2014-06-26

Co.Labs

Why This IT Guy Went Into 3-D Manufacturing

This custom-fabricated case turns your iPhone into a GoPro, but its creator was no hardware pro. Here's what he learned.



When Matt Parrill decided to launch his company’s line of sports cases for iPhones, he didn’t have a traditional manufacturing background. For the past 14 years, Parrill ran a Washington, DC-area IT company that worked in bits and bytes, not in plastic molds or additive manufacturing. Nonetheless, changes in manufacturing—and especially the easy availability of 3-D printers—meant that Parill’s company could make chest and body mounts for the iPhone 5 that turn an ordinary smartphone into a GoPro-like sports camera.

Parrill’s company, iXtreme, sells a line of mounts and accessories for iPhones. His original product prototypes were 3-D printed, giving his small startup a chance to fabricate initial accessories on a small budget. For Parrill, who originally funded his company through Kickstarter, this is a boon. It’s also part of a much larger trend of decreasing fabrication costs, letting outsiders market their own genius ideas which, for whatever reason, were never marketed by larger companies.

"Im a huge fan of GoPro, and think it’s awesome, but my friends and I were never able to justify the expense of a purpose-built sports product," Parill told Co.Labs. "We were on a ski trip in Colorado and everyone was zooming around with little boxes on top of their helmets, and that’s where this thing got started. I tried to build an immersive action video with my iPhone 4, and on the second attempt dropped it into 18 inches of powder. Poof, it disappeared."

With the help of an industrial designer client Parrill had from his IT business, he set out to build a case and harness combo that would allow users to wear their iPhones on their bodies for sports photography. Seven years later, iXtreme is gearing up to release their product line to the public this fall.

"Not having had a product development background, it’s fairly daunting to make physical things. If I knew then what I knew now, I may not have even started the process… It’s far more complicated than I ever thought it would be," Parrill added. "But as time progressed, the greater accessibility of CAD software, and having more tools for home-based printing and design meant a real shift for product development. Everything we've done for past few years, with a few exceptions, has been 3-D printed. When you switch to building physical products, you have to think about small nuances about industrial design. Things like ergonomics and what goes into making a product successful. None of it is whim, there’s a lot of hard work and engineering that goes into these things."

IXtreme says their cases are waterproof and shockproof, and that users can also use the mounts with GoPro-brand accessories. One of the unexpected issues as a startup making physical products, Parrill told me, was having to quickly react to changes in Apple’s product. When the physical design of the iPhone changed between the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5, he quickly had to play catch-up with his company’s cases and mounts—which turned out to be a daunting process. This required a specific skill set. Or, as he put it, "My advice to people intending to develop a product is unless you are an industrial designer or engineer, you need to get people with those skills on board early. You need a skilled eye and skilled hand to commit ink to paper and untap a product's additional potential."

The company’s core product, a $120 iPhone case-and-lens combo with several accessories, will be available for sale later this year.

[Screen stills courtesy of iXtreme]




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1 Comments

  • This is very cool. I always have my phone on me, but didn't love having to carry around a bulky camera when I'm skiing or mountain biking. I can't wait to use this!