Prototyping for Babes: Mom Entrepreneur Uses 3D Printing to Begin Business

You don’t have to be an expert in product development to begin a business. Christine Barlow found the catalyst for her product idea in 3D printing prototyping.

Every product, from car tires to coffee mugs, had its inception in a prototype. There’s always a first iteration or first attempt following a light bulb moment. Sometimes the idea is simple, like deciding to put a lid on a coffee mug. Some new ideas are highly involved with no predecessor. These ideas stem from the beginning frustrations of elusive answers and require the full-fledged manufacturing of something completely different. And sometimes these new ideas come from a mom who’s neither inventor nor engineer, but rather a determined entrepreneur with an idea to eliminate potentially dangerous plastics from her children’s lives.

3D printing

Christine Barlow was pregnant with her second child when her perinatologist told her that a condition her baby had was not genetic and therefore probably resultant of environmental factors. Barlow began doing research into certain plastic compositions and read about children negatively affected by environmental toxins, specifically young infants affected by plastic toxins. Her research inspired an idea to create a new kind of bottle that would eliminate potentially harmful toxins from a baby’s diet at a time when companies were still largely using BPA in infant formula packaging and the FDA was only beginning to look into related health concerns.

Barlow had never invented or produced a product, but she knew she wanted a sturdy bottle which would eliminate plastic from touching fluids within baby bottles. Without any manufacturing knowledge, Barlow picked up a copy of The Mom Inventors Handbook by Tamara Monosoff and set out to build a new baby bottle line. “I am a visionary,” says Barlow. “I envisioned the design myself and drew it on a piece of paper. I originally went straight to a plastic manufacturer for help. He gave me the name of someone who could create a CAD rendering from the design I had hand drawn.” Barlow would need a CAD (computer aided design) rendering with correct 3-dimensional measurements in order to begin building a new bottle. The first designer Barlow met with had an interesting interpretation of baby bottle measurements. When Barlow took her 3D files to be prototyped, she was met with a fundamental sizing flaw. “The first iteration was huge!” says Barlow. “It looked like the bottle could feed a camel. I knew I’d been had by that first designer, and I had to start over.” Not knowing where to turn, she scrapped the design files she’d received and took her hand drawings to a new design firm recommended by an engineer. The camel sized baby bottles remained stashed in her garage.

To ensure the new design firm sized her 3D CAD files correctly with precise measurements, Barlow took the files to 3D Printing and prototyping company Stratasys Direct Manufacturing for further prototypes. “The new 3D Printed prototypes from Stratasys Direct Manufacturing confirmed the drawings were good,” says Barlow. “If I hadn’t prototyped, I would have ended up giving my first set of drawings to a manufacturer and really would have ended up with a mess!” Barlow used the 3D Printed baby bottles from Stratasys Direct Manufacturing for function and design checks. “It’s hard to have a [realistic] visual of something from just the computer, even if it is in 3D,” says Barlow. Her baby bottle design consists of six pieces, each with their own CAD rendering. Each baby bottle is composed of two main parts, a replaceable glass insert within a translucent plastic sleeve which is BPA, PVC and phthalate free. It was important to Barlow to have the glass in direct contact with infant formula/ milk rather than plastic of any kind. The glass is protected by the plastic sleeve to prevent breaking and cushion the bottle from drops.

Barlow used 3D Printing to determine the functionality, look and feel of her baby bottle design. 3D Printing is a great way for moms like Barlow to enter the mysterious world of manufacturing and product development because there’s no requirement for machining expertise and the process doesn’t require a huge upfront cost; it’s simplified down to uploading a design and letting the 3D Printer take care of the rest. The 3D Printing process she used is called Stereolithography (SL). SL works via a vat of liquid resin and a UV laser. Barlow describes the appearance of the SL 3D Printing systems as “a machine that looks like a futuristic glass popcorn maker”*. The UV laser is moved by dynamic mirrors and carefully cures the liquid resin layer by layer. “When each 3D Printed piece of the bottle was completed, I had a prototype made of slightly textured opaque plastic,” says Barlow. “The 3D Printed prototype was a great visual for me but also helped when looking for a manufacturer to move into full production.” Barlow went through hundreds of bottles before taking her prototypes to a manufacturing firm able to produce the final glass baby bottles. The 3D Printed prototypes helped her when selling her idea to the manufacturing firm which agreed to produce her bottles. “I was very determined,” says Barlow of her prototype to production process. “I believed in this product and was not going to give up.”

Once her bottles were built, Barlow still had the challenge of finding distributors for her bottles. Tradeshows and networking with other mom inventors helped her find her final road to business success. Now, Barlow’s cleverly designed baby bottles – called the 5 Phases Revolutionary Hybrid Glass Baby Bottle – can be found at Bel Bambini, Green Cupboards and other stores. Her bottles have won multiple awards and Barlow has even been featured in People magazine and New York Family for the style of her environmentally conscience toxin-free bottles. Barlow’s goal to remove potentially toxic plastics from baby bottles in a safe way with a family friendly design was achieved. Like most good ideas, her journey began with a napkin sketch and a few prototypes.

*The 3D Printing equipment Barlow refers to are industrial printers.

To Learn more about Christine’s business, check out:
5phases Hybrid GLASS Baby Bottles:

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