Prototyping is the critical step between initial design and mass production. Skipping prototyping is always a mistake since you risk launching a product that doesn’t work or fails to meet customer expectations. Delays in prototyping can delay the release of your product, and poor quality prototypes may lead to incorrect design decisions. On the other hand, choosing the right prototyping service and making other good decisions during this process can save your company time and money during this critical step. Here are eight questions you should ask when prototyping a product.
How have Previous Solutions Fallen Short of Market Expectations?
It is far less painful to learn from another’s mistakes than to make them yourself. So, before you start, you have to do an honest assessment of the solutions to the problem you’re trying to solve and try to determine why they failed. Were their products too expensive for their customers? Was it too difficult to use? Understand why they fell short of market expectations so that you don’t make the same mistake.
You’ll also notice that it’s rarely because the product was delivered ahead of schedule. For example, the answer might be that the devices they offered were too slow or inconvenient for the modern consumer. Read customer reviews before you make assumptions about your product being better. What would keep them from buying the product, and what makes them regret the purchase they made? These are all questions that will allow you to refine your product, and give your clients exactly what they need.
What are Customer’s Behavior Patterns?
A good rule of thumb is to always make your product fit the customer’s current habits. If you change how they do things, there better be a very good reason. For example, people will use more expensive disposable straws before they buy a reusable straw that has to be purchased and then sterilized.
Understand how your target audience uses current products to solve their problems. A product that’s too different will be disregarded in favor of the familiar. This is why successful wearable devices tend to be more similar to watches.
Understand the ergonomics of your target user base, and ensure that your products literally fit them. If the item is too large, heavy or hard to use, they won’t use it. This knowledge can prevent you from adding features that get in the way of the product’s core purpose, too.
What is your Turnaround Time?
Once you’ve finalized your initial design, it is time to find a prototyping service to make the first prototype. Understand that prototypes are intended to be rough, disposable, initial versions of the product. It won’t be perfect the first time, and you’ll probably need several iterations to get a good final design to hand off to production. This means you’ll want to get each prototype back as soon as possible for user feedback and product testing. You’ll also find that the best prototyping services balance speed with quality of work.
What Services do You Offer that can Improve the Prototyping Service?
You can find a variety of CNC services online, and they all have a different scope of service. Some will allow you to send them your design files, and the online CNC machining service will make it in their shop and ship you a prototype. That allows startups and small businesses to quickly get a working prototype, assuming the design is viable.
However, there are CNC prototyping services that will go the extra mile and give you invaluable advice on improving the design. For example, prototype machining company Rapid Direct has a blog where they discuss design for manufacturability or DfM. They touch on recent tools that have come out online that allow you to upload a CAD file and grade the manufacturability of a part. You could use this information to make changes to the design to make it cheaper and easier to manufacture before you ask them to make it for you.
How do we Communicate Design changes?
Some prototyping manufacturing services require you to place a brand new order and pay full price yet again if you ask for a modified version of the original prototype. Other companies allow you to make modest changes to the design and order a few more. You want a team that will be as flexible as possible and will leave you some space for some alterations.
On the other hand, you also need a process for receiving feedback regarding their proposed changes to the design during their manufacturing process. You want to know when they’re having problems 3D printing or injection molding the product. You can’t maintain your schedule if you don’t know about delays until it is too late. You should also know what the process is if you want to order an additional three prototypes for testing.
Do you use Non-Disclosure Agreements?
You don’t want to hand your design to a prototyping service that won’t respect your intellectual property rights. You also can’t afford for one of their employees to discuss your product development with other companies that might steal the idea. Ensure that they have a non-disclosure agreement they use and enforce so that your prototype is protected. This is crucial if you hope to get a patent for the product.
How Much Do You Charge for the Manufacturing of the Prototype?
Cost is a factor in the selection of a prototyping service, but it is far from the most important one. For example, it is worth paying more for a service that can not only make it according to your plans but gives advice on how to make it faster and cheaper. You also can’t afford a cheap prototyping service that takes weeks to send you a working unit.
You should ask about the materials that are available as well. Some companies offer low prices because they’ll only make the prototype out of cheaper materials. This could result in an inferior prototype. Then you waste money on a prototype that falls apart in the user’s hands or fails during performance testing even though one made of the same material as the production version would survive.
A good company will be able to give you advice on which materials would be the best, and which ones could cause trouble. Some pieces might absolutely need to be made out of metal, and in some cases, polymers and plastic might work. So, make sure that you work with a team that will be ready to give you some suggestions, and look at the suggestions with your development team.
What other Services do You Offer?
3D printing is commonplace. CNC machining is commonly available, as well. Sheet metal fabrication isn’t as common. The best prototyping services offer all three so that they can make every piece of your prototype in house. This simplifies the manufacturing process and typically speeds it up. It also helps protect the intellectual property itself since the prototyping service will not have to share your design information with third parties in order to manufacture the item.
Take the time to ask questions during the design and prototyping process. Rushing through this critical phase can cost you dearly later.