Why Are Prototypes So Important to Engineers?

Whether it’s a product or some types of service, whatever the item a company plans to produce, creating a prototype is absolutely essential for the design and production processes. Mold makers, engineers and product designers need to stay up to date with technological advancements, and consider the use of technology when it comes to improving the product or service that they provide.

Why is prototyping so important for engineers and product designers?

It allows for early evaluation and testing of the design, leading to any issues being picked up and dealt with quickly. This results in a better finalized design that is sure to meet customer expectations. In addition, prototyping can help to clarify production costs, and make it easier to adjust budgets accordingly throughout the design and production processes. And, a prototype can be used to determine whether a product is unique enough to be patented - and get a patent as early as possible.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at the importance of prototypes.

What is a Prototype?

Prototype manufacturing brings concepts to life. Although it may not be the finished product, it provides both engineers and potential product users with a method of visualizing a future product and determining how it will be used in the real world.

How Much Does It Cost to Make a Prototype?

As you may expect, prototype costing tends to be at a higher price point compared to production units, as the set-up costs for equipment and materials are concentrated into one unit, compared to being split over numerous ones in the production process.

But, the benefits of prototyping far outweigh the increase in cost. Many engineers and designers who choose to prototype are able to recover the prototype costs and even make more back, as they are able to quickly determine any changes that need to be made in order to improve the manufacturing and production cycle, ensuring that customer needs are met at the end of the production process.

What are the Prototype Categories?

Prototypes can be divided into basic categories, which are:

  1. Proof of concept or principle prototype: This provides the key functional aspects of the product, but does not contain all the specifications of the final product.
  2. Visual prototype: Represents the appearance but not the functionality of the final product.
  3. Working prototype: Gives all or almost all the functionalities of the final product.
  4. User experience prototype: Provides enough appearance and functionality to be used for user research.
  5. Functional prototype: Contains both the appearance and the functionality of the given product.

Patenting:

If a product is new or unique enough in the market, then it’s essential to consider a patent. Otherwise, after designing and manufacturing a fantastic, unique product, you may find yourself in a situation where another company has started producing a remarkably similar product or service - and there’s nothing you can do about it. If the original company has not patented key aspects of the design, other companies have the right to use it for inspiration.

Having a working prototype makes it much easier to sit down with a patent attorney and go over any design aspects that may be patentable. And on the other hand, a prototype can also help to ensure that your company is not infringing on any copyrights. It makes it possible to see any parts of the prototype that may violate patents filed by other organizations or individuals, so that a plan can be put in place for changing them before production, to avoid any potential costly lawsuits.

Budgets and Costs:

Creating a prototype before the production process begins allows engineers and product designers to take a look at the process plans and see whether there are any steps which can be changed, combined or even eliminated altogether. Not only does this make production as streamlined as possible, but it also helps to keep production costs to a minimum, making it easier to stay on budget.

In addition, a prototype can make it clearer to see whether it’s likely that there will be any difficulties in production or processes that may create issues with the final product. As a result, it’s easier to adjust the budget accordingly and plan for any additional spending to deal with these potential problems, rather than being landed with unexpected costs half-way through the process.

Testing and Evaluation:

The last thing any engineer or product designer wants is to spend a lot of time, energy and money on creating a product that simply doesn’t work, or doesn’t take off as expected. The process of prototyping allows designers to determine whether or not their idea will work in the real world before beginning the production process.

Rapid prototyping services allow engineers to sit down with a real version of their product idea, which can make it easier for them to best determine which aspects are going to be worth the effort, and conversely, which parts of the product should be revised or discarded altogether in order for it to be a success. This process allows the engineer or designer to find potentially massive omissions or changes that may not have been quite as noticeable on paper.

And, prototyping allows the design and production teams to not only evaluate, but also test the product before investing in full production. This eliminates the risk of investing in the production of thousands of units, only to discover that one part isn’t working as it should be.

Selling to Customers:

Without a prototype, a product or service is just a concept - and it can be very difficult to get a potential client base to commit to the purchase of a concept. Just like it becomes easier to determine if there are any problems with a design when you hold an actual working model of it, it becomes easier to sell to potential customers when you have a prototype to show them.

A prototype immediately brings a concept to life, making it much easier for potential clients to make that decision as to whether or not they will sign a purchase order.

And, the customer should always be taken into consideration during the prototype phase. Prototyping can help engineers and designers get real customer feedback on their design, which they can take into account during the production process to ensure that the finished product is as expected and meets customer needs. Depending on the type of product, you can get CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, and other kinds of prototype molding easily and quickly online from RapidDirect. Rapiddirect.com allows you to quickly get an accurate quotation for your prototype by simply uploading design files on their website. The firm provides integrated quote management and automated DfM assessment, meaning that you can simply upload your drawings and then easily review the process before the finished product is delivered to you.

After all, no matter how great the engineers, designers and testers think a prototype may be, the opinion that matters the most is that of the customers who are going to be spending their money on it. If the end customer doesn’t like the product, they simply won’t buy it. This is why external testing and focus groups for customers with prototypes are so important before the production process begins.

No matter how great your product idea is, coming up with a prototype is important for both streamlining the design process and ensuring customer demand. A prototype is well worth the investment as it leads to better design decisions.

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