After several years of intensive brainstorming, in-depth market research, and developing a viable business plan, you are now ready to breathe life into your new invention. What should you do next? It’s now time for you to create a prototype that will serve as your product’s preliminary model. You can do this most effectively by working with the best engineering firm or prototype company and the best technologies, training, and team, thus making your dream project a functioning and physical reality.
The role of engineering firms or prototype companies for design projects
Prototype companies or engineering firms help investors transform their ideas into finished products. First, evaluate the prototype company or engineering firm in question to assure that their policies, ethical culture, and experience are the perfect match to your specific requirements. Remember that product innovation is a complex process that doesn’t just happen overnight. To give you a good idea, the following are the most critical factors you need to consider to help you pick the right prototype development company or engineering firm for your design project.
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1. Check their confidentiality agreement
Product development from scratch can be a very tedious process ranging from several days up to a few years. The last thing you want is to spend your precious expertise, resources, and time coming up with a novel idea only to have your product end up in the hands of your closest competitor. The best prototype company or engineering firm must sign a mutual NDA or non-disclosure agreement to protect the interest of every party. The engineering firm and client can collaborate to craft an NDA tailored to suit both of their requirements.
2. Clear communication is a must
Clear communication is the most critical throughout the product development process. Make sure that you choose a company that can keep you updated during the process of product development. Evaluate the company’s ability to communicate via status reports, video conferences, email, and other preferred methods for you to stay informed at all times. It is also ideal for a project manager to be assigned to your project.
The project manager will serve as the primary point of contact and will be responsible for your project’s success at the end of the day. You might find it daunting to embark on product development but an experienced and skilled design partner who communicates clearly can help you reach the finish line with a top-quality product that is more than ready to enter the market.
3. Look into their level of versatility and experience
Choose a prototype company or engineering firm with a portfolio that indicates the prototype designing services they offered to other clients in the past. Pick a company that has already worked on design contracts that may bear resemblance to the specific tasks you have to accomplish. The experiences listed in the portfolio can help you determine if the work quality that the company offers is presentable and is a match to your requirements.
You must also go for a reliable company that has been in the industry for some time. Obviously, you want the most experienced team to work on your prototype project. Always do some research and do your homework. Check the length of time that the company has been in the business and be sure that you check all the reviews it received as well as the specific technology they are using.
While you are at it, you might also look into the company’s low-volume production versatility. Generally speaking, low-volume products will need a company that effectively and properly handles small productions. Even if it is only a short-term development time, the company must ensure that you can meet your set launch date and the prototype’s manufacturing must also be done right on time.
4. Be familiar with the specific engineering design services the company offers
There are actually three main categories of product development services: product engineering, service bureau, and industrial design. There are also companies that market their services as a combination of these three groups. What sets apart these engineering firms? Basically, each one of them provides unique services. While there are product development companies that blend their capabilities and services, it is important to meet with the people working on your project so you can assess their skills and competency. Take a closer look at the three different categories of companies in the sector of product development:
Industrial Design Firms
Consumer-based prototyping processes are the specialty of industrial design firms. They work to improve features like human interaction with the products, styling, and ergonomics while the client deals with the performance functions and technical production. These design services are most suitable for those finished products that may need some changes to meet the clients’ requirements. Industrial designers approach the process of prototyping from a standpoint that is more consumer-based. These design firms can help your business discover its voice and forge the partnership around the development of better product experiences for your own customers.
Product Engineering Firms
Product engineering firms provide novel design services that are based on a certain idea. These firms also offer solutions to manufacturing and mechanical problems. This type of firm is more suitable for those clients who might already have ideas but don’t have the expertise in developing the inspiration for the final product. These companies develop items according to the descriptions of the client. The firm either contacts the clients on a frequent basis for approval of the development progress or to brainstorm the means of the final product’s improvement.
