Prototypes serve a range of purposes, all of which are aimed at saving the company time and reducing their overall costs. The creation of a product for any purpose begins long before any actual manufacturing takes place. It always starts with an idea; however, for that idea to be able to take shape it must be explainable to those who will provide the funding and expertise to bring it to life. While verbal explanations and even drawings can be open to interpretation, a physical or computer generated prototype allows a concrete explanation to come to life, giving the idea the proper, tangible form.
Most people think of prototypes as an entirely functioning early version of the final product, made with the same materials and to the same standard. While there may be occasions and points in the manufacturing process when this is necessary, it is not the only way to create a prototype. Here are four very different ways you could consider creating a prototype depending on its purpose and audience.
- Pen and paper drawings and plans
In a very real sense, your preliminary drawings and plans are your first prototype. A good plan will include thoughts on materials, how to overcome difficulties, measurements and may even identify manufacturing processes. It is the ideal prototype for getting an idea of the ground, finding that initial funding and working out how to go forward.Advances in computer technology often mean that pen and paper plans are a thing of the past. A computer generated plan can have the added advantage of being developed into a 3D image and allows a high level of collaborative working. A graphics program that can simulate the products movements or intended purpose can also provide an opportunity to see the product ‘work.’
- Cardboard / plywood models
Where graphic programs are either not available or are deemed not to be suitable, very basic materials can be used to create a prototype. While it will fall short of a fully functioning prototype, it will provide information about the key ideas behind the product. It will bring plans to life and allow manufacturing teams to ask questions, consider materials and processes and to raise concerns. Again this type of prototype can be used to raise investment or to show progress to investors.
- 3D printers
3D printers are still quite new on the market, providing you with not fully functioning prototypes that are not made from the final materials. This method boasts of all the advantages of the cardboard or plywood model; however, 3D printer will deliver a more refined version of the plywood model. If you need to present your idea to investors or other businesses in a more formal setting, this refinement is a definite positive.
- Fully working and scale models
All of the above versions of prototypes are highly useful and efficient in the early stages of product development. However, at some point in the process, the product will need to undergo a full test of how it works and whether it is fit for its intended purpose. This can only be achieved with a prototype that is made from the finalized materials, even if it is on a smaller scale. This prototype will serve as the standard for which the finished product must adhere to. If there are problems at this stage, they can still be remedied without too much additional cost. However, if earlier prototypes have been used throughout the process, then difficulties at this stage should be very rare.
From computer and scale models, to full-scale models made from a range of simpler or cheaper materials, creating a prototype is a way for manufacturers to ensure that the product will meet and exceed their customers’ expectations. However, the specific type of prototype will depend mostly on its purposes.