Prototyping is an integral step in mass producing the next hit product. It not only shows that you have ingenuity and sound proof of concept, but also that you mean business about moving forward toward launching your idea.

Introduction to Product Protyping

The first step in prototyping is clearly defining the type of prototype you need. Not all prototypes are created equal, and a “best” type of prototype depends on the job at hand.

 Basic prototyping is, in essence, a homemade garage product. Prototypes engineered from odds and ends lying around the house aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing or even the most efficient, but are important catalysts in turning an idea into an object. This involves breaking the problem down into its most basic functions and re-assembling parts into something the world has never seen before.

Advanced prototyping is a more polished deliverable, usually completed with the help of a pro manufacturer. It has a more put-together feel than a basic prototype and closely approaches what the final product will consist of.

Manufacturing prototyping is more sophisticated than the previous two routes, and is meant to function and look exactly like an end product. Size, shape, material and even colors and labels should be spot-on and predictive of what will be in your future inventory.

Virtual Prototyping is created using the help of a computer; the design has no tangible aspect. Virtual prototypes allow you to study theoretical conditions of the product when it’s being used. It also lets you easily and instantly send your prototype around the world via the Internet instead of mailing a clunky, breakable, and potentially heavy package.

With the above four options in mind, consider the goal of the prototype, which may or may not have heavy overlap with the goal of the project overall. There are “works-like” prototypes and “looks-like” prototypes, which mean there are devices meant to mimic either the application or appearance of a final product, respectively. Who will be studying and using your prototype dictates which type you should construct — whether it’s specific clients assessing the prototype’s chance of success, donors on Kickstarter pitching in, or just your own troubleshooting and idea building. As a step in bringing a product to market, the overall cost of prototype creation needs to be scrutinized and legitimized. Especially when working with high-cost materials, it’s easy to let the cost of a prototype production spiral into the absurd. The momentum gained by 3D printing over the past few years has also been a saving grace for many inventors, as it allows easy translation from virtual prototyping to physical manifestation.

As you can see, the term “prototype” is a broad brush. Don’t be afraid to take the time to figure out not only where you are in the prototyping process, but also where your terminal goal is. You can spend mountains of money in prototyping — just make sure your money is being invested into the best process.