Sep 28, 2016 -- Prototyping is one of the exciting parts in the process of product development. It is the first step where you actually see and feel your product design idea in three dimensions. It is only through a prototype that you’ll realize what changes are required in the design before going for a production run. Basically, prototype is nothing but a physical, 3D model of a product that can be touched and interacted for reviewing, getting feedback from customers or investors. It is important for patenting, fixing errors and gaining license or convincing investors. Prototypes are also useful in connecting the product design more with the customers and gain important information on improving the design to meet customer needs. The need for prototypes is at different stages in the product development process and at each stage the quality of a prototype is different. Let’s look at each type in detail.
A concept or rough prototype can be considered as a first draft of your invention. Today, the product development process begins with rough sketches, which is then converted to 3D CAD model and then into a 3D rendering to give realistic feel. The prototype developed for this conceptual model is to understand the design better and helps you in identifying how the product will look like when actually manufactured. This kind of prototype however will not consist of all the features of a final product. The only purpose of concept prototype is to get an overview of the product idea.
It thus, does not require having good quality, and does not require investing more money. Sometimes, these prototypes are even developed using clay, cardboard or Lego blocks, since it does not require being functional, and is simply a physical representation of a 3D CAD model.
The next step towards finalizing the product design is to develop a functional prototype. It will consist of all the features that are required in the final product, and thus forms a critical part of the product development process. Functional prototypes are meant to develop working models of the product design, to see if the ideas actually work or not in the real world conditions. This is a phase where your design actually comes to life.
Since functional prototypes have to work, this is a phase where you can realize potential design flaws and can find ways to eliminate them before actually going for final production. While these prototypes are not required to replicate the product exactly or perform with the same level of efficiency, it still required demonstrating how the parts will move relative to each other and how the entire assembly will come together to show that your innovative idea actually works.
The major differences between a functional prototype and final product are in the manufacturing method and the materials used. Most often, the manufacturing methods utilized in final product will be different from the one that is used for prototype development. Also, you do not require the prototype to have the same materials that of a final product. The prototype can be developed with alternative low-cost materials that can perform the required function.
Functional prototypes are developed using both traditional manufacturing techniques as well as advanced additive manufacturing. This often requires working with others to build cost-effective and accurate prototypes to serve the function efficiently. However, it is important that you sign a non-disclosure agreement when working with outside service providers to ensure that your design information is safe from getting leaked or misused.
The final prototype can be considered as the final gateway to production and as such it requires mimicking all the characteristics of the actual product. It should have the same materials and the design parameters should match exactly with the final product. The purpose of these types of prototypes is to test the form, fit and function of all the parts before deciding on the manufacturing techniques and tooling required. Final prototype is also important if you are planning to license your product, in order to demonstrate the licensors the product features and functionality.
Prototype for Presentations
These types of prototypes are used for investor presentations and fundraising, as well as for licensing and testing the product reception in the market. These prototypes must look good, but it isn’t necessary that they also work. The prime purpose of such prototypes is to show your design in 3D and bring more interest from the audience. Although, functioning is not necessary, the look is important. Consider presentation models as tangible 3D renderings. These prototypes are valuable for marketing teams when used properly and is a great way to engage customers, so that you can gauge their attitude towards your product idea.
With the use of
rapid prototyping services, it is possible for innovators and entrepreneurs to develop prototypes of any type and functionality to leverage their product development process. For small volumes, 3D printing is considered as the best and cost-effective method to develop prototypes for concept evaluation, functionality checking, finalizing design and presentation requirements.
About Author: Gaurang Trivedi is Engineering consultant at TrueCADD. He has applied his engineering expertise across several highly complex and big scale projects, consequently managing to flawlessly deliver as per the client requirements.