cad Computer-Aided Design prototype Tech

3 CAD Functions to Understand for Building Your Prototype

building your prototype

Understanding the basics of CAD (Computer-Aided Design) modeling was crucial in building my first working prototype. At this point, I’m close to filing a patent. None of it would have been possible, though, without understanding three crucial functions present in a lot of the software available out there. Here are three CAD functions to understand for building your prototype.

Once you understand the following 3 CAD modeling functions, your ideas will come to life sooner than you think.

Quick Insights On Prototyping with CAD

Using CAD for engineering has been around since the late 1950s. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s, though, that producing 3D models on a personal computer became widely available.

The best alternative before doing it yourself was contracting with a design firm (unless you had access to the resources that they did). Well-known entrepreneurs like Joy Mangano spent small fortunes bringing their products to life back when they were starting out.

In Mangano’s case — it was $100,000 for the development process of the Miracle Mop — clear back in the early ’90s.

Things Are Different Now

The good news is that now there are a ton of free open-source software options on the internet for CAD modeling.

Some commercial-grade software even has a free option until you hit a certain revenue threshold with your product (like the one I use).

These software options work great if you’re on a shoestring budget and need to build something yourself.

Plus, this is a near risk-free approach compared to borrowing a bunch of money and having deadlines to pay people back.

Real-Life CAD Example

David Barnett, the inventor of PopSockets, leveraged a partial DIY strategy in the early days of his company. After working through 60 prototypes by himself, he eventually saw the product take-off (not without a few ups and downs along the way, though).

Barnett used a design firm for a phone case that was part of an early Kickstarter campaign.

That cost him a little over $100,000. However, he perfected the PopSocket accordion mechanism (the backbone of the product) by himself with the CAD program Solidworks.

Today, Barnett’s company has seen years where revenues have reached as much as $200 million (2018). In this interview with Mixergy, he briefly touched on how simple it was to draw out a sketch and get started.


A sketch lays the groundwork for your CAD models. If you want to build something similar to the many widely available consumer products on the market, start with a sketch. Plus, you probably already have a few doodles in your notebook of what your ideas are.

It’s just a matter of drawing them out on-screen and deciding the specific measurements. Don’t worry if you aren’t great at math. I personally struggled through geometry until the last painful final exam in my sophomore year of high school.

CAD Toothbrush Head Sketch
Toothbrush Head Sketch I Started To Make In Fusion 360


Creativity Finds A Way

It may sound funny or weird, but, if you have the idea clear enough in your head, your brain will probably figure out how to navigate most CAD software.

Plus, there are plenty of available tutorials on the internet. The sketching just involves clicking and dragging, anyway. Use a 12-inch ruler with millimeters on it to figure out the current dimensions of the sketches in your notebook.

Using your ruler will make drawing your designs out on the screen a lot easier.

Once you have a digital sketch that looks like what you need, you can start experimenting with making that sketch three dimensional.

Extruding A CAD Model

When you create a virtual 3D object out of a sketch, you are “extruding” it.

There might be other words for the same action in different software toolbars, like “press pull” or “push-pull,” for example.

“Extrude” means “to force or push something out of something,” according to Oxford Learner’s Dictionary. The nice thing about everything being virtual is that you can extrude shapes from your sketches at whatever distance you want and make changes immediately if things don’t look the way you thought they would.

Any shape can be extruded, as long as the sketch is drawn appropriately. Multi-faceted objects will require a more complex sketch to create, though.

Sketch In, Sketch Out

You can draw sketches within other ones (for those complex objects) and choose to extrude very specific tiny parts if needed.

For example, if you were designing a toothbrush head, there would likely be a large oval sketch with many tiny circle sketches inside of it for the bristle holes. After extruding the main brush head whichever distance makes sense, you can decide the depth for extruding each hole.

My thoughts for the drawing are to extrude the same amount of depth for each hole all at once. Here’s what that would look like:

CAD Toothbrush Head 3D Object
Extruding my main sketch and then the small holes for bristles.

After you arrive at a design that you think works to 3D-print and play around with, it’s time for the last step.

Save the CAD As “.STL”

If you have a 3D-printer or know where to send your object (like a printing service) you will need to save it in the “.STL” format and send it there.

