So what is it about prototypes that make them so critical to product development? Since prototypes are by definition the first of their kind, they are used in product design for testing, testing and more testing. Let's take a minute to find out how testing a prototype generally works and the benefits of taking the time to do this.
The biggest benefit is probably to the bottom line. Prototypes can be tested for aspects like design flaws and ease of use, two things that are critical if your product is going to be a success. You need to make sure everything works the way it should -- and that your customers can figure out how to make it work, too.
One of the reasons for this is that time is a huge factor in product development. One designer's great idea could also be cooking in the head of a competitor the very same moment. Having the first product to hit the market has a number of benefits -- as long as it's a good product. Consumers will pay more for it, they'll develop stronger brand loyalties for it and you'll make a lot more money. This is another way rapid prototyping can be a huge boost: the time it saves in the prototyping process can really jumpstart your product development timeline.
One other thing to keep in mind about prototypes is that they can also be useful if you want to start pitching your idea to investors, upper level management and other interested parties before you have a finished product. Having an actual functioning prototype in hand can be a lot more persuasive than something on a piece of paper.
Safety testing is important as well. You want to make sure the product isn't inherently dangerous or dangerous if misused. If there is any risk associated with the product, you must determine how high the odds are and how serious the outcome would be. Can the risk be avoided or diminished? What warnings will you need to label the product with? Do the warnings and instructions need to be accessible to users of various skill levels and languages? This is all information you can learn by studying your prototype, your business plan and the market. Before your product heads for the assembly line, it's crucial to know everything is going to go off without a hitch. If you are in the United States, it's important to visit the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission Web site for any applicable guidelines and regulations. If you're not in the United States, don't worry -- you probably have something similar where you live that shouldn't be too hard to find.
Once the prototype has proven itself, it's off to the assembly line for production. Check out the next page for lots more links -- like ones to helpful pages about legally protecting your new product.
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More Great Links
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- "Definition of: 3-D printing." PC Magazine. (8/26/2008) http://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia_term/0,2542,t=3-D+printing&i=37077,00.asp
- "Definition of: rapid prototyping." PC Magazine. (8/26/2008) http://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia_term/0,2542,t=rapid+prototyping&i=50188,00.asp
- "Developing a Prototype." Prototype Zone. (8/27/2008) http://www.prototypezone.com/prototype/developing-a-prototype
- "Manufacturer's Guide to Developing Consumer Product Instructions." United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. 10/2003. (8/28/2008). http://www.cpsc.gov/LIBRARY/FOIA/FOIA04/os/guide.pdf
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- "Rapid Prototyping Glossary." SunMan Engineering, Inc. (8/27/2008) http://www.sunmantechnology.com/resources_gls_rpg.html
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- Spaeder, Karen. "Beyond the Big Idea." Entrepreneur Magazine. 10/2004. (8/27/2008) http://www.entrepreneur.com/magazine/entrepreneur/2004/october/72624.html
- "The Product Development Process in Engineering Design." Synthesis Engineering Services. (8/27/2008) http://www.synthx.com/articles/product-development.html
- University of Louisville Rapid Prototyping Center. (8/27/2008 http://louisville.edu/speed/rpc/index.htm
- Wholer, Terry and Gornet, Tim. "Viewpoint: History of Additive Fabrication (Part 1)." Time-Compression Technologies. March/April 2008. (8/26/2008) http://wohlersassociates.com/MarApr08TCT.htm
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- "Worldwide Guide to Rapid Prototyping." Castle Island. (8/26/2008) http://home.att.net/~castleisland/home.htm