A prototype is the first full-scale, usually functional and operational, form of a new design. Ideas and concepts are the starting point, and then engineers will typically translate those ideas into new products. It’s what happens in between that we’re going to talk about.
It can be a long road from that initial idea to creating a market-ready product. From experience, we know this road can be riddled with obstacles and unforeseen challenges. Including some level of prototyping within this is a crucial step, not only to smooth out some of the aforementioned issues, but also to provide a whole host of other benefits.
Project budget and timescales
With true innovation comes the risk of failure. The cost of not identifying a design flaw or material weakness can derail the entire project. By investing in an early prototype, any changes can be easily identified, keeping the project on schedule. Ultimately, if the concept isn’t workable, you haven’t spent months or years’ worth of resources to come to that conclusion.
Product testing and feedback
We’re often asked to use production-spec materials for parts to produce prototypes, while we always endeavor to achieve this, we are limited by the research our suppliers put into their materials. This is clearly for testing purposes, but it also gives designers and engineers valuable insights into the functionality to help determine the final design. Traditionally, a focus group may have been brought in to discuss a concept, but without the ‘real thing’ these often fell short of delivering actionable change.
With the advancement of industrial 3D printers, we can now use a mix of machines and people to quickly make changes to an initial design. When you partner with an experienced firm, you also get all the benefits of their experience, with advice on materials, method, scale and future changes. Not only can you see your design develop, but you also get expertise from highly-skilled model makers and prototype engineers.
Let’s set the scene: you have a room of engineers and designers who all have very strong opinions about how a given detail should function, and ferociously defending their viewpoint. It’s difficult to squash one argument because each individual has experience and conjecture. A functional prototype will allow for several changes to be made quickly and deliver benchmarks as the project moves forward.
Do you need to secure finance to take the project forward? Facing scrutiny from key investors or internal management? A prototype will not only show the feasibility of your idea, but will lower the risk to investors. If you’ve ever watched Dragon’s Den on TV, you’ll know that a group of venture capitalists want to see what they will be investing in. Also, a prototype can be an instrumental tool for attaining patents for your ideas.