Do you have a business dream you want to bring to life? Or maybe you already have a business that you want to expand with new products. Do you think using prototypes to obtain funding or garner enthusiasm for your product may be a good idea, but aren’t sure if the costs outweigh the benefits? Here is a list of 7 benefits of prototypes and a possible way to bring down the costs of their production.
What is a prototype?
All types of industries use prototypes, but in manufacturing a prototype is typically an early model of a product used to develop aspects of the actual finished product. Prototypes provide proof a design is viable and an idea of the aesthetics of the design. Prototypes also provide information on production techniques, materials, and costs. Prototypes allow you to receive feedback from stakeholders, such as distributors, retailers and customers.
Categories of prototypes
There are several categories of prototypes that provide feedback during different stages of manufacturing. Each category has a different function and look. Prototypes can be made from different materials, on a different scale, and with a different appearance than the intended finished product. The benefit of each prototype also differs.
One category is the Proof of Concept prototype that tests design function of a product without full functionality6. This prototype determines if the materials and the product perform as they should. A benefit of this prototype is it allows you to make design changes before the manufacturing process starts, saving time and money.
A Visual prototype does what it sounds like. This prototype shows the size and appearance of the finished product, but not the functionality of the product5. A Visual prototype is used in marketing for ads and packaging. Part of this category is the Form Study prototype which emphasizes the design’s geometric features, but not other aspects such as color or texture6.
A Working prototype provides the functionality of the finished product, but not the final appearance of the design6. This prototype determines if the final product will function as it should. This prototype makes it possible for you to change the design to improve functionality.
A User Experience prototype has enough of the final product’s appearance and function to be used for end-user research6. This allows for consumer testing to determine if the product is user-friendly and satisfactory for the end-user. The benefit of this prototype is in allowing you to see how customers are going to interact with the product. Data from this type of prototype research provides the opportunity to make improvements for customer satisfaction.
A Functional prototype has the full appearance and functionality of the final product6. However, this prototype may be made with different materials and techniques than the final product. Possibly even on a different scale than the finished product to save on production costs. The Functional prototype is often employed to obtain funding for production.
What are the benefits of prototypes?
Prototypes provide many benefits to you. Everything from basic design to end-user satisfaction can be benefited by use of prototypes. Several of the benefits of prototypes include2:
- Early discovery of design problems
- Estimate production costs, manufacturing time, and requirements for materials
- Determine machinery necessary for production
- Testing to determine fit and durability
- Receive feedback from client and end-users/identify improvements
- Determine final function and design
- Aid in obtaining funding and investors
The first benefit of prototypes is determining design problems and other manufacturing issues. Early detection can avoid issues further down the road during manufacturing, limiting costs of waste and reproduction of flawed parts.
Prototypes aid in estimating material requirements and costs. Prototypes also aid in determining manufacturing time and personnel requirements. These elements help you to acquire funding, create budgets, and determine the final cost of the product4.
Can the product be produced with existing machinery? Are adaptations necessary to manufacture the product? Is it necessary to purchase new machinery? Creating prototypes helps you to determine if any adaptations to current machinery, or new machinery, is needed for production.
When making assembly parts, creating a prototype makes it possible to determine if the fit of the parts is correct. This saves money in time lost to rework and the cost of wasted materials. Prototypes also help determine if the materials used are durable and capable of withstanding the wear and tear of use.
Another benefit of prototypes is the ability to receive feedback from clients, distributors, and customers. Feedback such as this helps determine the final function and design of the product4. Customer research and feedback helps to create customer satisfaction and provide you with confidence in the product’s marketability.
Are there disadvantages?
One of the main disadvantages mentioned by developers and manufacturers is the cost of creating prototypes. According to Tamara Monosoff in “Entrepreneur” magazine, prototypes in the United States can cost “from $10,000 to $100,000”3. However, a recent process called rapid prototyping, can save you thousands of dollars1. Rapid processing uses 3D printers to create prototypes quickly and for just a few hundred dollars compared to thousands.
A 3D printer can run between $200 to $2500 or more, depending on the size and purpose. Material for printing can be plastic or metal. The cost for printing plastic can be as low as $25 per kg to more than $48 per kg. Therefore, even purchasing on the high end could save you thousands of dollars in prototype creation. If you don’t want to purchase a 3D printer, there are companies that will do the work for you.
The benefits of prototypes are many and can be used in almost any business environment. With the variety of prototypes available you can find the one that will suit your needs. Whether you need to identify production issues, improve design elements and functionality, estimate costs, conduct research or obtain funding, there is a prototype to help. New technologies, like 3D printing, help to bring down costs and make prototyping available to almost any business or budget. Overall, now would be the time to take advantage of the benefits of prototyping and technological advances for your business.
1.Rapid prototyping – http://www.efunda.com/processes/rapid_prototyping/intro.cfm
2.Advantages of prototype development – https://www2.dmst.aueb.gr/dds/etech/swdev/prototype.htm
3.Creating a product prototype – https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/80678
4.What is a production prototype? – http://leardon.com/what-is-a-production-prototype
5.Prototype manufacturing and design – https://www.innovate-design.com/prototyping-process-2/
6.General categories – https://www.thomasnet.com/articles/engineering-consulting/general-prototypes