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Prototyping: Everything You Need To Know

Introduction: Prototypes

A prototype is simply a model or a representation of an invention. Prototypes are capable of interacting with end users. They range from electronic software to literal hardware. Although it is not a must for inventors to build prototypes today, prototype building is viewed as an important part of the invention process. This explains why serious inventors insist of building prototypes. You canít really know the true merits of your invention without building a prototype because prototypes attract user input which is important for building perfect final designs. Also, it is very hard to begin a constructive conversation with potential licensee/s unless you have something solid to show. If you are interested in knowing more about prototyping, this article is for you. Below is everything you need to know including prototyping options, how to get your idea prototyped and finally getting your product out to the market.

Prototyping options

In most cases, you have to build several prototypes i.e. the crude, working and final prototype before your idea is licensed. The crude prototype is simply a model that helps you understand the basic premise of your invention. As the name suggests, a working prototype works/functions. It is more complex than a crude prototype. Users can interact freely with a working prototype because it has most if not all the features of your invention. A final prototype looks and functions like a manufactured or finished product. Below is a more in-depth discussion to help you understand what all the above prototyping options entail.

1. Crude prototype

Crude prototypes are usually built by inventors without outside help. This allows an inventor to have a better understanding of their invention. When building a crude prototype, you should follow 4 simple steps. Step one should involve writing down a description of what your invention is and what it will do. The next step should be listing the most important features of the invention. Step three should involve drawing pictures of how your invention will look like. The last step is building a model. During this step, you shouldn't invest so much on materials. A crude prototype should be as cheap as possible. You can use cheap materials like cardboard, bailing wire, duct tape, parts from existing products/items e.t.c.

When building a crude prototype, it is important to look at similar things/items in the market to get inspiration. In case you need specialty parts or materials, consider searching online. You should however be careful to ensure you donít end up with a working model. The main purpose of a crude prototype is helping you think seriously about your invention i.e. how it will function. Even an ugly prototype will work just fine. If you donít want to build a prototype, you should at least draw rough sketches of your invention and write down an extensive description.

2. Working prototype

This is the next prototyping option/step to consider. As the name suggests, your working prototype must work. Users should be able to interact with the prototype perfectly i.e. squeeze its handles, buttons e.t.c. It is however important to note that working prototypes aren't supposed to function perfectly like the final product. Your crude prototype should help you come up with a good working prototype that will in turn come in handy in surveys to confirm there is a market for your invention.

Because working prototypes are more complex, you may need help. You need to be creative when finding the right kind of assistance i.e. good but cheap help. It is important to consider the kind of materials and technologies that will work best for you and your prototype. For instance, metal, wood or fiberglass can be substituted with plastic. After considering such factors, you will need to find the kind of businesses and people that deal with the kind of materials and technology your prototype requires.

You can ask friends, family or search online. It is important to use a cover at this stage because it will help you interact with a lot of people without having to get into confidentiality agreements which are known to slow down the prototype developmental stage. It is better to find someone with good technical expertise in line with your invention. It is important to withhold some information at this stage. Your intention should be making something that will be close to your invention and not your invention. You should consider working with model makers or pattern makers. It is easy to find such people using yellow pages or online using tools like Thomasnet.

3. Final prototype

The people you meet during the working prototype stage can help you build a final prototype that is ready for production/manufacturing. In case you donít have money for this stage, you should think of alternative funding sources. Prototype makers and design engineers have very good connections. You can use them to look for funding. Industrial designers are the best suited professionals for product design. They are capable of managing the entire process of making your final prototype. They can also get you all the necessary licenses and patents for your prototype once it has been proven to work perfectly.

The final prototype is simply a replica of the final product which will be introduced and sold to the market. The final prototype can however use different materials or be made using different processes and machines. It should however function and look like the production unit. It should also conform to the drawing that will be used in mass production of the final product units. Final prototypes are meant to make sure all parts fit together before finalizing production tooling.

Pilot production

This is the last step to consider before the final manufacture of a product. Pilot production is simply full-scale production. Products made during the pilot production process are usually used for field testing. Pilot production utilizes short-run assembly methods and manufacturing technologies. You might be required to refine your designs at this stage to give your products shelf appeal before the final stage i.e. manufacturing products for sale. Manufacturing products with shelf appeal is very important because it can be the difference between product success and failure. After this process is done, you can commence final manufacture and start selling your products.