So you’ve come up with a great new invention idea. The idea now is to get that thin on store shelves. At some point, that means you’re going to have to iterate some prototypes. A prototype, in terms of design, is defined as a first, preliminary model. This is used for the testing and development of the idea, and as a way to prove the concept both to yourself and potentially to investors and possible clients.
Prototyping is an essential aspect of the product design and development process. Prototypes will help you test and check the performance of different materials. Things don’t always work out as you think they will — in fact, they usually don’t. The materials you envisioned may not work out as you hoped, or something else might perform better.
Different Kinds of Prototypes
Functional/Proof of Concept Prototypes: A functional prototype, or a proof-of-concept, is usually the first kind of prototype you’ll make during the development process. As the name implies, these prototypes are all about trying to prove that your invention idea will work. You’re not so much focused on the look, feel, or material, but more so on demonstrating that it’s possible to make a device that functions the way you envision.
Functional prototyping often takes many iterations, as you try different things and adapt to unforeseen hiccups and glitches. For this reason, you usually want to produce these things as cost-effectively as possible, which means they often aren’t made using the production-grade materials you’ll eventually use in the final product.
Visual Prototypes: These are prototypes whose primary purpose is to communicate the look and aesthetics of your design, without necessarily demonstrating the actual functionality. These are used to showcase the shape, size, color, and texture of the eventual end product. Visual prototypes can be an actual physical model or a digital 3D model. These are typically used earlier in the design process before a fully functional model is created. Visual prototypes are like the prototype version of sketches, one might say.
Presentation Prototypes are a step beyond visual prototypes in the development process. Whereas a visual prototype is more like a rough sketch to give an idea of how the thing will look, a presentation prototype is intended to replicate precisely the look and feel of the real thing while also demonstrating the actual functionality. Usually, presentation prototypes contain the same or similar materials expected in the final product unless this option is too expensive.
Because presentation prototypes closely resemble the eventual end product, they can be quite expensive. Ideally, you get your iterations out of the way during the visual prototyping phase. In the end, you want to come away with a model you can confidently show off to investors, manufacturers, and potential customers.
Digital Prototypes: With the 3D modeling and CAD simulation tools available today, some of the prototyping workload can actually be taken care of in the virtual domain. A digital prototype is a highly detailed and intricate 3D model which includes internal parts and components. That is, it’s not just a 3D representation of what the thing would look like, but a digital inventory and representation of all the components the thing consists in.
How to Make a Prototype for Your New Product Design
To start with, it’s usually a good idea to check how other similar products are made. It might be a good idea to buy an existing product and disassemble it. Of course, this advice is applicable only in case you are not creating something revolutionary from scratch, but frankly, such inventions are rare. Remember that you are not trying to copy others, but to understand and learn how they’ve made the product and use this knowledge for the creation of your new product.
The next step is to create a sketch of the new product design. Transfer the idea on a paper or CAD. Writing a verbal description is very useful too, especially if you aren’t too artistically inclined. The sketch will also help you think through the physicality of the design. Most people are not particularly good a visualizing three-dimensional objects accurately in our minds. When we start sketching and modeling things, we’re forced to confront some of the physical realities. This, of course, is the lead up to the actual physical prototypes.
CAD is a powerful tool that adds a great deal of detail, flexibility, and efficiency to any design project. After all, the computer design you can get for your prototype will be much more precise compared to any paper sketch. It requires a bit more of an investment than scribbling on a napkin, but these days it is essentially a requirement. We make it easier than ever to connect with the CAD design expertise you need.
With some technical drawings in hand, you can get to actual prototyping. You may wish to start with a digital prototype, though it’s certainly not necessary. The first actual physical prototype you’ll want to make, perhaps even before having a digital model made, is the proof-of-concept or functional prototype. It doesn’t need to be pretty, it doesn’t even have to be durable. You might even be able to make it from materials you have lying about your house. If that fails, try to get some cheap materials from the hardware store. PVC, glue, cardboard. Whatever you need to prove that your idea works.
3D printing is a great tool for the early prototyping phase. Being able to product custom-dimensioned parts cheaply and quickly is an amazing benefit for designers and inventors.
Once you’ve demonstrated the feasibility of the concept, the next step will depend entirely on your particular needs and business plan. Typically, you’ll want to develop a decent-looking visual prototype that you can use to impress investors or attract early adopters. If those things aren’t part of your business strategy, then you might want to skip the visual prototype entirely and move on to the presentation prototype.
When you do get around to the presentation prototype, take your time to get it right. Form, fit, and feel need to be gotten just right. Depending on the nature of your product, the process of iterating prototypes can be costly. Be sure to plan for these costs in your business plan from the get-go.
Cad Crowd Has Freelance Prototype Design Specialists
The designers we have at Cad Crowd are ready to help you develop your product and work on your prototypes. Whether you need help with 3D modeling or design for 3D printing, our freelancers have the expertise to deliver professional prototype design services. Learn how it works or contact us today for a free quote!
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