Every product that has ever hit store shelves began life as an idea. As the idea matures, it passes through a series of stages that transform the concept into a fully functional and marketable product that fulfills a need or achieves a goal.
While finalizing and releasing the fully developed product is the ultimate objective, successfully taking your idea from concept to completion is a detailed process. If your goal is to bring your idea to life and introduce it into the marketplace, you’ll need to create a prototype first.
What Is a Prototype, and Why Should I Create One?
We can define “prototype” in a general sense as an original model that serves as a template for a product. Essentially, a prototype proves your concept can exist as a physical, functioning product. Blueprints, sketches or mockups of an idea are great tools to begin to explain the design, but a physical prototype offers an individual the opportunity to experience it.
Perhaps you have a simple, easy-to-construct idea, or maybe you have a complex concept in mind that you can fully understand, design and create. If you believe you can readily turn your thought into a tangible object, you may wonder why a prototype is necessary for success. While a prototype may accurately represent all the knowledge and skill behind the concept, it also acts as a vehicle for discovery.
You develop a prototype not only to demonstrate what you know, but also to uncover any obstacles, complications or flaws you haven’t yet encountered. Every concept has limitations and opportunities for improvement that do not get exposed until the product enters creation. Crafting a prototype is a necessary step in the production process that allows you to unearth the true scope of the concept, uncover the information necessary to improve the idea and make crucial updates to the concept that positively impact the success of the final product.
Benefits of Prototypes
Creating a product prototype is a responsible step in the production process that can benefit the long-term success of your product. A prototype brings your vision to life for the first time and allows you to expand upon your concept creatively. There are many advantages to crafting a prototype in the early stages of production.
- You can change, update or refine the design. For plenty of reasons, your physical prototype may not match up with the concept, and this early stage of development is the perfect time to rework your ideas. Examine the concept from all angles — figuratively and literally — and determine whether this prototype can fully achieve its goal as swiftly as possible.
- You can test the functionality of the idea. No matter how revolutionary the product is, at the end of the day, it is vital for it to function properly. Before you allow others to view and use the product, you can spend an ample amount of time testing the prototype. You can easily gather information like rates of failure, changes in production and mechanical issues that obstruct performance.
- You can discover what components of the prototype need attention. Even if the prototype you are testing is performing successfully, you may realize you could enhance it by replacing some current materials. Using quality, reliable parts for the prototype will ensure it achieves the desired goal.
- You’ll be able to describe and demonstrate your product accurately. You may have the next million-dollar idea, but if those you pitch it to don’t understand the concept, you may have difficulty in getting the prototype into production. Pitching a prototype that encapsulates an idea, rather than pitching the idea alone, allows you to showcase your concept, explain how to use it and provide a tangible experience. Having a working prototype for your consumers to demo allows them to get more comfortable using the product.
- Your prototype will influence professionals to take your concept seriously. A working prototype is a symbol of your commitment — which you demonstrate through the time, patience, resources, financing and energy you spend to succeed in bringing a concept into form. Without execution and follow-through, potential investors or consumers may not take you seriously. A prototype may also help protect the idea itself by decreasing the chances of having your intellectual property stolen.
Types of Prototypes
The type of prototype you choose to create is important to the success of a product. You want a prototype that accurately represents the actual product in appearance and function. The closer your prototype reflects the product, the easier your audience will be able to grasp the concept and correctly use the product. Depending on the size, complexity, materials and real-world application of the product, you may need to select a specific prototype that can represent the product’s design and functionality sufficiently.
The following prototypes have inherent advantages that make them ideal for capturing the essence of a concept, portraying the potential of the product or executing the functions of the actual product.
- Functional prototype: A functional prototype focuses on the utility of the product, not the design. Used to demonstrate the execution of the actual product as accurately as possible, a functional prototype may not represent the final product in appearance, but will successfully mimic the functionality of the actual product.
- Display prototype: The display prototype’s intent is to showcase the aesthetics of a product without a serious regard to expressing its functionality. These prototypes exist to elicit emotion and consumer reaction via colors, shapes, textures or patterns.
- Concept prototype: The concept prototype is the big picture of the idea — a high-level overview that describes the essence of the idea in physical form, often rendered on paper or digitally. It includes aspects of the design, structure, functionality and operational characteristics of the concept. Concept prototypes allow you to determine the viability of the idea. You may also garner useful feedback and advice by allowing others to provide insight into the concept.
- Scale model: Commonly used for buildings or large structures, a scale model is a nonfunctioning model that represents your product on a much smaller scale. This form of a prototype brings a sizeable concept down to easily observable dimensions. While the scale model may not perform the functions of the actual product, its design can illustrate its components, method of operation and how it will conceivably accomplish its purpose.
- Throwaway prototype: This prototype gets developed quickly to meet a limited number of goals. Throwaway prototypes aren’t a final draft of the product, but rather a tool to gather information that will influence the success of the final product and reduce the risks involved in developing the product. You can discard a throwaway prototype after you accomplish your goal, as the actual value is in the information you collect.
- Evolutionary prototype: Opposite of a throwaway prototype, the evolutionary prototype is something you will want to keep for continued evolution. As users interact with your prototype, the feedback they give will influence changes to the prototype. These responses will allow you to continually address and eliminate concerns in the prototype through refining, modifying or removing components or functions. The prototype will continue to grow in response to these concerns, retaining some or all of the components of the previous prototype.
