Professional-Quality Product Packaging at Less Than Half the Cost
Lean Startups Can Save Time and Money on Product Packaging by Post-Processing MakerBot PLA Filament
Whether you’re camping, glamping, or just plain roughing it, BioLite wants to transform how we use energy off the grid. This Brooklyn-based startup redesigns traditional outdoor products, like stoves and flashlights, with high-tech, sustainable energy innovations so that each will work without fossil fuels. Its advanced models can store power or even charge your mobile devices.
For BioLite’s latest product, the BaseLantern, the company’s design team took this tech-to-tradition approach in an unexpected way with MakerBot. The BaseLantern is a sleek, portable lantern that you can control with your smartphone. It will light up your campsite, charge your devices, and give you power usage stats over Bluetooth via an app. To promote it at the 2016 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market trade show, BioLite needed to present a near final model months before its release and in its actual packaging.
Having finalized other marketing materials for the packaging beforehand, BioLite had one week to create blister packs for 10 products. In order to meet such a tight deadline, the design team relied on MakerBot’s 3D printers to save approximately $7,000 and accelerate the process of creating blister packs.
BioLite chose blister packs because it’s an exposed-style of packaging that lets customers interact with the product more. For example, the BaseLantern comes programmed with a Demo Mode so users can see how it cycles through all of its lighting modes.
Blister packs are typically produced using vacuum-forming, an industrial manufacturing technique where sheets of plastic are heated and formed over metal, wood, or plastic molds. In the past, BioLite used outside vendors for prototyping blister packs, which typically required a 10-day turnaround time and higher costs.
As Director of Design at BioLite, Anton Ljunggren elaborates, “Before we had a MakerBot, we outsourced the full prototype production of the blister packs to a model making house. The cost for one package [two blister halves] would then be $600 per blister or $1,200 for a full package. This summer we made 10 new products so the cost to outsource it all would have been $12,000. Plus, a rush order would up the cost by 50% to 100%.”
Given that the BaseLantern is no bigger than a sandwich, the design team 3D-printed packaging molds on the MakerBot Replicator (5th Gen), one of its three MakerBot 3D Printers; the others being a recently acquired Replicator+ and Replicator Mini+. After, the PLA molds were sanded, primed, and painted to ensure smoothness. To note, BioLite could have also contracted 3D printed molds to an outside company but that would have multiplied costs and time.
As a member of the Brooklyn New Lab, an incubation space for hardware-focused entrepreneurs and startups, BioLite’s team could then use the vacuum-forming machine there to create the blister packs. All together, BioLite’s costs were roughly $5,000, accounting for 3D printing, the labor to post-process prints and use the vacuum-forming machine, a New Lab membership, as well as the cost of plastic for the blister packs. Ljunggren sums up the benefits with, “We saved about $7,000 on having the MakerBot and doing it ourselves. Plus we got it done faster than any shop could have turned it around for us.”
“3D printing with MakerBot allows us to iterate and try different ideas. Before, if we’re going to pay $600 for a blister pack, we want to make sure that’s the final one. Now we can try completely different blisters because it’s not that much more work for us if we’re already doing it,” says Ljunggren. With MakerBot’s professional solutions, Ljunggren and his team have the freedom to very quickly bring ideas to life at low-cost. BioLite can upend old processes to uniquely create faster, more cost-effective solutions that achieve better results for the business. In this case, the molds significantly cut down on marketing costs and allowed BioLite to meet a deadline that would otherwise be impossible.
Meeting the deadline for the Outdoor Market trade show was especially important. Thousands of buyers from retailers regularly attend, looking to purchase bulk orders for the latest, greatest products. With a near final BaseLantern, BioLite could show off how it works, what it looks like before it’s even manufactured, how it hangs on the shelf, and how it might hold up when shipped en masse to stores.
As with all companies, generating revenue is essential; however, BioLite has a higher goal. It uses profits from its consumer camping products to support its mission in developing countries like Africa and India. Because cooking indoors over smoky stoves leads to millions of premature deaths worldwide, BioLite sells low-cost smoke-free stoves that require half the fuel, burn biomass, and charge cell phones or small LED lights.