A prototype is a model that designers use to determine the feasibility of a concept or device and to test the development of the device throughout the research and pre-production phases of the product development. The word is made up of two Greek words meaning roughly something like “first impression.” Prototypes are used in many ways, but are particularly helpful and necessary in electronics development and manufacturing. Electronics prototypes are often assembled manually, which is faster and cheaper than creating an actual stamped PCB board and can be more easily modified, but still allows for circuits to be properly assembled and tested.
A proof-of-concept or proof-of-principal prototype is a model that is close enough to the envisioned device to establish sufficient certainty that the idea has the potential to do what is intended, before pursuing the task in earnest. Issues that are identified can be remedied long before the more costly and complex research process begins. This can save time and money that could potentially be wasted if it turned out that the conceptual idea is either impossible or is too difficult to make it worth the time and effort.
Prototype Product Evolution
Demonstration prototypes are the next step in the product evolution. Once designers, engineers and investors are convinced that the product is feasible, the prototype serves as a demonstration tool to sell the idea to others. Usually that refers to investors and others with an interest in the feasibility of the concept. In some cases the prototype is required to file for a patent for the device. Demonstration prototypes are generally more advanced and closer to the fully operational device than the concept prototype, but still not fully functional or formed.
Once everyone is satisfied that the product is possible, the next stage of product development begins. In electronics, this often consists of the creation of software and control instructions. The research prototype serves as a test bed for the software and may undergo some hardware changes to ensure compatibility with the software algorithms. Depending on the device, a research prototype may be used to also help develop appearance and physical designs. Once the research is complete, the final product is built in the form of a functional prototype, which as closely as possible mimics the finished product.
Once the research necessary to build the device is complete, the final process is the commercial production phase. This is when the device is finally made into the fully functioning product that will be sold to consumers. The first iteration is called an alpha prototype. It will be as close to the intended final product as possible in both form and function and serves to identify any issues that interfere with production. Once complete it will be thoroughly tested and if necessary changes to either the device or production process will be made. The next iteration is the beta prototype, which reflects any changes that were made during the first iteration. Once complete the device is put through more grueling trials and testing. Once again, any identified issues are corrected and when complete the pre-production prototype emerges. This is the final prototype before large scale production begins.
Prototypes are an important part of the process of creating, building and manufacturing an electronic product. Without utilizing prototypes along the way, the process would suffer frequent setbacks that will consume funds needed for the project. The prototypes evolve as new information comes to light and grows along with the idea. Without a prototype, the only way to know if a device will do what is intended would be to manufacture it, which requires a much larger expenditure of time, effort and money, and the finished product may not work at all.
Prototypes are an essential tool in the development of any electronic device because they take a concept that exists only on paper and in theory and transforms it into something that is tangible and actually performs at least some aspect of the envisioned product. Prototypes are considered so important in the electronics manufacturing field that there are entire companies that specialize in constructing them for other designers, inventors and manufacturers.
LX is an award-winning electronics design company based in Sydney, Australia. LX services include full turnkey design, electronics, hardware, software and firmware design. LX specialises in embedded systems and wireless technologies design. www.lx-group.com.au
Published by LX Pty Ltd for itself and the LX Group of companies, including LX Design House, LX Solutions and LX Consulting, LX Innovations.