Prototyping is a major step in new product development. It is a necessary step in reducing time and money spent in the product development process. Prototyping brings an idea to fruition through a solid design. At this point in the process, prototypes can prove out design ideas, functional testing, show others a physical design, or even gain funding for the next step of the development cycle. The prototype can prove out the idea(s) in order to file a patent.
The first design concept is created from a new product specification. Customer wants and needs, entering into new technology or new markets can drive the specification. Various marketing research is completed before a design idea burst. These meetings include members of a cross-functional team. Ideas are tossed around, and every detail is captured on paper, a whiteboard, or even a napkin.
The first real prototype is created or drawn in any of the various computer-aided drafting (CAD) software packages. 3D modeling is now the standard for design engineers to ‘draw’ anything from individual parts to complete working assemblies. Form, fit, and function can all be checked from a three-dimensional model. At this point, several models can be created to prove out different paths and concepts to the new product that satisfies the product specification. The software can export the models into various forms, such as pictures or videos for presentations or other file types to use in rapid prototyping machines.
Once the concept is proven, a rapid prototype can be made from additive machining or high-speed machining. These types of prototypes can be expensive but can be created out of many different materials. The high cost of a prototype is small compared to the capital expenses needed to tool up for production quantities of the design. One of the greatest benefits to using prototypes is to prove out the concept fully before spending capital on tooling and manufacturing. Various businesses online offer to prototype sample parts with quick turnarounds.
A functional prototype of the conceptual design is thoroughly discussed through a design review. Various agency testing, type tests, or functional tests can be performed to prove out the intended design. If the design is satisfactory to all parties in the design review process, proceeding to the next step is granted. Tooling is manufactured for the production ready sources of parts. Assembly fixtures can also be created around the prototype parts to prove out lean manufacturing assembly.
Engineers or entrepreneurs should utilize the prototyping process. More upfront costs may incur, but costs will be saved in the following development steps. Prototyping is proven to be a valuable function in new product development. Multiple revisions or changes can be explored during prototyping without much additional cost to the final design.