What Is a Prototype and Do You Need One?
New businesses in the US are reaching an all-time high. In 2021, more than five million people applied for new business licenses here in the US.
And while this represents every industry, many of these new businesses will be competing with you. So how can you distinguish yourself? By creating and selling higher-quality, more unique products than everyone else.
You can’t just buy the same products from the same wholesalers and expect to build a lasting company. The businesses that survive and thrive are the ones manufacturing their own prototypes and products.
But what is a prototype, and why is it important during the manufacturing process? A prototype can save you a lot of time and money.
Keep reading to learn all about the importance of a product prototype today.
The Manufacturing Process
Here’s a brief overview of the manufacturing process.
The entrepreneur or product designer envisions a new product. They create preliminary designs of the product with ideas and feedback from their team.
They can create custom 3D visuals to help you see what the end product will look like. These visuals can demonstrate how they can be used or incorporated into other products.
Edits can be made to the design over and over again. Once the product looks good, the company can have the product manufactured.
They contact manufacturing plants to get price and timeline quotes. Then they tell them how much to produce.
Once they are completed and packaged, the products are sent (usually overseas) to your warehouse where you can inspect the products yourself and ship them out to customers or retailers.
But one important step was missing from this process. What if there was a flaw in the product design that was unnoticeable until the product was physically manufactured?
Then all the money spent on products was wasted, as you now need to correct the design and remake them. That’s why prototyping is so important.
What Is a Prototype?
So what is prototyping? A prototype design is created after the digital design process and before the mass manufacturing process.
This is a physical representation of the product created on a small scale. By creating a prototype, you can hold the product design in your hands and physically inspect it to ensure it’s going to serve your purposes.
More often than not, product designs aren’t perfect the first time around. So instead of creating thousands of products and wasting money, you can create one prototype at a time, refine the design, and continue prototyping until it’s perfect.
This process does take some time and will cost some money. But it’s far after and cheaper than mass-producing faulty products. You need to factor the prototyping phase into your manufacturing process.
The Old Way of Prototyping
In the past, prototyping was a slow and expensive process. It involved creating a custom mold at a manufacturing facility, which is a costly process.
And it also meant a lot of time, as the manufacturing facility needed to get you on their production schedule.
You could spend all of that money on a prototype mold, only to find out that it needs to be adjusted. So then you have to make a brand new prototype mold, and so forth. While this process still saved time and money from manufacturing bad products, it still wasn’t very convenient.
The DIY Way of Prototyping
In recent years, we have seen the rise of rapid prototyping. What is rapid prototyping? A rapid prototype is something you can create quickly, for very little monthly. It’s a process that allows you to create, edit, create, and edit, over and over again until you get the perfect design.
With the rise of 3D printers in recent years, creating product prototypes has become far easier, faster, and less resource-intensive than ever before.
Rather than creating a physical mold for your product, you just need a digital design file compatible with your 3D printer.
In as little as a few minutes, you can have a physical product in hand to inspect. And 3D printers to waste any materials. You only use exactly what is needed to create the product.
So it was very cheap (other than the cost of the printer itself). Many companies that are heavy into designing new products will have in-house 3D printers that they manage.
To make the most of 3D printing, experts are needed to ensure the process runs smoothly.
The Easiest Way to Prototype
Most small to medium-sized businesses don’t manufacture enough different products to warrant having their own 3D printer in their shop. A good one will cost a lot of money and they are only worth it if you are using it frequently.
So what’s the solution? You can now find companies that offer rapid prototyping as a service. They have 3D printers or other small-scale manufacturing tools to create individual products or small, limited runs.
The sector of rapid prototyping services is growing. You can find companies here in the US to work with if you want to be on-site during development. Or, there are companies located overseas that can coordinate with your manufacturers more easily.
The benefit of working with a service like this is not having to purchase and maintain high-quality printers. You don’t have to keep various materials in stock. And you don’t have to train anyone on your team to run the process.
You can outsource all of that and still enjoy the speed and savings offered by this technology.
Plus, when working with a service, it’s easier to create a small run, such as 100 units, so that you can actually put the components or products to practice. This will let you better see if your design works or now.
Create Your Prototype Today
So what is a prototype? It’s a test product that you create from your design files, before mass manufacturing your final product.
You can’t determine if a product is perfect until you can hold it in your hand and physically test its functionality. And prototyping, specifically rapid prototyping, is what makes that possible.
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