We’re all familiar with the concept of the prototype…or are we? There are prototypes and then there are prototypes. Misunderstood and often ignored, industrial prototypes are essential for any start-up with big ambitions.
During the POC or Proof of concept phase you will have validated your concept, how your product will be used and its market. A prototype – or, rather, prototypes – will enable you to develop something that is close to your final product in terms of its design, how it will be used, the technology, etc. But prototyping goes further than that.
Technical specifications: a key stage for moving from POC to prototype
The market research you carried out during the POC (Proof Of Concept), phase will have helped you to develop an understanding of client needs. What you now have to do is to translate these needs and apply them to your product through a functional analysis. One method of doing this is the horned beast method. This involves taking the critical needs expressed within your market and pairing each of them up with a function, resulting in a product comprised of just its main functions.
Once you have this product you can outline your conclusions and your needs in a functional specification. This will contain a detailed description of all of the characteristics of the future product, as well as needs, features and constraints the product will be subject to (size, temperature, environment, etc.). This allows you to prepare for the design phase while thinking ahead to production.
Thinking product AND process
Developing prototypes is an important part of your project. The aim of prototypes is twofold: to validate the features of the product (design choices) and to develop the production process. This stage is iterative: the design of a product will often have to be changed depending on the production equipment available. At the same time, you may have to develop specialist tools or equipment in order to conform to design requirements.
In any case, there are choices to be made and risks to be assessed. This phase is crucial for your project, and should not be overlooked. It will help you to tackle subsequent stages, including pre-production, with confidence.
Packaged up and ready to go
As we have seen, there are two benefits to producing prototypes. Let’s now take a look at the validation of features.
You will previously have looked into all of the different possibilities and selected those that best meet the needs of your market. Your market may have expressed a desire for a product that is capable of withstanding falls or being submerged in water for more than 30 minutes. Let’s use this second one as an example. You will start by taking the prototype that is closest to your final product and testing how hard-wearing it is, identifying any possible improvements or validating its ability to withstand being submerged. If any changes need to be made, then you will repeat and improve or modify any defective components. For this example, you will only be able to conclude the test phase once you have validated that your prototype is watertight.
Although often forgotten about or dismissed, testing is essential. You will find it all stages (Proof Of Concept, Prototyping, Pre-production, Production). Making sure your product is reliable will prevent you from investing in a defective product, or having to retrace your steps just a few weeks before launching your product.