How To Develop A Prototype

Prototyping serves as a vital component in design and manufacturing. Traditionally, the steps to develop a prototype have involved creating scale models or wireframes and schematics.

 

These days, digital prototype designs and rapid prototyping tools have not only sped up the process of creating materializations but have also allowed manufacturers to have tighter control over the production process.

Prototyping Tools And Types

Prototype creation begins with ideas, but it must then transfer these ideas into real-world objects or files. This requires prototyping tools that can vary based on the type of materialization being created.

An example of a rapid prototyping tool may be a 3D printer connected to computer-assisted design (CAD) software. Additionally, various computer numerical control (CNC) milling tools and tool tips may be used to mill a prototype out of a single piece of material in rapid prototyping.

There are also other types of prototyping. Currently, rapid prototyping is among the more popular options today, and this method of prototype creation involves additive manufacturing. In the development of digital products like software applications, interactive prototyping may be used. This method involves creating working models of an app that are refined through each successive iteration.

Credit: Matthew Nuss

Feasibility prototyping is another type of design work that involves investigating how a product, either digital or physical, will behave after production. This step or stage of the prototyping process may involve the creation of basic working models of a product so that its limitations can be studied. From there, engineers and designers will work together to refine the product to make it more feasible for the production process.

What to Know Before Building A Prototype

Before you begin building a prototype, you’re going to want to think about its purpose for the audience to whom it will be shown. If a prototype is meant to be shown to a client, you will likely want to present a near-finished model. If a prototype is meant for internal use and is understood to be a work in progress, the prototype doesn’t need to be nearly as refined prior to showcasing it.

A client-facing prototype will probably benefit more from being in at least the alpha testing phase. During this phase, the prototype can produce its basic functions and will be in or close to its final overall form. This gives the client a clear picture of what to expect once the prototype enters the manufacturing phase after refinement.

For internal prototyping, you may be able to get by with fewer absolutes. Showcasing a prototype internally means that you may not even have a working model yet, but instead, you are using visual models or even bench models. A bench model can demonstrate the ideas behind the expected functionality of a product while a visual prototype can demonstrate the expected functionality of the final product without the need to actually create it.

Consider Your Testing Environment And Prototyping Tools

It’s important to think about the testing environment where you will examine the capabilities of your prototype. For physical products, the testing environment can be anything from a lab to a workshop, but you will want to have the right tools available to accurately measure the various functions that make up your product’s capabilities.

In a digital environment, testing can be a little more complicated. If you’re releasing a piece of software for use on the Internet, you will need a separate digital testing environment in cyberspace where your prototype can’t be accessed by the public.

If you plan to share your prototype as a file or set of files with a client, it’s a good idea to protect these files using encryption to ensure that they remain secure and are only seen by authorized users. This may require the services of a development team to securely set up.

Planning For Production After Prototype Creation

Depending on where you are in the prototyping process, you will also need to think about your manufacturing or development and deployment resources. Along the way, your prototype will likely undergo revisions, so it’s a good idea to wait until you’re far enough along in the prototyping process to begin planning for manufacturing; however, it’s also a good idea to keep your available resources in the back of your mind.

Credit: Victorgrigas

Everything from raw materials to manufacturing facilities, tools and equipment will need to be factored in along with your costs to produce a finished product at scale in order to get your idea out of the prototyping stage and into the production stage.

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