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How to Create a Product Prototype

One of the often overlooked, yet important steps in product development is producing multiple Prototypes throughout the product development process. Even in the early stages of idea conceptualization, a rough prototype plays a key role in refining the ergonomics and esthetics.

Prototyping is one of the few way’s innovators get to fully conceptualize the appearance and feel of the final product prior to investing in a full development cycle. Some companies will often try to short cut the design process and fully develop the product without prototyping various design iterations. This approach often leads to a less desirable product or results in higher total project costs. This is often a result of having to modify a fully designed product versus a preliminary exterior surface model.

Read on to understand the real advantages of investing in the prototyping process and have a look at the steps of how we develop one:

What is a Prototype and why do you need one?

A prototype can either be a simple surface representation of the look and feel of a product or a fully functional representation of the final product. Spline is able to do this utilizing cost-effective 3D printing processes, machining, forming, or various other low volume manufacturing methods. These prototypes can be used to gather market feedback, product testing, or regulatory certification. At Spline we are able to create a prototype, that encompasses our customers dreams and turns their mental picture of the design into a reality.

At Spline we have the experience to navigate the vast array of prototyping methodologies and materials to get you exactly what you need at the stage you need it, without unnecessary costs or extended timelines.

Most development cycles involve the following steps to develop a prototype

However, there are other useful prototyping steps that could get you closer to the look and feel some customers are striving for quicker and cheaper. These three steps help us to deliver the right product quickly and accurately.

  1. Development of concept sketches

  2. Development of 3D CAD Models

  3. Development of a physical prototypes

3D printed prototypes are not always the most cost effective or quickest.

When coming up with your products design language, esthetic, or a particular ergonomic aspect, the client has several conceptual prototyping options.

  • Conceptual prototypes can be made from materials as simple as, poly styrene, various density foams, foam core, or even clay.

  • These types of physical models are often beneficial for our industrial designers to be able to communicate with clients and our engineering team. Having something tangible in hand can offer more insight into the vision of the designer allowing a quicker and more seamless transition through development.

  • There are quite a few benefits of developing these early appearance models. First, utilizing low-cost materials allows the designers to be able to sneak up on a particular style or feel they are trying to achieve with our having to 3D model and 3D print each variation of the design.

At Spline we are able to utilize our years of expertise to quickly and cost effectively develop scaled models that represent the final product or certain aspects of the design.

Development of a Conceptual Sketches

Inventors and conceptualizers often have rough napkin sketches of their ideas which we evolve into a myriad of refined sketches. Our Industrial design team uses Wacom tablets and various software’s including but not limited to; Sketchbook Pro, Photoshop, Rhino, Keyshot 10, and Adobe Illustrator. Sketching ideas is often the best place to start because it is a quick yet cost effective way to generate multiple ideas. Sketching gives room for the designer to evaluate many different broad concepts as well as fine details like bone lines. The development of early conceptual prototypes is often based off of these sketches.

At the preliminary stages of development, the designers have multiple ideas/concepts of each aspect of the product to explore. Through the countless hours of sketching, the real product starts to take shape and form. Several sketches should not only help the customer visualize their product, but also give the developers a clearer picture of the multiple details of the design.

Development of a Computer Aided Design (CAD) models

Once the sketch is developed, it is necessary for the engineers to create a 3D CAD Model.

Here are some reasons why a 3D Model is necessary:

  • A 3D Model precisely drives the fit, form, and function of the product. It allows every detail to be defined and calculated down to the ten thousandths of inch.

  • Every component including printed circuit boards, cables, fasteners and other integrated off the shelf components are included into the CAD Models to ensure everything is packaged properly with enough space to function as designed.

  • The CAD files also drive the Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) ensuring parts fit together precisely.

At Spline we use a variety of CAD platforms including Creo, Soliworks, Rhino and Altium to develop Two Dimensional (2D) drawings or Three Dimensional (3D) models.

Development of a Physical Prototype

Not only do we have the knowledge of the best materials to use, we have several companies we work closely with to produce the finest prototypes available. Once the prototypes are manufactured, Spline also has the shop space and tools to build and functionally test each prototype.

The final and most crucial stage in the development of a product is testing the prototype. We have developed and taken several prototypes through testing to meet UL, ETL and IEC standards. It is with our vast experiences that we can offer our clients the peace of mind that their product will pass safety testing and be a safe viable product. Some of the prototypes we have developed have gone through and passed a wide variety of tests including drop/impact testing, life cycle testing, tip tests, load testing, flammability, and EMI/EMC. We have worked with several labs on various products in multiple industries including meeting the rigorous standards of the medical industry.

Get Started Today With Spline’s Engineering Services

At Spline, we believe that every idea should be brought to life professionally with quality, quickness, and cost effectively. We also understand that some clients may lack the tools and resources to bring their best ideas to fruition. That is where we shine, we have the tools and expertise to solve even the most complex problems.

Unlike other companies that build prototypes, we work closely with the our clients, ensuring their ideas are turned into the exact product they envisioned. We also ensure to test the product/prototype to industry standards before the product hits the market. Contact Spline today for more information about our award-winning product development and prototyping services.

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