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Prototyping Modern Dog Toys

Up Dog Toys is a small business in Seattle currently campaigning to raise $25,000 on Kickstarter (deadline is November 12) to produce their first dog toy called The Odin, a modern modular puzzle dog toy made to engage dogs physically and mentally. Michelle Moy, founder of Up Dog Toys, came to the FATHOM production center in Seattle for help on 3D printing prototypes. The design was 3D printed in a digital material blend to create Shore Value 95A. The parts were a bit too rigid, so Moy opted for Shore Value 85A and it was a perfect match. To learn more about the product and her experience with 3D printing, we met with Moy for a few questions.

FATHOM leverages its expertise in 3D printing and additive manufacturing to help companies of all sizes innovate faster and more efficiently. Not only does our product portfolio include professional 3D printers and manufacturing systems, we also offer in-house advanced prototype fabrication and low volume production by way of advanced manufacturing techniques — all supported by a dynamic industrial design and mechatronic engineering focused team.

What was the inspiration for a better dog toy today — do you have a design or manufacturing background?

Michelle Moy: We had a lot of trouble finding a dog toy that fit our dog’s needs. A lot of our toys were either too easy, could only be used one way or couldn’t hold up to our dogs chewing. We were also frustrated with the appearance of our current dog toys and wanted something that could blend in well with our home. The idea to make the toy expandable came from wanting a more versatile toy. We wanted to make a toy that would improve with each additional piece bought and could be customized to your dog’s needs. Every dog is different and we recognize that.

My co-founder and boyfriend, Billy Shih, and I do not have any design or manufacturing background. He is a web developer and I am a nurse practitioner. Billy is currently still working full-time, but I quit my job earlier this year to pursue my dreams of starting my own business making dog toys. We’ve been incredibly lucky to have great resources. We built an amazing team with an industrial designer, Scott Tsukamaki, and graphic designer, Katrina Mendoza who helped us bring our product and brand to life.

We imagine that designing a product for a dog is much different than designing a product for a human — what are the most important elements you considered?

Michelle Moy: The most important elements we considered during the design process were:

  • Safety – The final material (TPE) used produce the toy through injection molding must be non-toxic and food-safe.
  • Size – The toy has to be just the right size, not too big or else smaller dogs would have trouble playing with it, but it couldn’t be too small or else it would become a chocking hazard for bigger dogs. We aimed for a size right in the middle.
  • Treat flaps/Holes – These needed to function well and be large enough to fit treats of varying sizes, but not be a way for treats to fall out too easily.
  • Shape – We wanted to make the toy look modern and geometric, but still be a functional shape. We wanted to make the sides faceted to reduce the amount of rolling, making the toy’s movement unpredictable. We also wanted to make a shape that was strong and had minimal pieces that could be chewed off.

The design was 3D printed in a digital material blend at FATHOM to create Shore Value 95A but the parts were a bit too rigid, so Moy opted for Shore Value 85A and it was a perfect match.

As opposed to conventional methods, what made 3D printing the best choice for designing your product?

Michelle Moy: 3D printing was great for rapid prototyping because of the turn over time. It made the design process way easier/faster than it would have been to do it conventionally. 3D printing is also almost limitless in what you can create, so it made that aspect of the design process easier.

How did utilizing 3D printing effect your design process and how does a reduced lead time work into your iterative process?

Michelle Moy: Using 3D printing expedited the design process quite a bit. FATHOM has a very quick turnaround time of three days, so we were able to wrap up the final design quickly under a deadline. If we prototyped under conventional methods, we may not have been able to finalize the designs and launch the Kickstarter until next year. Having a reduced lead-time led to a much more efficient design process since there was minimal freeze time in between each iteration.

As someone who is new to navigating this industry, what advice would you provide to those who are entering the product design sector?

Michelle Moy: It is important to build a good team. Finding the right people who are accountable, have the same work ethics and share your vision is paramount to your success. Also, do a lot of research before jumping in. Look up business articles, how to articles, information on product design, articles from people who are in the same market as you and find people in your network who you can talk to about anything from business, product design and marketing. Billy also taught me to Google everything. Google is your best friend and can teach you a lot.

It’s totally normal to feel dumb, don’t let yourself be discouraged. It’s part of the learning process and you will learn the ropes a lot faster than you think. Ask and you shall receive — Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even if you think they are imposing or stupid. I’ve learned people like helping others, especially if they were once in a position where someone helped them.

The media talks a lot of hobbyist 3D printing but there is a large, professional market — was there a large perspective shift between how you originally perceived 3D printing and how you view 3D printing today?

Michelle Moy: I definitely view 3D printing as something completely different than when I first heard about it. Seeing what 3D printers can create has been amazing. Depending on your needs, 3D printing can also be a form of large production. I see 3D printing as a great gateway to creativity and learning. I’m hoping that in the future, everyone will have access to a 3D printer, whether you’re a product designer or in a 4th grade classroom.

We understand that you’ve worked with several service bureaus before coming to FATHOM — how does FATHOM’s production centers compare?

Michelle Moy: When I came to FATHOM, the level of customer service, selection of 3D printers, and accessibility impressed me. As someone new to the design community, I needed help in choosing the right prototyping materials to fit my needs. I was lucky to live close to the Seattle FATHOM location and was able to sit down with a FATHOM rep to sample materials and discuss my plans for the toy design. I was unable to do this with the previous 3D printers I used, which caused some misunderstandings. For us, having the right material was important because we needed to closely replicate our final product (TPE) to test form and function. I was also able to pick up my 3D prints immediately from FATHOM since they were so close, which decreased lead-time and gave me an opportunity to ask questions in person. Even questions over email or phone were answered immediately with little wait time.

Because of the reasons listed above, I was able to grow a trusting professional relationship with FATHOM, which proved to be extremely helpful in the design process.

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