Investors that work with service bureaus have almost total control of the prototyping process since they handle most of the development tasks. The engineering firm will then choose certain files from the data of the clients and the specifications that the customers prefer. Service bureaus make use of rapid production machines to improve the final product. A service bureau is most suitable for inventors who want to handle most of the leg-work in the process of prototyping.
While there are companies claiming to fall into all of the three categories above, the truth is that many companies find it hard to serve every purpose for each client. You have to be sure that you partner up with a company that is aware of its strengths and specifically focuses on the thing it can do best with honesty and transparency right from the get-go.
5. Don’t let geography limit your search
It is common for design teams or internal teams to have locations in various parts of the country or in other parts of the world. The most capable engineering firms or prototype companies are not always found right in your backyard. Top-quality firms are often used to working remotely with all the tools they need right in place to help them do everything efficiently. The clients of most firms are located hundreds or even thousands of miles away from them. Many of them will give you project examples and clients that they worked with remotely in the past.
6. Check ISO compliance
Be sure to pick an engineering firm that offers products that are ISO-compliant. The ISO is the quality level that engineering and manufacturing companies must surpass to be sure that they can exceed the minimum quality assurance and set standards.
7. Determine your preferred level of control during the prototype design process
Decide if you want to work with an organization that could improve your model or a prototype development company with the ability to design a product from a simple verbal description. If there is an R&D or Research and Development department in your firm, there is a chance that you will be doing the majority of the product customization tasks. As a result, you will need a company that will understand the concept of your design to perfect it.
On the other hand, if you have a product idea as well as a vision of the specific tasks it can achieve, you would need intensive services for prototype design to convert a mere description to a functional item. It is also essential to have a service contract to know your level of involvement throughout the development process.
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8. Inquire about the period of product development
Be sure to find out the amount of time that a company needs to finish the process of prototype development. If you need to develop a time-sensitive invention, you might want to work with a company with extensive resources. That includes engineers, machines, laboratories, and other elements for improving the speed of product development. Consider pairing up with a company that provides different processes of product development all under one roof like the conceptualization of ideas, designing and engineering, prototyping, and finally testing.
The companies that could achieve all of these tasks will be able to set timelines and meet the deadlines for the product to reach the market at the specific expected time. For instance, carmakers and smartphone companies introduce new models every year. Working with the best independent engineering company will ensure that all tasks are scheduled to be completed within the stipulated time.
9. Know the service cost
The process of prototype development can get very expensive since the engineering firm will need to hire several experts and designate some of its employees to help improve your product. This is why it is a must to work with a company that observes transparency in its billing process. You can pay a lump sum price for the company to complete a specific development process or hire them hourly. Your choice will basically depend on the amount of input that you want the engineering firm to provide. The best engineering firm or prototype company must list all the expenses to let the customers assess their budget and identify if they can pay for the cost of development.
10. Work with the right company for your prototype design needs
When it comes to choosing the right engineering firm or prototype company for your design projects, remember that your choice will also depend on other factors such as whether your team has designers or engineers or if you need external engineering resources for the prototype development. Consider the purpose of the prototype. Would it be a prototype that serves as a proof of concept or will it be used for a crowdfunding campaign? Is the product simple or complex?
How much do prototypes cost?
The prototype might not cost you anything if you are developing a very rough prototype for proof of concept from materials used daily that may be available around the house. If you hire a large product development firm’s services, the prototype may cost you up to $500,000. The truth is that there is no such thing as a simple and definite answer as to how much it will cost you to develop your prototype. The cost will depend on the prototype’s purpose, the complexity of the product, materials, and others.
The bottom line
Working with the best engineering firm or prototype company is critical for transforming ideas into fully functional products. It is important for inventors to choose a company with reasonable service costs, vast experience, and policies for the protection of the inventor’s intellectual property rights. The prototype company or engineering firm must also have the experts and technology required to finish the project right on time. Don’t let your hard work go to waste. Always work with the best in the field.
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