One of the biggest mistakes a creator can make during the process of prototype development is to treat it as the development of an actual product. The prototype doesn’t need to be as sophisticated or high-quality as a consumer-ready product. It’s there to prove the initial design and help guide product development later. However, by focusing too much on prototype perfection, creators can waste a lot of resources needed for manufacturing.
It’s important to remember that a prototype is just a bare-bones starting point. It will grow more complex over the product development process. It sets the framework for establishing the future product, so it’s important, but even more important is conserving resources for when they’re needed.
Conserving Resources in the Process of Prototype Development
The prototyping phase of any project can quickly become a resource drain with poor planning. Controlling costs, labor, and time investments are integral to success. Creators should focus on perfecting the prototype through various versions, gaining feedback, and collaborating to get the best results.
#1: Don’t waste time on early models
At the earliest stage of prototyping, the creator should focus on building an object that matches their vision rather than aiming for a perfect concept on the first try. The earliest prototype is there to help them refine the design, not be a stand-alone product. As such, it’s more important to create a basic buildable model rather than trying to perfect smaller cosmetic details like materials and color.
#2: Be agile
Agile prototyping is all about being willing to make changes and repeatedly redesign to get the perfect fit. That’s why little time should be wasted on that initial prototype– it’s going to see many iterations throughout the life of the prototyping cycle. As the rest of the development team understands the design intent, they’ll be better prepared to provide feedback that will make each phase of the design better.
That agility means being willing to take feedback and potentially incorporate it into the design. Creators may be too close to their product ideas to see inherent flaws. A collaborative team can help guide them to better options that will make manufacturing easier down the road.
#3: Minimize testing variables
Testing is a big part of the product development process, but it can be overdone. When testing out a design, it’s important only to use one or two variables to determine the results fully. For example, a first test shouldn’t subject the product to both heat and damp environments. If there’s a problem, the developer is going to have a harder time finding the root cause and resolving it.
Early tests should use simpler scenarios where the cause of issues is easy to decipher. Only after ruling out problems from those straightforward evaluations should the developer move on to more complex situations.
#4: Establish clear communication channels
Often, it helps to use some kind of workflow management system to ensure that all stages of the prototype are communicated to stakeholders. This is especially true when the creation of a new device is a group effort involving many different ideas. A visual representation of the status of the project, either through complex computer software, or a simple whiteboard, can provide an at-a-glance understanding of project progress and potential production barriers.
This step should also involve regular meetings to assess budgets and how much runway is still available for product completion. With regular meetings, it’s possible to discover issues with product cost scope creep before they become major barriers to production.
How Partners Guide Projects from Prototype to First-Run
One of the problems with sending off a sketch for prototyping to an overseas provider or company that only offers prototyping as a service is the lack of creator insight into the process. If they’re not there to guide the developer on their product – or get feedback with potential issues – then it will be impossible to maintain an agile process. It’s best to work with a company that can handle everything from prototyping to manufacturing, as they’ll be better prepared to collaborate with the creator rather than simply work off a blueprint.
The process of prototype development shouldn’t be linear. It must be a cyclical strategy involving revisiting the initial design several times to get the best possible model. That prototype will eventually guide the creation of all products, so it must be designed with manufacturing in mind. A company that produces full-service product development will be the best option for a high-quality prototype that will guide all the rest of production.
PRL’s engineers have dozens of manufacturing options available to help you solve any challenge facing your product: CNC machining, custom tooling, 3D printing, thermoplastic molding, reverse engineering, and more. No matter what stage your product is currently at, we can create it and optimize it for manufacturing.