Form, Fit, and Function Prototype
The last prototyping post titled Why a Proof-of-Concept Prototype? reviewed the reasons for designing, fabricating, and testing a Proof-of-Concept Prototype of your innovative product idea. If you followed this advice, you now have shown that your concept functions properly and there is a feasible technical path to develop your product. With this accomplished, what should you do next?
Leardon Solutions designs, engineers, prototypes, and manufactures products for the medical devices and diagnostic, health and lifestyle, commercial, consumer electronics, and active sports industries. Every project, no matter how simple or complex, follows the rigorous Leardon Solutions Product Development Lifecycle. This ensures that all the program objectives and project requirements are satisfied. The third phase of this lifecycle, referred to as the Design Prototype Phase, requires the completion of a prototype that meets the form, fit, and functionality requirments.
You might be asking yourself “What is the difference between this so-called Design Prototype and the Proof-of-Concept prototype mentioned in the last blog posting?” The Proof-of-Concept Prototype was developed in order to prove that the product idea was technically feasible and functioned as expected. There was no work done to make the prototype look aesthetically pleasing or to meet any of the human factors (feel) or industrial design (look) requirements. This next stage of prototype requires that the functional requirements are implemented into an engineered prototype that is looks, feels, and operates the same as the final product. The only difference between this prototype and the final manufactured product is that this Design Prototype is fabricated utilizes low-volume prototyping techniques.
A Design Prototype requires more engineering and design skill than required for the Proof-of-Concept Prototype. The reason for this is the fact that the prototype needs to look and feel like the final product. Therefore, the engineer designing the prototype must have some knowledge of the final production methods so that it can be designed with the intention of using these fabrication methods when finally going into production. The engineer also needs to generate the proper engineering documentation such as 3D models, 2D drawings, and electrical schematics so that the manufacturer can properly fabricate the parts to the proper engineering specifications. While it isn’t absolutely necessary, it is recommended to hire a design engineer during this prototype phase.
The Design Prototype usually requires more manufacturing and fabrication skill than what was used to produce the Proof-of-Concept Prototype. This is due to the fact that this prototype is fully integrated with all the proper features. This integration usually results in more complex parts which are more difficult to fabricate using prototype methods. Due to schedule and financial constraints, this prototype will not be fabricated using high-volume production techniques such as injection molding or progressive die metal stamping. Instead, the prototype will be made of parts that are fabricated with low-volume prototype techniques such as machining, resin molding, laser cut metal parts, and quick turn printed circuit boards.
Once this prototype is complete, there are many important uses for this prototype, all of which are equally important. First, since this Design Prototype was made to have the look, feel, and function of the final product, this is an excellent prototype to show to potential investors for raising money. A functioning and aesthetically pleasing prototype will have a much better impact in an investor presentation than showing a business plan.
Even though this prototype will look as if the product is complete and ready for manufacturing, there is still a long way to go before reaching the production stage. The second use of this prototype is for working out the design and manufacturing details. As the prototype is assembled and operated, important feedback will be gathered which will be fed forward into the future design revisions.
A third use for this Design Prototype is as a tool in getting valuable feedback from customers. Prepare a set of questions for target customers and let them use your prototype. This feedback is important to verify that your product satisfies the customer needs and will have commercial success when introduced.
Finally, this prototype will be very useful when pitching your product to potential distributors, buyers, and retailers. Since the product meets all the functional requirements and has the final look and feel, these meetings will be much more valuable as the intent of the product will be easy to communicate.
The Design Prototype is an necessary step in the development and commercialization of a product. The design and fabrication of this prototype will allow you to validate your customer segment, determine if the product has an acceptable look and feel to customers, and will prevent expensive production and manufacturing changes down the road.