Do You Need One for Your Invention?

Set SailMost inventors assume that they need a prototype before they can set sail with their new invention. The right kind of prototype can be helpful, the wrong kind can be a waste of money and, sometimes, no prototype is needed.

There are several kinds of prototypes and they serve different purposes:

  • Proof-of-Concept or Engineering Prototype
    (cost depends on how much is unproven)
    This is intended to prove that your idea works. It doesn't need to look good, it just has to work. Several may be needed to test different aspects of your product.
  • Non-Working Model
    (least expensive - usually made by a model shop)
    This doesn't really function, but it shows what your product will look like. It can also be used to check sizes & fits. Model shops can usually quote a fixed price on such a prototype if you can define the work by giving them a rough, homemade model or drawings to work from.
  • Working Model or Pre-Production Prototype
    (moderately expensive - needs engineering expertise)
    This kind must look good and work. It combines what was learned from the Proof-of-Concept prototypes and the Non-Working Models. It proves that the entire assembly works together and tests the appeal of the product. Usually one or two of these is made and "debugged," then a limited quantity is produced and used for test marketing. A lot of design refinement takes place at this stage and several versions are necessary.
  • Production Prototype
    (very expensive - needs expert knowledge of manufacturing processes)
    This type simulates the exact way the pieces will be made by the selected manufacturing processes. It is used for predicting and eliminating manufacturing problems before investing in expensive production tooling. Several versions are also often made since manufacturing problems can be very costly - especially if your project is a success. Also, these can be used for additional consumer testing and to investigate regulatory approvals.

Sometimes you can combine functions and make one prototype do the job of several. You may not need a prototype at all. It depends on your goals. If you just want to license your idea to a manufacturer, it depends on the industry you are approaching with your product and how much convincing you need to do. Some industries - like the toy industry - are very receptive to outside ideas and may just need a working model. Others want complete proof that your product is viable and may not even consider it unless you are already in production.

If you need to produce the product yourself, you must have a rough idea of your production volume and pattern so you will know how much to refine your production prototype - too much and you waste money on design - not enough and you waste money in production.

You will need the help of an expert to determine the kind of prototype you need. and how refined it must be. Prototyping is a very complex subject. At this point, you mainly just need to know that saying you want a prototype is like saying "I need transportation" - a car?, a bike?, maybe you could take the bus. Land, air or sea? How many people? How far do you want to go and in what style? If you're going somewhere that you've never been, you probably need a travel consultant to help your plan your trip.

lifeboatHave an expert help you pick the right kind of prototype to get you where you want to go. Otherwise, you could wind up trying to cross the ocean with a rowboat instead of a sailing ship.

O'CTS Home

Ron O'Connor, P.E.

[< Prev]bullet[Next >]

Broker Scams
Real Help
Technical Help
Financial Help
Real Life
What Next?


[O'CTS Home]

site design & maintenance by The SiteCafe

Copyright © 1998 O'Connor Technical Systems