A prototype makes it easier to find problems with the design and shows that your product will work. The prototype could be used to get money, get people interested on a website for crowdsourcing, and speed up the production process.
In this article, we’ll show you how to make a prototype of a product step by step. You’ll learn how to come up with ideas, find manufacturers, and even apply for patents. And you can do it without a doubt.
What Is a Prototype of a Product?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary says that a prototype is “the first model after which something is made.”
To put it simply, a prototype is a 3D model of the product you want to make.
A “prototype” is something like a 3D-printed copy of a toy design or a model of a new tool made out of paper and glue. A prototype is anything that is made to test how well an idea will work or to show how it will work.
Prototypes can be put into four main groups based on their purpose and level of complexity:
The goal of the visual prototype is to show how big and what shape the finished product will be. It doesn’t have the product’s size, weight, or function. Instead, it shows only how big it is.
“Visual prototypes” include both digital models made with 3D rendering software and blocks of wood that have been shaped to look like the final product.
Proof of concept: This is a simple model that shows how the idea works and if it is possible, i.e., that the idea is doable. Most of the time, you can make this prototype with the things you already have. It only needs to show that the idea can work; it doesn’t even have to look, feel, or work like the final product.
The first version of the Super Soaker is a great example of a “proof of concept” prototype. It is made out of PVC pipes and an empty soda bottle instead of high-tech parts that have been machined.
As the name suggests, a presentation prototype is a product that is ready for a presentation. It works and looks like the thing it is supposed to be. Show this prototype to possible buyers, manufacturers, and investors so they can get an idea of what the finished product will look like. Usually, this prototype is made using different materials and methods of production.
The presentation prototype was changed to become the pre-production prototype. Even though it uses materials and building methods that are good for mass production, it works the same. Manufacturers often look at the pre-production prototype to figure out how to make a product in large quantities.
These models build on each other. You don’t have to do all four steps, though. You might go from a paper and duct tape prototype to a finished product.
How to Make a Prototype of a Product
If you’re reading this, you likely already have an idea for a product. This could be as simple as a drawing on a napkin, a 3D model, or even a fully built proof of concept.
The next thing you have to do is turn this basic idea into a prototype that works. We’ll explain how to make your prototype in the next section:
Make a detailed drawing or sketch
To start making a prototype, make a detailed sketch or plan of the idea. The goal should be to show as many ideas as you can visually. You should have two ideas on paper:
- A picture of how the product looks when it’s finished
- A technical drawing of the product that shows how it is built and how it works.
- This can be done with software, but paper and a pen work best. You can use these hand-drawn pictures even if you want to get a patent. During this phase, you should feel free to try new things and come up with new ideas. Since you’re still a long way from production, don’t be afraid to try new things.
Create a 3D Model
The next (optional) step is to move your sketched ideas into a 3D modeling program. This will make it easier for you and others to picture the product, like investors or business partners. You could also print a 3D version of your prototype using this model.
A 3D model also has the benefit of being able to be seen in the real world using augmented reality apps like Augment.com. This is a very good way to show the size, shape, and style of a proposed product. But it might be pricey for a small business that hasn’t even started yet.
Put together a Proof of Concept
The exciting part, which is coming up next, is coming up with a concept for the product.
How you build your first proof of concept will depend on a number of things. You can easily make a “proof of concept” by 3D printing a small item that you have already designed in a 3D program.
If your product is hard to make and has a lot of mechanical or electrical parts, you will have to improvise more.
Don’t forget that the proof of concept doesn’t have to be pretty or even look like the final product. It should just work. This prototype can be made with even simple things from around the house.
For more complicated goods, you may need to ask a machinist or handyman for help.
Make a model of your first idea.
- The proof of concept for your product shows how it works. Your 3D model shows what it might look like.
- The next step is to put together your prototype using what you’ve learned from the 3D model and the proof of concept.
This model should be pretty close to your finished product and have the same parts.
It’s not always possible to make a prototype like this on your own. Depending on how hard it is, you may need help from a machinist or a skilled prototype designer.
Prototype ready for mass production
The last step before you start making things is to clean up your prototype and get it ready for production.
This is mostly a procedure for a cost and feasibility study. Every part of the prototype needs to be looked at to see if there are ways to cut costs without losing functionality.
Think about ways to make the product last longer and look better at the same time.
