Getting Invention Prototypes Right
Successful inventions are born from solid prototypes.
The inventing process can be long and arduous, but the creation of your prototype is perhaps the most important step. It's also one of the most exciting and fun.
What Is A Prototype
An invention prototype is a three- or four-dimensional version of the vision you defined as your invention idea.
This model of your invention is a proof of concept designed and made to replicate how your invention will look and how it will work.
Making an early version of your final design is the best way to utilize the same creativity that spawned the first thought of your invention. But you make a prototype for several reasons and there are a number of benefits to creating yours.
Before jumping in, one note: Keep in mind that you should plan on making more than one prototype. Your first may be a "mini" or a "trial" - something to use as a foundation for subsequent iterations. It's kind of like your rough draft and you have the ability to evaluate and improve it.
Advantages Of Building Prototypes
Once you've solidified your idea into something executable, the prototyping process can begin.
There are two main types of prototypes, both of which represent different stages in the process.
Initial prototypes made from household materials are known as 'presentation' prototypes, and prototypes manufactured with roughly the same techniques as the final production line are known as 'pre-production' prototypes.
The latter is useful for those who plan to personally manufacture their product as opposed to licensing it to an existing company.
Whatever the type of invention you've created, the advantages of producing prototypes are undeniable. We've outlined a few of those benefits below:
These are just a few examples of the overwhelming benefits that arise from producing an introductory version of your design.
Prototype Development Process
Now that you know the critical nature of prototyping, you might be wondering where to start.
The beauty of the initial production stage is that it really allows the creativity to flow.
There is no real right or wrong way to create prototypes, as long as you develop your idea into something tangible.
A representation of what you hope to accomplish as a final product might take several iterations before it is complete, but those steps are where the most vital learning occurs.
There are no basic rules for producing new designs. Simply think about and seek out your building materials, which can be anything you might find around the home.
Don't expect to get it right the first time around. You'll probably have to experiment with the design in order to make it perform the way you imagine. There are products you can purchase that provide moldable plastics for pliable designing.
Your product might be manufactured from a wide range of materials, so it's important to remember that some materials might need to be substituted for others.
You might find that a material you haven't even considered is the ideal substance for your application.
Constantly question your own decisions, not as a way of second-guessing yourself, but to be sure you're considering the full gamut of your options.
The freedom to explore different designs and materials might lead you to the creation of something beyond what you originally envisioned.
Can You Make A Cheap Prototype?
The development of a tangible version of your product can be done at home if you choose not to find a service that specializes in developing prototypes.
Many inventors attempt to create a simple version of their product at home before searching for more serious manufacturing techniques. The rewarding feeling of parlaying a basic thought or idea into a functional product is what many inventors strive to achieve.
This doesn't mean it's a "cheap" way to make a prototype. Cheap is subjective.
The truth is, your initial "cheap" DIY prototype could be all you need. On the other side of the spectrum, it could lead you to the realization you need to hire a firm to help (usually not that cheap, but worth it in the long run).
How Big Should The Prototype Be?
Given optimal conditions, your goal would be to have the prototype be a replica of the actual invention in as many ways as possible. This holds true for the size of your prototype - if possible, shoot for actual size.
Realistically this isn't always feasible. Your invention may be something very small, perhaps microchip size. In that case, you'd want the prototype to be larger so you can show in a very detailed, explainable and demonstrable fashion how the various mechanisms work.
At the other end of the spectrum, your invention could be some sort of aircraft, in which case you may leverage a smaller prototype to save on investment and to have something transportable that you can use as a selling tool.
The Final Mile: Next Steps In Prototyping
At a certain point in your development process, you might reach that wall that can't be overcome with amateur level production techniques.
When you reach that wall, it's time to bring in the professionals.
Prototyping businesses, engineers, machinists, and any number of industrial professionals can assist in furthering your design, depending on the style of product you've created.
Your budget, along with your product's complexity, will affect the degree of service you're able to employ, but creating a pre-production design promotes the possibility of successfully marketing or licensing your product. Be sure to have any professionals that view your plans sign a non-disclosure agreement to prevent intellectual property theft.
If you're not sure what you want to learn about next, check out our articles page for information about the invention process.