How to make a prototype of your product idea
Prototyping is a normal development process, as it enables users to evaluate the product and try it out before implementation. It helps get valuable feedback from the customer and assists product designers and developers to understand exactly what is expected from the end product.
Definitions of a Prototype
A prototype is an original model, form or an instance that serves as a basis for other processes. In software technology, the term prototype is a working example through which a new model or a new version of an existing product can be derived. (source: techopedia.com)
Reasons to make a prototype
The prototype is an important draft design that precedes the development of the end product and has several advantages:
1. A chance to review technical feasibility
Prototyping makes it possible to understand which aspects of the idea prove difficult or impossible to implement and highlight physical, technical or financial constraints.
2. Improves quality
A prototype of your software can assist is:
- Testing usability
- Reviewing the look and feel
3. Presents your vision clearly
The end user can visualise what you are trying to produce in a more understandable way. This can also assist in designing market advertising and in pre-sales.
4. Iterate at a lower cost
Iteration is the process of repeating the prototype build or modifying the prototype until an optimal product is made.
5. Simulate the end product
A prototype simulates the real and future product and can help attract customers and investors.
6. Provide focused feedback
Seeing the prototype helps end users to provide more focused feedback on the desired details which is essential in understanding their needs and expectations and provides a clear idea of where your product is heading.
A prototype can be considered the project specification and helps the entire team to focus on user needs.
8. Quick and easy to create
Create a simple idea on paper so that the designer understands the functionality and logic of the product. This simple sketch, illustration with a few buttons for a website, will be transformed by an experienced designer into a ready-to-implement product.
9. Risk Reduction
The risks of producing the final product are lowered by the prototyping stage exposing missing features, faults and functional gaps.
Potential disadvantages of a prototype
1. Increasing complexity
It is possible to increase the complexity of the product beyond its original concept as a result of trying to incorporate all end-user feedback.
2. Increasing costs
It is necessary to monitor the cost and effort that goes into the production of the prototype.
Protecting your IP
In 2015, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office processed 629,647 patent applications. On average, approximately 55 percent of applications submitted receive patents. One way to improve your odds of getting a patent grant is to build your first prototype. While submitting a prototype is not strictly required by the U.S. Patent Office for submitting your application, it does serve to demonstrate that your idea has been thought through in sufficient detail to merit consideration.
Steps in creating a product prototype
1. Create a Concept Sketch
Draw your idea to help you visualize your prototype in greater detail. While it is possible to use a digital drawing program for this step it may be faster to draw the product on paper
If you intend to apply for a Patent retain your drawings for submission with your application as it can help if you ever need to defend your ownership of your intellectual property.
2. Develop a Virtual Prototype
When you are satisfied that you have enough detail in your drawings create a digital sketch of your idea or have one created using a program like AutoCAD. You may need to have this done by a design engineer. The image can be used by the engineer to make both 2-D and 3-D renderings which can be rotated and animated.
3. Build a Physical Prototype
Once you have a virtual prototype, you’re ready to build a physical prototype.
Real life example:
In my early career I worked at Dulmison Australia Pty Ltd which was owned by a serial entrepreneur by the name of Philip Dulhunty. The company manufactured aluminium and steel fittings that were used on high-voltage transmission lines. Philip came up with an idea which he called the ‘Dogbone Damper’ a vibration suppression device that is attached to a transmission line close to the supporting tower. The idea is that it reduces the vibration caused by wind and prevents the tower from shaking itself to pieces.
Although the finished product was to be made out of metal a physical prototype was built using a tennis ball, a ping pong ball and a piece of wooden doweling. Simulated tests were done, and they looked promising, a Patent Application was made, and a Patent was granted.
If you have the skill, you can build a physical prototype yourself, however, with today’s technology there are other ways you can achieve this. Using the virtual prototype, you can have a physical prototype cost-effectively manufactured on a 3D printer. If you are making a product that will be eventually manufactured in a moulding machine, then a 3D printed version will provide an excellent perspective for the company that produces the final tooling. The ‘prototyping’ industry now has many companies that have been established just for this purpose as well as Universities and Tech Hubs that offer similar services to inventors at reasonable rates.
When choosing the final materials your product will be made from it is the time to ask, “What if?” and allow yourself the freedom to explore other options and processes.
4. Locate a Manufacturer
Once you have a working prototype approach several suppliers and manufacturers to get estimates, so you can determine the most cost-efficient materials and methods for putting your prototype into production. This may require involving several suppliers, one to make the tooling, one to manufacture the production items and one or more suppliers of materials or other components.
Real life example:
I was recently involved with a company that is producing a new fishing rod. They had successfully built a 3D printed prototype and been granted Patents in the USA and Australia. With an AutoCAD set of drawings and the physical prototype they approached a tooling manufacturer, a plastic injection moulding company, a supplier of telescopic graphite tips and a reel manufacturer. Combined they were able to produce the finished product.
Prototypes are valuable step in the process of bringing an idea to life. It would be safe to say that every product goes through a prototyping phase before release. Used correctly you can end up with a more efficient, less costly product that has a higher market acceptability and one which results in more sales.