Types of Prototype
In the new product development process, there are usually 4 distinct kinds of prototype at different stages of the process. We list them below and the purpose they serve. However it is useful to note that you may require several iterations of a prototype at a particular stage to ensure your design is functioning correctly. For example with a POC (Proof of Concept Prototype), you have the opportunity to uncover the minimum specifications for your product at a stage where it is far less costly to make amendments, so you may have a couple of versions to get this right before moving on.
At LX we are able to create all kinds of prototypes and help you right from the start of the project. However you can also approach a design service provider like us when you already have a proof of concept or even a working prototype, it very much depends on your individual requirements and the existing skill sets within your organisation.
1. Proof of concept Prototype
Proof of concept prototypes, as the name suggests, are there to prove that the idea or concept works in reality. As mentioned above, this is a key time for identifying possible risks or areas that need development from the original idea. Occasionally these types of prototype may be used for convincing investors/boards but usually they are more restricted to a core team and simply test the feasibility of the original concept. As such many of the elements in a POC prototype are not bespoke and use ‘off the shelf’ materials, for example using existing PCBs which is where the prototype for a custom electronic product often starts. Generally team will want to move onto custom electronics development early in the process, but development kits can serve a purpose here to get a POC quickly and to budget.
The proof of concept prototype generally doesn’t look like the (intended) finished product – this is about functionality rather than finish.
2. Visual Prototypes
Visual Prototypes look more like the finished article and depending on your requirements, should at least look as though they function as a finished article. That being said, visual prototypes often do not have working parts at all, or very limited functionality as this kind is more about the show. It is usually a visual prototype that clients shop around to their board of directors, potential business partners or investors to secure funding or bring them on the journey.
However it is not just about showing others, this stage of the prototyping process can also be key for making decisions around industrial design and casing/form materials. Working these out at the POC or visual prototype stage can help avoid costly changes down the track. Processes used here may include anything from foam or clay moulding through to CNC Machining, stereolithography or selective laser sintering 3D printing, dependent on the level of finished required and the materials used for the final product.
3. Working Prototypes
Working Prototypes and Production prototypes may sometimes be used interchangeably, but if designs are evolving, a working prototype is a full embodiment of the finished product that allows for a little flexibility. It should look and act as a completely finished product but may not be engineered for mass scale production.
Often working prototypes are used for marketing purposes such as trade shows and with consumer testing groups but the final product that gets manufactured ends up being a different colour or perhaps uses a slightly different casing material. Based on the feedback of these testing environments and other data sources, final adjustments are made before manufacture.
4. Production Prototypes
This is the prototype iteration that undergoes the manufacturing readiness testing. There are usually a number of different versions of a production or commercial prototype and they are all about testing the design and function as much as possible. Here you may have a final review of the design after initial focus group testing and make refinements.
There is also a stage for compliance testing and prototypes here may go through a short manufacturing run to check readiness for production at scale. If you have a product that requires specific certification in order to retail to your target market (medical devices for example), this is where that process takes place. Essentially production prototypes are your last opportunity to really stress test your design before you invest in materials, manufacturing and other supply chain and go-to-market costs.