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How does a new product go through the prototyping process?


Prototype Design
Once you have a prototype designed, wouldn't it be great if you could print it out as easily as the driving directions for your next vacation. With 3-D printers, that's totally a possibility. Plug in the CAD data and you're good to go.
Once you have a prototype designed, wouldn't it be great if you could print it out as easily as the driving directions for your next vacation. With 3-D printers, that's totally a possibility. Plug in the CAD data and you're good to go.
Photo Courtesy of 3-D Systems

After you've got the basic questions answered and you've worked out all the obvious kinks, serious prototyping can begin in earnest. Designing prototypes that are more advanced usually involves using 3-D CAD (computer-aided design) software to create a 3-D map of the product. If you're looking to bring a product into actual production, using CAD software is probably the way you want to go so you can carefully verify the functionality of your design. It's also a useful way for transferring product specs clearly and concisely to whomever is conducting the actual manufacturing.

With CAD software you can do lots of different things. Designs can be made in both 2-D and 3-D, and while viewing and tweaking your design specifications you can easily switch between the two views. Does your product have lots of parts? Each part can be designed individually and added to the overall product assembly one at a time. Every time you make an adjustment to any particular part of your product, not only will it alter the other dimension's specs accordingly, it'll also automatically integrate that change into the overall prototype design. Realistic images can be detailed with captions, close-ups and side views. You can try the look of different materials like chrome, steel or wood in matte finish, gloss finish, textured or brushed -- the sky's the limit. Many other actions that are commonly performed while designing a product are also automated in the software's extensive features. Useful too, CAD software commonly allows designers to see all the parts in motion, simulating how they will operate -- or fail to operate -- when built and assembled.

Once a set of 3-D CAD plans are complete, the next step in the prototyping process frequently involves making use of some special technology that's becoming increasingly popular among innovators, both for its speed and its accuracy. On the next page, we'll take a closer look at these machines and see how they could affect a product's pass through the prototyping process.