Some CAD software may have a menu option that says you can print directly, but, I’ve found it easier to just save the file.

The .STL file format stands for “Stereolithography” and is the standard format for desktop 3D printing. The file will need to be opened in the software that controls your 3D-printer.

There are a lot of free options out there for that, too.

The printer software will convert the STL file to G-code so your printer can understand it. G-code is the standard language used by 3D-printers.

Since each CAD modeling software and 3D printing software will be a little different, each will have its own unique parts to navigate. The 3D printers menus should be pretty straightforward, though, and it will probably be quick and easy getting your design sent to a printer. I usually ask someone who has done this before to help me set up.

Depending on the complexity of your design, I can’t promise the printing of the object itself will be a quick process. Even reasonably simple designs take time to print in those 3D printing beasts — but it is so fun and rewarding to see the finished product.

Sacrificing Time For Money

Even if it takes a long time to print (8+ hours is long to me), 3D printing is still by far the best way to build a prototype without much money.

Contracting with a professional firm could cost anywhere from $10,000 and up, as past entrepreneurs have experienced. If your goal is to build a prototype that works enough to prove the concept, this is the way to go.

However, I’ve printed some fun stuff by just asking around who owns a 3D printer and have been able to use one in a friend’s office. Ask around and try to find one.

Tying It All Together

Once you understand the basics of CAD modeling, you will be well on your way to making your own project.

Sketching it out, extruding, and saving the file in “.STL” format are the basic steps to take in order to get something tangible off the bed of a 3D printer.

If you do create a physical prototype of something unique and new that solves a problem, make sure to take the time for filing a patent (or at least a provisional patent) before telling the market about it.

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covid-19 Customer Service fast food Health IoT restaurants Stop Covid-19

3 Fast-Food IoT Technologies that Could Slow COVID-19

iot slow covid-19

Some of the fast-food IoT technologies I’m about to dig into were already catching wind leading up to our current pandemic. Due to social distancing measures, it seems natural for any technology to thrive if it can help businesses operate with less person-to-person interaction in this climate. As our favorite places cautiously reopen, the following three technologies can help keep customers and employees healthy. Here are three fast-food IoT technologies that could slow COVID-19.

Ordering Kiosks

Being able to place an order for food indirectly has existed since the telephone. Right now, there’s a need for added layers of separation between people in fast-food restaurants. Using a kiosk to order has never been more helpful.

What is an Ordering Kiosk?

Ordering kiosks are large, rectangular screens that you can place an order on. The technology itself has been around since the late 1970s, thanks to people like Dr. Murray Lappe at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Major fast-food restaurants like Subway and McDonald’s began experimenting with these screens and ordering back in 2006.

In a 2018 interview, then-McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook shared with CNBC that the company would be starting ambitious plans to equip 1000 restaurants every quarter with kiosks for eight to nine quarters. The alternative way of ordering would provide better customer experience and more revenue for the company.

Fast-forward to summer 2019 and the investment paid off. In a Q2 earnings call last year, Easterbrook went over how the company was seeing higher average checks from customers using the order kiosks.

Not Everyone is a Fan of the Ordering Kiosk, Though.

Former CEO of McDonald’s USA, Ed Rensi, voiced his concerns about the growing Kiosk use about two years ago in an article with Forbes. His main problem with them was that automating these parts of the business would eliminate valuable opportunities for teens and college students who need an entry-level service industry job. Considering the valuable lessons from my own experience as a cashier back in college, I agree with the concerns.

How They Help Slow COVID-19

In our current environment, things like kiosks need to be cleaned almost constantly. McDonald’s has issued reopening instructions that any restaurant using the self-order kiosks must have them cleaned after every use. The kiosks will help employees in terms of social distancing and the employees will help the kiosks to stay clean. For the time being, then, they will work together.

The IoT kiosks are just one piece of the order, though. Customers who are still wary of using them (despite cleaning protocols) do have other options. By now, most major restaurant chains offer an iPhone or an Android app plus a website for placing online orders.

Smartphone apps and online ordering, in general, will come in handy for this situation, plus, they all provide a massive amount of data on customers who opt-in. Pizza Hut (a pioneer of digital ordering) even developed an Xbox app a few years ago and saw over a million in sales within the first four months.

