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Prototyping 101: Four Prototypes You'll Need to Develop a New Product



Creating a brand-new product from the ground up isn't as simple as some might assume. From a consumer standpoint, all that's seen is the finished product's sleek and refined detail. But to get to that point, developers usually go through several prototypes and sometimes much more.

Sir James Dyson famously went through over 5,000 prototypes before launching the world's first bagless vacuum! But complexity and purpose are almost irrelevant; all new products need prototyping.

Prototypes serve many purposes. They can help to visualize a new device, prove its viability in the market, prove the concept, and more. During the design and development process, you'll require different types of prototypes to accomplish specific tasks and reach project milestones.

Since prototypes usually cost more than mass-produced parts, it's wise to familiarize yourself with the types you'll need and when. Here's a quick breakdown of the four most common types of prototypes you'll need when developing a new product.

1. The Proof of Concept Prototype

The prototype to emerge first from the development process is usually a proof of concept model. These prototypes serve to validate a project's feasibility. It's one thing to have a rock-solid idea.

But it's dead in the water if you can't apply those concepts to a tangible item that consumers can use. Some ideas aren't possible to produce on a larger scale, and you might find that some elements don't work as you envision.

A proof of concept prototype ensures that you can progress with development. In many cases, these prototypes are the center of investor presentations or utilized to show that there's real value in producing your new device.

They're often crude in looks and functionality. That's OK because they're not supposed to be working models.

Typically, you'll make proof of concept prototypes in the lab to test and debug one or several functions. It might help you see if a feature or measurement is possible, but the accuracy and core functionality may not be what is planned for the final device. It requires more fine-tuning, but this initial prototype is the first step.

Proof of concept prototypes typically play a role in feasibility assessments, and you might go through many iterations as you test different features. However, a single proof of concept is usually enough when done with care.

2. The Visual Prototype

Next up is the visual prototype. As the name implies, this mock-up focuses on aesthetics. While the internals and overall functionality are paramount, your device's overall look and feel often matter more to consumers and investors.

A visual prototype gives you something to display, which could play a pivotal role in early marketing. It's not uncommon for companies to launch campaigns with nothing but a visual prototype, allowing them to generate buzz and possibly get more funding to bring it to market.

A visual prototype can also be used to evaluate the operation or ease of use. You can test how people interact with the device even though the buttons and controls are nonfunctional.

There are many ways to do visual prototyping. Developers can create tangible forms using cardboard, molded styrofoam, paper, etc. Digital models are another option.

With this approach, you can create a 3D replica of your device using modeling software and 3D printing, resulting in something more finished and presentable.

In recent years, 3D printing has become more widespread. With efficient 3D printers, you can craft individual parts or build the entire concept for a realistic-looking model.

You can even do rapid prototyping, going through multiple iterations until you settle on something that works.

3. The Working Prototype

Here's where you start to see your vision come to life. Proof of concept prototypes and visual models are ideal for testing functionality and form. But a working prototype is when you put everything together and push your efforts through the final stretch of the development process.

Working prototypes provide the functionality and performance you expect from the finished product. The goal is to have a working item you can put through testing, trials, and market research.

Think of it as the demo version of the real thing. You can show stakeholders how it works, present it to target demographics, test its functionality, and better understand how the device will work in the real world.

4. The Factory Sample

Last but not least, we have the factory sample. Also known as the pre-production prototype, this is likely the final prototype you'll create. It serves several purposes.

First, it helps you understand the manufacturer's capabilities. You've gone through this entire development process and multiple prototypes. The last thing you want is to work with a manufacturer incapable of delivering the quality you need for market launch. It's about testing quality and manufacturability.

Doing a low-volume production run to get production samples is also a good idea. Both the pre-production prototype and production samples will help you spot manufacturing issues and mitigate any risks that might come up.

Secondly, this final prototype is what you'll use to shop around. The stores and distribution companies selling your new device want to see the real deal.

Having a factory sample on hand provides peace of mind and helps you plan for your product launch.

Bringing Your Ideas to Life

These four prototypes are instrumental in turning early concepts into working products. The development cycle is complex, with many components, features, and design elements to test. Prototyping is a big part of ensuring that every aspect of your design brings your product to life.

When you're ready to take your designs off the paper and into the real world, contact Voler Systems. Let us be your development partner for your next game-changing project!

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