How to Create a Product Prototype

Katie Fleming

Katie Fleming

Co-founder and COO of Owner Actions

A person uses a 3D printer and creates a product prototype before starting large-scale production.

Producing a product? It’s a great idea to start with a prototype. This will help you experience it and understand where improvements need to be made. In this article, we’ll guide you through the prototyping process and share resources that can help you get started.

 

What is a product prototype?

A product prototype is a sample of the product you intend to make. You might work with a small-scale manufacturer or 3D print house to create this sample. When it's finished, you'll see how components will look, work together, and accomplish an intended goal.

 

Should I create a product prototype?

Even the simplest products can benefit from this process. Here's why.

Ideas must move past visualization and into reality. Prototyping can help you bring your ideas to life. It gives you something to hold and experience in person. Quite often, this step will help you appreciate your design all the more. It can also help you spot errors and give you ideas for improvement. You can also affirm that certain choices were the right calls for the product. And with complex products, it can be very helpful to see your design in action and understand how the pieces come together.

Like many creators, you could produce multiple prototypes of your idea and sample it at various stages in its development. Doing so can help you confirm your proof of concept and see where you should pivot your design.

 

How do I get started?

First, you’ll find a manufacturer who specializes in prototyping. Specifically, look for one with these capabilities:

  • In-house design
  • Advanced computer design tools
  • In-house 3D printing
  • Experience with prototyping products similar to the ones you plan to create

 

Check out this guide to learn more about choosing a manufacturer:

Not all prototyping firms are large-scale manufacturers. The ones that are can offer a big advantage. Once your prototype is in final form, many can queue it up for immediate production.

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Need help finding a prototyping firm? Check out these options:

 

What are the next steps?

After choosing a firm or design team, you’ll provide them with your concept. Most will translate your idea into a 2D computer rendering you can adjust to explore other sizes, shapes, materials, or features.

You’ll spend time working through the mockups. Then, you’ll settle on a design for your first prototype. The prototyping firm will create a 3D computer model—along with final design specs—and print it for you to experience.

You and the prototyping firm might work through several iterations of design before moving forward with manufacturing.

If large-scale manufacturing isn’t one of the firm’s competencies, find out if they can help you find the right firm for the task. Lean on their expertise but be sure to research and ask questions about a manufacturer’s quality, reliability, pricing, and standards to ensure you make a smart decision.

As we hinted, one manufacturer may not be enough. Depending on your product, you may find that you need to work with firms that prepare a raw material, build components, or take on the final assembly piece. Be sure to think through the logistics of working with multiple factories, including how you'll transport components across locations. You might need to weigh this complexity against the benefits of working with a single manufacturer.

 

What’s next?

There are many more steps to producing a product. Log into your owner’s portal for more articles and step-by-step guides to help you get started.

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