More Connection than Ever

Now, the beginning of an order is quick, clean, and engaging for customers. Restaurants are also beginning to focus on the end of patrons’ meals, too. If the last thing they do before leaving is have disgusted feeling about something — chances are they won’t want to come back. That’s why businesses are looking at their garbage — and IoT — to further connect with customers and end meals on a cleaner note.

At-The-Source Trash Compactors

Different businesses, schools, and city governments have gradually been adopting at-the-source trash compacting during the last 20 years. Similar to the kiosks, major food chains like Chick-Fil-A have been adding more trash compactors at an increased pace lately. Also, like kiosks, various ideas and household versions of trash compactors and additional refuse disposal sources have been around since the 1970s.

The main reasons for restaurants adopting trash compactors and more trash disposal cans — is the operational efficiency and sustainability. Quick and easy trash disposal comes with added customer experience benefits that will be helpful in a post-pandemic environment.

What is an at-the-source trash compactor?

An at-the-source trash compactor is essentially a garbage can that smashes trash into a cube so the employees don’t need to go back and forth to the dumpsters as often. Fewer dumpster trips, in turn, uses fewer trash bags, reducing the plastic output in the environment. Many also have the IoT technology built-in for sending a text message or an email once the machine is full. This allows restaurants to focus on other things until the exact time one needs to be emptied.

How They Help Slow COVID-19

While you might see handles on outdoor machines — and of course, the much-needed garbage can foot pedals. A compactor that has been showing up in restaurants like Chick-Fil-A all has automatic doors on them that use a motion sensor to open. Automatic doors on the trash bins will help, since making garbage disposal as contact-less as possible these next few months will be crucial.

Studies that are currently underway by the CDC suggest that the novel coronavirus can survive for 48 to 72 hours on common surfaces like plastic or stainless steel. The fewer surfaces there are to touch, the better.

Outside of the direct customer experience, being able to indirectly monitor when machines are full will aid workers in social distancing measures. Instead of needing to periodically go and check garbage, they can look at a computer or smartphone to know whether a compactor is full.

Many chains have plans in place for the beginning and end of meal safety, but what about while you eat? In an April press release, the McDonald’s Vice President of U.S. Communications & Government relations included a list of precautionary measures that the fast-food giant will be taking to prioritize safety in restaurants.

Two main areas will remain closed for the time being. The beverage bars and play places will stay closed (imagine the germs in those ball pits!) but not every contact-heavy area can be locked up. Since bathrooms will need to remain open, IoT-enabled devices may be able to help the efforts at keeping things clean.

The IoT Bathroom

By now, practically everything in a bathroom can leverage some type of IoT fixture. Things like soap dispensers and toilet paper rolls can be monitored for how much is left, toilets can self-flush, and lights can even indicate whether a stall is in use or the door just looks closed. Enormous amounts of data can also be sent to facilities management and customer experience teams.

How They Can Help Slow COVID-19

Currently, the main adopters of smart bathroom technologies have been airports. One of the most useful benefits of the IoT-enabled bathrooms at places like the Atlanta International Airport and the Los Angeles International Airport are lights on the ceiling that indicate whether a stall is in use or not. When one is done being used, the cleaning crew could make sure it gets properly sterilized. According to the LAX COVID-19 plan, they are currently cleaning the restrooms once per hour. The ATL’s website mentions “increased frequency of cleaning of public areas� for their plan.

Keep It Simple

The light systems being installed at airports sound simple enough to fit in fast food. A battery-powered door lock wirelessly communicates with the light above to indicate whether the stall’s being used or not. The lights in the ceiling do require some basic wiring though, according to the website for Tooshlights, the company that provides them. After that, the status and data can be monitored remotely from a computer like the compactors and kiosks.

Tying It All Together

These next few months will undoubtedly be a tough time for everyone. In efforts to keep costs low and customer experience positive, various IoT systems may be an answer. Kiosks, compactors, and the bathroom will likely continue to be areas of focus for fast food chains to keep business running smoothly.

Disclosure: I was an intern one summer about five years ago for Compaction Technologies, a company that makes trash compactors. I’ve cleaned out garbage cans before. I am not receiving any compensation from them or any other company mentioned/linked in this article.

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