.

MTRL Kyoto makers space

So what are the pros and cons of using 3D printers?
Pros: Connor says, “The entry level is becoming cheaper.” You can get your hands on used 3D printers and even assemble DIY kits. “It provides instant feedback for a tangible object is one of the big advantages” Connor highlights. It is more about the design process rather than a manufacturing process.

Cons: “It is not a magical box,” Connors points out. People may have unrealistic expectations, which are usually too high or too low. Also it is not suitable for mass production or retail products. So, our original idea of producing 10,000 smartphone cases would be unfeasible at a makers space.

How much time and money do I need?
“Prototyping is reasonable,” Connor comments. You can use online printing services such as Shapeways and have your prototypes delivered to you through the mail. It can be fast and cheap. So what about made in China vs. local manufacturers? That depends on several factors such as material, location, and batch numbers. Crowdfunding is a common option.

In a nutshell, a makers space is a place to test and prototype to your heart’s desires. When you are happy with your prototype than you can move on to the manufacturing process. Invest time in the ideation and prototyping phases before approaching a manufacturer. Make one and go from there!

MTRL Kyoto co working space

Points to consider
 Visit a makers space!
 Have reasonable expectations
 It is a place for prototyping not manufacturing
 Be familiar with laser cutters, 3D printers, and CNC (Computer Numerical Control)
 Network with other people in the same space

A big thank you to Connor Kirk of MTRL Kyoto for his time and sharing his experiences with us. For more information about MTRL Kyoto, please check out the links.

Connor will presenting at the upcoming PechaKuchaNight Kyoto vol. 22 on Sunday July 30th 2016, so if you are in Kyoto, please drop by and enjoy his presentation.

Thank you for joining us on Kansai Business Break and we look forward to connecting with you again during our next segment.