The Advantages of Product Prototypes

Entrepreneur.com recently published an article called, Creating a Product Prototype, and in it the author describes the process of designing and manufacturing your product prototypes. Many people have a great idea, but have no idea how to execute a mock-up of it. If you are considering prototyping a product this article will help you get started. Below you will find some excerpts from the original article. Enjoy!

Creating a Product Prototype

One of the essential early steps in the inventing process is creating a prototype–which, simply defined, is a three-dimensional version of your vision. Creating a prototype can also be one of the most fun and rewarding steps you’ll take. That’s because developing a prototype gives you the opportunity to really tap into your creativity, using those skills that inspired your invention idea in the first place. And whether you’re making your prototype at home or hiring the services of an engineer, seamstress or machinist, it’s truly exciting to see your idea transformed into something tangible and real.

So what exactly should a prototype look like? First, it depends on your idea. Second, it depends on your budget and your goals. If possible, it’s great to start with a handmade prototype, no matter how rudimentary. For example, I’ve seen prototypes made from the simplest of household items: socks, diaper tabs, household glue, empty milk containers–you name it. If it works for your initial demonstration purposes, it’s as good as the most expensive materials.

Eventually, if you decide to move forward with your invention, you’ll probably need what’s known as a “pre-production” prototype–especially if you plan to manufacture it yourself rather than license it. But as a first step, a homemade “presentation” prototype can give you a good running start.

A prototype provides other advantages, as well:

1. It enables you to test and refine the functionality of your design. Sure, your idea works perfectly in theory. It’s not until you start physically creating it that you’ll encounter flaws in your thinking. That’s why another great reason to develop a prototype is to test the functionality of your idea. You’ll never know the design issues and challenges until you begin actually taking your idea from theory to reality.

2. It makes it possible to test the performance of various materials. For example, your heart may be set on using metal–until you test it and realize that, say, plastic performs better at a lower cost for your particular application. The prototype stage will help you determine the best materials.

3. It’ll help you describe your product more effectively with your team, including your attorney, packaging or marketing expert, engineers and potential business partners.

4. It will encourage others to take you more seriously. When you arrive with a prototype in hand to meet any professional–from your own attorney to a potential licensing company–you separate yourself from the dozens of others who’ve approached them with only vague ideas in mind. Instead, you’ll be viewed as a professional with a purpose, as opposed to just an inventor with a potentially good idea.

Developing Your Prototype

So now that you know that creating a prototype is a vital step in your invention process, how exactly do you move forward and actually do it? This stage in the inventing process is possibly the period of greatest learning…and is also my personal favorite. I love the creative exploration that prototyping inspires! This is where your words and thoughts change from “Can I?” to “How will I?”

Making a prototype by hand is a great way to start bringing your product to life. Remember, there are no rules! Give yourself permission to experiment. Look around the house and select materials that you can use to test to see if your idea works.

Your product could also be made from any number of materials, ranging from metals to chemicals to textiles. When using any material, try to be open to alternatives you may not have originally considered. For example, you may be convinced that you want to use cotton. If this is the case, challenge yourself by asking “Why?” Perhaps another material might work better, such as a stretch material like Lycra. Or how about using mesh, canvas, nylon or leather? What about taking a leap and trying Neoprene? This is the time to say “What if” and allow yourself the freedom to explore. Put aside your original thoughts–you may end up coming back to them, but at least then you’ll know you’ve made the best decision.

 Bringing It to the Pros

Once you’ve developed your prototype as far as you reasonably can, it’s time to consider hiring a professional to help you with the next steps.

You should do your research and consider new and emerging technologies. For example, when prototyping my own plastic products, I discovered a relatively new method of prototype production that has saved me thousands of dollars. It’s a process called rapid prototyping, which uses a technology called stereolithography. It enables me to have plastic prototypes made quickly from computer-aided drawings (CAD) by a large tooling machine, rather than from an expensive injection mold. Rapid prototypes can cost as little as a few hundred dollars each (depending on complexity), but they’re often a bargain considering the alternatives. For example, creating an injection mold for a product in the Unites States can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000.

The prototyping stage is a great time to use all your untapped creative ability and to explore all the possibilities that are on the market. Don’t limit yourself to any preconceived notions–whether it comes to material use or the types of professionals you can consult–and explore as much as you can as you begin bringing your product idea to life.

To read the full article on Entrepreneur.com click here.

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