Prototype Development

Written by Nicholas Kamuda
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Prototype development and production is the main avenue that industrial designers and engineers use to illustrate their ideas for new products. A prototype for a new product may consist of everything from a drawing or sketch to a functioning object that is no different from the finished product. Commonly, industrial designers may go through hundreds of stages of prototype development before they emerge with a finalized design for a new product.

Concept sketches are the most straightforward way to illustrate an idea. They can be performed very quickly, and with very few tools and investment. Recently, photo-realistic computer rendering has emerged as the high-tech counterpart to paper sketches, allowing designers to be more exact in their representations and change small aspects of a product without spending hours redrafting a technical drawing.

The next level of prototype development usually includes block models and virtual models. Block models are simple sculptures that communicate the dimensions and overall form of a new product. They may also be finished to produce accurate visual representations of an object, complete with colors, textures, and any applicable graphics. Virtual models are the computerized version of block models--with the added ability to be animated, giving viewers a glimpse of the product in motion.

The Final Stages of Prototype Development

From virtual models, designers can use rapid prototyping techniques such as stereolithography (SLA) to produce physical models made to the same specifications as the final product. Some RP models may include hinges, joints, and other moving parts that simulate the final product as well. The last stage in prototype development, that of delivering a fully-functional, life-size version of the product, generally directly precedes actual production, and may be used as a test for manufacturing purposes.

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