You’re probably already aware of prototyping as a part of manufacturing. You might even know how to go about doing it or how to make the most of it. However, it’s not often that many people fully understand just how important it is. In this article, we’ll run through some of the common reasons why prototyping is so important for companies and the potential problems that it uncovers. This article is taken, in part, from our “Complete Guide to Taking an Idea to a Full Product”, which you can download for free, here.
What is prototyping?
Really briefly, in case you’re not already aware of what prototyping is; prototyping is creating a preliminary model of your product. This model, can vary in accuracy. You may have a prototype which prototypes the function of your product, but looks nothing like it. You may also prototype the design, but it could be completely non-functioning. You could have a mixture of the two. Each prototype happens at a different stage in the product design lifecycle, with each prototype getting closer and closer to the final design of the product. We outline all of these steps in our complete guide.
Why prototyping is important
Onto the actual title of the article, why is prototyping important? As we’ve discussed, prototyping is the act of building a preliminary model of your product to ensure that everything about it is as you expect it to be.
For instance, a “working prototype” (i.e. a prototype which focusses more on function than form) might not look very nice, but it allows us to check that it’s functional, easy to use and safe. Without prototyping this, you may not have discovered a key flaw within the operation of your product which could have resulted in serious consequences. It doesn’t always have to end in finding something “wrong” either, you may find a unexpected benefit or use for the product, which you never expected. Take a look at post-it notes, chewing gum or Velcro for accidental inventions.
Prototyping allows you physically use the product and work out whether it functions as expected. 3D models and simulations are great, but they’re no substitute for a physical thing. It doesn’t just have to be dangerous consequences, it could simply be that a mechanical linkage doesn’t function as it should, a certain aspect is prone to failure or – on a positive note – that the prototype works better than expected.
Another kind of prototype is a dummy prototype. It’s not a functional working piece, but it looks like what you would expect the final product to look like. It has similar dimensions and material finishes. This prototype allows you to compare it to other similar products, if there are any. It allows you to see what it looks like on a shelf (if it’s a retail product) or you can use it as the finished product would be used (a car part, for example). This prototype will allow you to find out if it works in its intended environment (or not).
Lastly, is the final prototype. This is one of the final prototypes you will do. It’s essentially a single production run of the final product, and allows you to iron out any last minute creases. This allows you to do all of the testing that you’ve done on previous prototypes. However, don’t think about just skipping to this step, because a final prototype is an expensive, but important one. Until you’ve produced your product in the same way that you’re producing thousands, there’s no way of telling what manufacturing could produce. You don’t want to produce thousands of units, only to find that a dimension is incorrect or that the material is not as strong as expected.
Ultimately, a prototype is a sanity check. It’s a check to see that, what you’re thinking in your head, what you’re putting down on paper or modelling on the screen, actually works. It doesn’t require huge budgets or hundreds of hours of investment. The importance is in checking and proving your idea and reiterating the product until it’s exactly everything you want it to be.
If you’re interested in learning more about turning your idea into a final product, then download our free guide: From Idea to Product.