How to Build a Working Prototype
The working prototype is the dream of every designer. Many projects fail when you can’t agree on the requirements, make endless changes to the design, or simply can’t get the prototype to work. Here are a few tips on how to manufacture a working prototype.
Aim for a Minimally Viable Product What is a minimally viable product? A minimally viable product or MVP is a basic working version of the product. You’re building a working prototype that can be handed off to engineers to figure out how to build or marketing to get customers’ opinions. The MVP is the simplest possible version of your product, so it is the simplest version to build. On the flip side, adding complexity increase the number of things that can go wrong. It takes more time to finalize the design, get a working product, determine how to make it, and figure out how to test it.
Having a minimally viable product as the goal serves several purposes. First, it improves the odds you’ll actually get a working prototype. Second, it gives you something you’re going to get to market faster. This generates revenue for the organization while lowering costs. Third, you’ll get market feedback on what design changes you need to make for the next version if you decide to develop a new generation of the product. And in the case of charities, it allows you to help many more people.
Work with Manufacturing Engineers
A surprising number of designs don’t work once they’re built because someone doesn’t understand the engineering behind the design. They might design something with wires so close that the electromagnetic interference interferes with data lines in the circuit or put out so much electromagnetic radiation that it interferes with the customers’ wireless devices. Or they use exotic parts that are hard to acquire. They might be told that it isn’t feasible when a similar design with off-the-shelf parts would be doable. Designing a beautiful exterior or fancy control panel may be hard to replicate in real-world materials. That’s a common problem in everything from handheld devices to future landmark buildings.
Give Yourself Room to Grow
One variation of this advice is to give yourself space on the PCB to add additional memory or energy storage. Leave room on the housing for additional ports, if you need to add them later. Use memory chips, capacitors, and other parts with more capacity than the current design requirements call for so that you can use more of these resources if necessary. For example, if you use a memory chip with more memory capacity, you don’t have to replace the chip if your software update takes up more memory space than the OEM software. When the protective housing is an inch taller than the PCB and originally designed components, you have space for blue-wires or a new, taller replacement part, if it is necessary.
Work with Contract Manufacturers
Hire contract manufacturers to make the prototype. They’ll probably give you feedback on how to make it more manufacturable. Or you may learn how products like this are actually made. That information is essential to making it in-house. In some cases, you can even give them your rough parts list, and they give you a parts list with part numbers for major suppliers.