The Ins and Outs of a Prototype
by Todd McGonagle

The product development process can be a grueling one, with countless hours of time and effort put forth to deliver a satisfactory finished product. Taking a product from the conceptual phase to the market can be a long journey with unforeseen obstacles. Oftentimes, the process requires designing and redesigning a product based on how well it works during its various stages of testing. Building a prototype of a product is an efficient and cost-effective way to make your idea a reality.

What Is a Prototype?

According to the National Tooling and Machine Association, prototypes allow a design to come alive and provide crucial insight into the user interaction. The primary purpose of creating a prototype is to test whether the concept and design of a product is viable. It can be anything from a crude mock-up of a product to a full-scale and functional simulation of the finished product. Not only do prototypes enable the creator to test the practicality and usability of a design before committing to mass production, but they may also reveal important discoveries and lead to unexpected innovations, allowing an idea to reach beyond its initial scope.

Why Use a Prototype?

National Instruments, a global enterprise that specializes in helping scientists and engineers carry products from concept to market, helps explain why prototyping is an important step in the design process. One of the most important cited reasons to prototype is to efficiently weed out approaches that don't work, before too much time or money is lost. While a 2-D design of a product has limitations, a prototype allows the designer to see a design's strengths and pitfalls and to make adjustments accordingly.

A second reason to create a prototype is that it enables the developer to present an idea to potential investors and to provide engineers with the ability to test the limitations of the product. While many people have a hard time conceptualizing something that they haven't seen, prototypes provide the opportunity to fully experience the product.

How Are Prototypes Created?

Clearly, prototypes are powerful tools for taking an invention from the conceptual phase to the consumer. But how does an idea go from being a drawing on a paper to a working prototype?

Sketches

The first step on the journey to the finished product is realizing a need and brainstorming potential product solutions. By creating 2-D sketches, designers can develop possible solutions until they feel that the best solution has been identified.

Building the Prototype By Hand

The second step in product creation is to build a crude prototype by hand. This allows the developers to see how viable the product idea is and to see how it will perform in the real world. If the prototype does not perform as expected, the developers can go back to the drawing board before too much time or money is lost.

Creating a Functioning Prototype

Once a successful crude prototype is built by hand, it's time to create a functioning prototype. This is the ultimate test as to whether an idea is viable. While early prototypes of the product can be built by hand, functioning prototypes require the knowledge and expertise of skilled laborers. A wide variety of machines are used when creating a working prototype, and highly skilled machinists, welders, and drafting engineers are essential in this final stage of prototype development.

Bringing Your Invention to Life with Ickler

Ickler offers a team of experienced professionals who specialize in carrying an idea from concept to market. Our team of drafting engineers will work with you to identify the specifications of the prototype, and our machinists use in-house parts and machines to create a working prototype. The end result is a quality prototype that can be accurately tested and evaluated, increasing the likelihood of a successful finished product.

Ickler Prototype Team

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