For example, you could switch a metal item that doesn’t get used very often for one made of plastic and vice versa. This is a way to save money without giving up quality.
It is helpful to work with a manufacturer to figure out how different prototype parts might affect price and quality. Also, you should look at different raw materials to see which ones are more appealing to the eye.
Your goal should be to find a good balance between price and quality for your target market. If you want to sell to high-end customers, for example, quality will be more important than price. For clients with less money, it will be the other way around.
How to Make a Prototype of Your Product
Making a prototype from scratch might be hard, especially for a maker who is just starting out. With these tips, the process will go much more smoothly:
List of the Most Important Traits
Your finished product probably won’t have everything you had in mind when you first designed it. Because of your budget and the materials you can use, you will have to give up on some expensive parts.
So, when you’re making your first prototype, put all of the features into three groups:
- Should Have: For the product to work, it needs to have these qualities. For example, “portable storage” is something that an iPod has to have.
- It’s Nice To Have: These are things that would make your product stand out, but they aren’t needed for it to work. For example, the “click wheel” was a useful part of the iPod. Even though it wasn’t necessary for the iPod to work, it made it much easier to use.
- Don’t Have To: These are extra parts that don’t add anything to the product’s value or make it look better. Also, these features are often too expensive to use. You have nothing to lose by taking these parts out of your design.
Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) and Patents
When making your prototype, you will have to talk to a prototype designer, machinist, 3D modeler, etc.
If your idea is new, you’ll find someone quickly selling it on AliExpress for a much lower price. Even if they don’t copy the idea for the product, they might copy a new design or method you came up with for making it.
The steps below may help you stop theft of your intellectual property:
- File a patent for the idea and design of the product
- Everyone else who needs to sign the NDAs
- Keep Cost in Mind When Designing
When making a prototype, one of the hardest things to do is to keep costs and benefits in check. You want the product to do what it says it will do, and you also want to sell it at a fair price. If your customers can’t pay for a great product, it won’t sell.
At each step of the design process, you should ask yourself two things:
Is this important?
- If so, what is the cheapest material to make it out of that still works?
- Even if two materials (like “plastic” and “metal”) are in the same group, their prices may be very different. Remember this as you work on your product.
Use production methods that are common in your field.
Using different ways to make the product is another reason why the price goes up from the prototype to the finished product.
Every company that makes your product will use a few standard methods (like “injection molding”) to make it. If they can’t be used to make your product, the plant will have to come up with special procedures and teach its workers how to use them.
This could make it much more expensive to make, especially if you only make a small amount.
When you build your prototype, you should pay close attention to the kind of manufacturing process each part needs. If a feature needs a highly specialized way to make it, you might want to leave it out. With the help of a prototype designer or machinist, you should be able to figure this out.
Use the work of your competitors as a guide.
By looking at what your competitors are making, you can learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t when making a product. This could be a big help in coming up with your idea.
So, before you start making your prototype, you should carefully look at what your competitors are selling. Look at their parts, designs, and how they are made. Look for both the good things and the bad things.
Testing a product’s prototype
Testing a prototype is an important part of making a new product. Since it’s cheaper to change a prototype than a finished product, it will help you find any weak spots in your prototype and keep you from going over budget. You’ll also get feedback from real users that will help you improve your product and avoid getting bad reviews after it comes out.
You could test your prototype internally and with friends before putting it out to the public.
When judging your prototype, be careful.
- Choose the exact topic of your test. It’s not clear enough to say, “I want to test my prototype.” You can figure out if your prototype will work by saying something like, “I want to see if people can safely move cakes with my device.”
- Who should test your prototype and how they should do it. In an ideal world, it should be your target market. For example, it makes sense to give students a chance to try out a product you are making for them.
- Give each person a clear job to do. It’s better to give them a plausible situation so that they know exactly what is expected of them during the test. For example, “Today is your birthday party. You’re looking for an easy-to-understand board game that can be played by people of all ages. Playing this game will help you figure out if it meets your needs.
Here are some possible questions to ask your testers:
- When are you going to use this?
- What about this product do you like?
- What about this product would you like to change?
- Do you think it’s good?
- Will you choose it over other products on the market that are like it? If so, why?
Creating and testing a product prototype may help you get closer to putting your product on the market. Create an online presence for your business, starting with a website, so you’re ready for it before it happens.