What to Consider for Your Prototype
As you determine which type of prototype would best reflect your concept, you must also be aware of other factors that will influence the production and success of the prototype.
- What is the goal of the product? Before you decide to turn your concept into a product, you need to have a target in mind. First, you must determine the ultimate purpose of the prototype. At its core, what need does the prototype fill, or what job does it adequately accomplish? After you define the purpose, you must consider whether an alternate product already exists, and why your prototype will outperform a product with similar functionality.
- How much time will it take to create a suitable prototype? Determine how long it will take to construct your desired prototype. Depending on which prototype you choose to build, you may need to augment it or create a completely new variant from scratch. Gather information regarding timetables for potential modifications to the existing prototype or for creating a new alternate prototype.
- Which materials will you use to manufacture the prototype? Though you’re not in the final design stage for the actual product, you want your prototype to perform as accurately as the product will. If you are constructing the prototype yourself, consider which materials you plan on using and whether a better substitute exists. If you’re entrusting certain parts or the product’s full development to a professional prototype service, research materials used in their manufacturing process so you can ensure they build your prototype with quality parts.
- What are the total costs associated with creating a product prototype? These include the combined costs of the raw materials, manufacturing and any refining, modifications or enhancements you need to make to the prototype throughout its journey to achieve product development. The type of prototype you wish to create, the method used to manufacture it and whether or not you employ the help of a professional prototype manufacturing service will also impact the overall prototype cost.
You can begin to determine which type of prototype will accurately depict your concept by applying these questions to each prototype form. For instance, if you choose to design a scale model or evolutionary prototype, you’ll need to be aware of how much time and financing it will take to modify the existing prototype as your needs change.
How to Create a Product Prototype
Creating a prototype is an essential step in the process of developing a product. Some of the most iconic products around the globe began as simple prototypes. Many of these prototypes have evolved into products in use throughout countless homes and businesses. With patience, dedication and hard work, you can bring your idea from concept to creation by developing a viable prototype. The steps below outline how to make a product prototype.
- First, put the concept on paper. Get the idea out of your head and into the physical world. You can begin by sketching the design on paper or even using digital tools to create a mockup of the prototype. In addition to images, use words to help visualize the details of the prototype. Write down characteristics, objectives, design styles and any other information you have that will bring the concept to reality.
- Determine the appropriate prototype. How can you best convey your concept in physical form? If your product is large, or it’s not practical to manufacture for demonstration, consider building a scale model. If your concept is simple enough to construct and use, a functional prototype may be the right choice. Remember, you can always grow the prototype throughout the process. Use a throwaway prototype to gather information, create a display prototype to determine the aesthetics and continually develop an evolutionary prototype until you’ve achieved your vision.
- Even if the concept is complex, keep the prototype simple. With a physical prototype, less can be more. Use as few components as possible in the construction, and keep the aesthetics of the design reasonable. Remember, you are creating the product to serve a specific purpose — the prototype’s job is to determine whether that is feasible. Staying focused on the goal will keep the core of your concept intact.
- Revisit and rework the prototype throughout the process. The first prototype will only rarely turn out exactly what you envisioned. Operationally or aesthetically, you may need to revisit the prototype and make adjustments. Refinement, in both form and function, is necessary if you want to achieve a presentable prototype.
- Trust a professional to help you source parts and construct the prototype. While you may have been able to detail the full concept and even begin to put a prototype into development, you should not be averse to seeking out professional assistance. You want your prototype to be as close to the actual product as possible. By relying on the knowledge and expertise of an experienced prototype manufacturer, you will ensure the prototype is presentable, functional and mirrors the quality of the concept.
Creating a viable prototype can be a challenging process. Whether you have already created an initial version of a prototype, or if you’ve got a well-developed concept you want to bring to life, a professional manufacturing service specializing in prototype creation will help you complete your vision. The experienced team at SIMTEC can help you choose the right materials for your prototype and provide you with solutions for your ongoing production needs.
SIMTEC Prototype Manufacturing
For nearly 20 years, SIMTEC has offered complete turnkey solutions to leading global businesses that are in need of custom, high-quality liquid silicone rubber and LSR 2-Shot parts. From consumer and automotive parts to medical devices, we’ve supplied a variety of industries with highly versatile injection-molded LSR components. Liquid silicone rubber is the ideal material for prototype creation due to its extreme durability, temperature and chemical resistance, flexibility and biocompatibility. No matter the application, liquid silicone rubber parts can perform optimally.
SIMTEC is proud to offer prototyping services to our customers who are seeking reliable parts and components for their latest creations. Throughout the design and prototyping process, we work closely with our customers to ensure we manufacture each part according to their exact design. The final result is a perfect and precise LSR component that is efficient and cost-effective. As one of the top liquid silicone rubber injection molding companies in the world, we guarantee we’ll always provide our customers with unparalleled service and complete satisfaction.
You need to create a product prototype that is functional, durable and presentable. SIMTEC has mastered the liquid silicone rubber injection molding process, and can manufacture custom-designed LSR parts tailored to your prototype. We address the needs of your specific project and provide you with the knowledge, assistance and guidance you need to take your idea from concept through prototype development. If you’re ready to bring your prototype to life, contact us today.
With a commitment to customer service, a dedication to quick cycle times with quality results and scalability from a single prototype to high-volume production runs, SIMTEC can make your vision a reality.