New product development is a rigorous process but, this thorough procedure is crucial to successfully launch your new product to the market. Creating a product prototype is one of the most rewarding phases of this journey. It allows you to see your idea in real life for the first time, enabling you to begin testing it within your target market.
Your investment in prototype testing will have a major impact on your entry into the market with your final design, failure to test and refine could result in your business missing the mark. Therefore, it’s important to be careful and considered throughout this exciting stage. Take your time and utilise the expertise available to you to perfect your product.
In this article, we’ll be taking you through the necessary process and highlighting the importance of commissioning the right engineering company to build your prototype.
Why do you need a product prototype?
A prototype is an early sample, model or release of a product created to test a concept or process.
Typically, prototypes are created to evaluate a new design; whether you be an architect, engineer, industrial designer or service designer, an initial prototype is developed to test ideas before the investment in mass production is made. Instead of going through the development process with a supposed solution, a prototype allows a designer to validate their concepts by putting an early version in front of real users and collecting feedback as quickly as possible. This will significantly influence the final solution – note, a product prototype will often fail the first test and it’s off “back to the drawing board” to repeat the process.
Prototypes, therefore, are lifesavers. You can avoid wasting energy, time and money on weak or inappropriate solutions. Furthermore, prototyping is a small investment, meaning its low risk should you have to start the design process again. So, how do you go about creating a prototype?
The step-by-step guide to creating a prototype for new product development…
There are a range of different steps that together make up the prototype testing stage of new product development. One key component often overlooked, is selecting the right company to assist with the manufacturing of these prototypes. It’s crucial you develop a strong, trusting relationship as you pass over the details of your vision.
At Epal, we’ve put together this handy guide to assist you with the design process, from the initial sketching to final product production.
#1 Put someone in charge and consults the experts
If not you, assign a member of your team with strong project management skills to coordinate the product development and delivery process. Without this defined leadership role, you may miss deadlines or critical details could be lost in communication. The product development manager should maintain a practical, informative schedule that holds the details of all steps involved in developing your product prototype and conducting your market testing.
Product development specialists can streamline the process considerably – approach an engineering company with experience delivering prototypes as they’ll be able to assist you with the design process from the offset. Immediately, you’ll be able to eliminate the risk of costly mistakes and improve the likelihood of your prototype meeting your expectations.
#2 Commission a prototype of your product
As we’ve already discussed, building a prototype helps you establish whether or not your idea will successfully function. You can evaluate the effectiveness of your design and identify any defects before it’s too late! Because prototypes are only used for tasks like testing and demonstrating, they are rarely needed in large numbers. In fact, most prototypes are built in volumes of no more than 100 units, and many are simply one-off items.
Therefore, a prototyping company does not necessarily need a factory capable of mass production. Instead, they’ll tend to offer a wide range of manufacturing processes such as CNC machining and surface finishing procedures with a focus on building small batches with a short turnaround time whilst maintaining high quality. That being said, many companies do offer both prototyping services and production services.
At Epal Engineering, we carry out both prototyping and short-run production at our base in West Sussex, giving customers the flexibility to move from concept to initial production smoothly. We don’t expect you to order a million units, instead, our concentration is on improving your design, providing you with tips to eliminate unnecessary expenses and offering you a pathway to final production.
#3 Test your prototype and run focus groups
The exciting part! You’ve received your first product prototype and it’s time to put it to the test. Ensure you invest time testing the design in the situations it’s required in – identify the characteristics that are most important to your customers and test those attributes repeatedly to avoid any avoidable major obstacles.
You’ll want to gain feedback from your customers to gauge their response to your product. Not only will this assist you with the continued development of your product before taking it to mass production levels, but it will also help you begin to formulate an effective marketing strategy – the two going hand in hand throughout this development process.
#4 Make improvements and refine
Based on feedback received, you will likely need to make improvements and refine your offering. Fully utilising this opportunity will increase your product’s chance of success in the long term. Once you’ve made these amendments, you’ll need to retest in both general and specific situations to ensure you are meeting your customer’s expectations. For example, you may consider taking your product to an industry show to speak to market experts and understand your position.
Finding a reliable prototyping company
You’ll want to work with an experienced prototyping company. From the initial design drawings to the final product, it’s vital they have the expertise to streamline the crucial development process. Look out for these three key characteristics:
Quality control: This means more than just looking over your prototype before shipping it. Proper quality control should be backed by documentation and certification, ensuring that your prototypes have been made in the proper manner from the right materials.
Speed: The fact of the matter is that all product designers need to work quickly, and getting prototypes delivered fast can be critical for gaining an edge in the market. If your prototyping company fails to meet deadlines, look elsewhere.
Customer service: More than just being polite over the phone, good customer service means adapting to new and unusual requests, giving helpful insight and generally going the extra mile to make your prototype a success. Don’t settle for less.
NOTE: Ensure any manufacturer you work with signs a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to ensure your design is protected from being shared or sold to unknown parties.
How do you order a prototype?
If you have not previously ordered a prototype, you may not fully understand the level of communication and collaboration required between you and the prototyping company of your choosing. Of course, the more detail you can provide from the offset, the less back and forth there will be.
Companies that make prototypes may provide feedback on your design, suggesting ways that it can be changed in order to make it easier to build, and they may need further information from you about what you require, perhaps in the form of a technical drawing – an annotated diagram of the part. So remember to follow the specific design guidelines associated with your chosen manufacturing method, for instance, a CNC machined prototype needs to be built very differently from a 3D printed one.
Once the design and legal matters are finalised, the company will provide you with probable lead times. Whilst not a standard requirement, at Epal Engineering we also provide you with updates throughout the process to ensure you stay in the loop with this exciting stage of new product development.
Remember, working with a prototyping company will provide you with a better prototype that will ultimately serve as a more faithful surrogate of your final design. Plus, they look and feel better, making them more appealing to customers and potential investors.
Working with Epal Engineering
It’s clear to see the importance of prototyping; investing in a professionally manufactured prototype may be an additional expense you’d rather avoid, but its value should certainly not be overlooked. A properly produced prototype will allow you to identify any potential flaws before the product is rolled out en masse – a costly mistake that’s difficult to immediately rectify and may damage your brand’s reputation in the long term too. Ready to work with an engineering firm to create a successful product prototype? Contact the Epal team today by either emailing us at email@example.com or calling us directly on 1903 744352. We’ll be more than happy to discuss your individual requirements and how we can assist you through every step of the process.