Q: What do you get when you combine an entrepreneurial spirit, a medical need for steady hydration, and frustration with water-bottle lids that get lost?
A: An all-new approach to go-cups from Liquid Hardware. Company founder Steve Kitto uses Fusion 360 to make insulated and non-insulated BPA-free bottles and mugs that include innovative magnetic lids that are internationally patented.
The Making of a Product Designer
Kitto came to product design through roundabout means. Due to a kidney condition called PKD, he is required to drink lots of water. One day a few years ago, as he was drinking from a traditional traveling mug in his pickup, the lid fell to the floorboard and ended up under one of the pedals. That motivated him to research how to make a magnetic lid, and inspired him to focus on designing bottles and mugs.
Funding, Building, and Evolving a Product Business
When Kitto’s father passed away in 2010, he left him a small inheritance that was enough to give him a start in the manufacturing business. In subsequent years, he ran two successful Kickstarter campaigns, which brought in more money while allowing him to validate his products in the marketplace.
On the design side, Kitto continued to develop prototypes and evolve his working approach. His early efforts were frustrating. “I ended up hiring a broker to design my first bottle, and it didn’t go so well,” he says. “There was just such a breakdown between design and the actual manufacturer.”
After the second Kickstarter, he attracted a better manufacturer in southern China. The situation was better, he says, because “I had more control.” Still, he wasn’t using CAD software at that time, and he describes the design process as “really time-consuming and frustrating.”
The product was more successful, and he ended up using that manufacturer across two generations of bottles, yet he still ran into issues. In particular, that manufacturer was really good at plastic and silicone, but didn’t do any metalwork in-house. As Kitto puts it, “It was basically a reeducation every single time” they farmed out metalwork.
Finally, he traveled back to China and found the perfect manufacturing partner—a family-owned facility near Shanghai, in a town that makes about 90% of the world’s stainless steel water bottles. That manufacturer, Kitto says, “nailed it right away.”
Prototyping with Fusion 360
It was around the same time, he adds, that “I got latched onto Autodesk.” He worked with Autodesk staff members to improve his designs and rebuild the basic model for his product. “I was really afraid to go back and start from scratch,” he says—but Autodesk helped him around that.
From there, he brought in his own designer to work with him on the fine details. The designer initially modeled things in SolidWorks, but, as Kitto points out, “SolidWorks is so cumbersome.” His designer would go through “these incredible, painful processes . . . just an incredible amount of steps to get it to do what it needed to do.” Today, the company uses Fusion 360 for cross-section analysis and 3D printing of prototypes for rapid design iterations, and for working with their manufacturer.
Their entire bottle designs are now in CAD, but it’s the lids that are the real focus. As Kitto explains, “The lids had a bunch of really intricate tolerances, and everything had to snap properly.” It’s tricky because each lid must accommodate a rare earth magnet, silicone covers and seals, and a two-part plastic lid with threading. The designs must balance enough surface friction from the silicone so the lid won’t spin against enough pull from the magnet to hold the lid in place.
What’s Next for Liquid Hardware?
Response to the bottles has been strongly positive. The embedded magnet keeps the lid from rolling away—the whole point of the design—but users have also discovered that its pull is strong enough that they can also use the magnet to stick a full water bottle to a piece of gym equipment or a metal surface on a vehicle, which makes it even handier.
Kitto continues to expand on his designs, adding 32- and 40-ounce bottles with wide-mouth lids and experimenting with ideas for other products as well. All of this work is accelerated by the 3D printing enabled by Fusion 360.
“CAD is really the key,” Kitto says. “Unless you can touch the thing, and tweak it to get it right, you’re going to waste a lot of money.”