Prototype models help design teams make better informed decisions by obtaining invaluable data from the performance of, and the reaction to, the prototypes. The more data that is gathered at this stage of the product development cycle the better the chances of preventing potential product or manufacturing issues down the road. If a well thought out prototyping strategy is followed, there is a far greater chance that the product will be introduced to the market on time, be accepted, perform reliably and be profitable.
What is the best way to get a prototype made? The answer depends on where you are at in your process and what you are trying to accomplish. Early in the design process, when the ideas are flowing freely, concept models are very helpful. As the design progresses, a prototype that has the size, finish, color, shape, strength, durability and material characteristics of the intended final product becomes increasingly important. Therefore, using the right prototyping process is critical. In order to most effectively validate your design, pay close attention to these three key elements of your design: functionality, manufacturability and viability.
If your prototype can faithfully represent the attributes of the end-product, it is by definition functional. These requirements often include such things as material properties (e.g. flame resistance), dimensional accuracy for fit-up with mating parts and cosmetic surface finishes for appearance. If your prototype design can be repeatedly and economically produced in a manner that supports the requirements of the end-product, it is by definition manufacturable. These requirements include the ability to maintain the functionality of the design as described above, keep the piece-part cost below the required level, and support the production schedule. No matter how great a design is, it will go nowhere if it can’t be manufactured. Make sure your prototyping process takes this into consideration.
Finally, even if your prototype design is functional and manufacturable, it doesn’t mean anyone will want to use it. Prototypes are the only true way to verify the viability of the design in this sense. If your design can also pass the challenges
associated with market trials (e.g. trade show displays, usability testing) and regulatory testing (e.g. FDA testing of medical devices), you’re well on your way to a successful product launch.