How to Use Rapid Prototyping to Your Advantage

Introduction

Prototypes are similar to first drafts on a fully functional, full-scale version of a product design. Rapidly assembled prototypes can resolve many problems inherent in the usual product development cycle and result in numerous benefits for your organization.

What is the Rapid Prototype Process?

A prototype is akin to a first pass or first attempt at the finished product. The prototype design will have the essential configurations and details necessary to test the design concept.

Rapid prototyping (RP) involves the accelerated fabrication of a computer-aided drafting (CAD) assembly or model. 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is typically used to finish the rapidly-fabricated prototype. RP uses manufacturing methods such as casting, high-speed machining and extruding. Experts from Adobe XD mention that, “Rapid prototyping is an iterative approach to user interface design that includes prototyping, reviewing, and refinement stages.”

Benefits of Prototyping

RP offers several benefits over the traditional ways of incorporating prototypes into the product development cycle.

Cementing Accurate Requirements: Subpar requirements can lead to negative impacts such as rework and rising project costs. Focus groups and interviews can fail as requirement gathering methods because people have trouble conceptualizing a product design before seeing some practical version of it. A rapidly fabricated prototype can help your team gather accurate requirements and test product functionality much faster.

Improved Technical Understanding: Through RP, you can quickly take note of and address known and unknown technical difficulties that will become part of the development process. Your team can then develop solutions to these issues well before working on the final version of the product.

Risking Failure Early: RP allows your team to address failure early in the product design cycle and work on approaches that contribute to the product’s completion.

Lowering Investment Risk: A quick prototype can show the functionality of a product to prospective investors. A RP design can lower the risk that investors usually face when funding works-in-progress.

Smoother Patent Filing: The “first to invent rule” is used by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to grant patents to the first inventors of newly conceived and created inventions. While following this rule is no longer required, it is still a sure-fire way to prove the concept embodied by the new invention.

Faster Benchmarking and Conflict Resolution: Your team’s engineers may not always agree on what features should be used in the final product. RP can alleviate these differences of opinion quickly through the creation of different iterations of the prototype’s features. You can then benchmark how the features perform and assess the relative pros and cons of each one. Using RP in this way can resolve conflicts faster and help your design team make the proper development decisions.

Advice for Prototype Testing

There are quite a few tips to keep in mind when it comes to RP testing.

Purpose for Testing: You should specify a key goal or key goals for testing the prototype.

Testing Often: RP allows your team to test designs faster and more frequently than traditional prototyping methods. This leads to much less rework and faster corrections of errors with finished products.

Test Moderator: Testing moderators can help to keep the testing session on track. This frees up the recorder to take detailed notes and make observations on how the test participants interact with the prototype.

Open-Mindedness and Neutrality: It is a good idea to clarify any issues with the prototype that are identified by the test participants. You should maintain neutrality during the prototyping and testing phases to discover ways to optimize the final product design.

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