We all know how important prototyping is in any business. It is easy for anyone to make generalizations and blanket explanations of how prototypes work that “help” the common engineer. But what if we took it a step further and actually engaged the engineers themselves in their perspective fields and asked them why prototyping is so important? Engineers who use prototypes on a regular basis and have needs that can’t be covered by generalizations. Engineers that yearn for understanding, acceptance, and just a bit of respect. What if we allowed them to compile a list of things you can learn from a prototype? It’s a whole lot better than having some half-wit, Wikipedia-driven Tumblr expert with no engineering background or experience try to pinpoint what is actually needed in the field right now.
Well folks, that’s exactly what we did. We interviewed three engineers from three different engineering fields: mechanical, electrical, and industrial, and asked them about prototyping and what specifically gets them off or just plain pisses them off. From these interviews, we compiled our list. No, I mean, an actual legitimate list from legitimate working engineers. Thrilled yet? We thought you might be.
1) Prototypes test FIT AND FUNCTION.
Take, for example, a company like Case-Mate. Phone cases are made even before the new phone is released. A project engineer needs to know everything about a potential case, such as the comfort of the case in a person’s hand, how it covers and protects the phone, and how to package the phone case once it is ready to be shipped to stores. Without good quality prototypes, it would be impossible to produce a viable product. A project engineer at Case-Mate uses prototypes daily (yes, daily) to answer these questions. No one likes running blind, and prototypes help shed light on questions that have to be answered. Now.
2) Prototypes show ACTUAL WEAR AND TEAR.
If time permits, prototypes have the ability to show how the finished product will withstand the test of time. This is why it is so important to have the prototype produced from the actual materials used to make the finished product. An EE developing cores for thermal imagers needs to know that a casing prototype works with the electronic equipment. Does it stand up to extreme environments like the ones firefighters face every day? If it doesn’t, firefighters can’t find victims through the smoke in a burning building. This means people die. That’s right, engineers are freaking HEROES. And these engineers deserve prototypes that can be put through the ringer and still come out in one, preferably working, piece. Run it over, throw it against the wall, or shoot it with a bazooka. Is it still working afterwards?
3) Prototypes test if the design is AFFORDABLE.
What is the point of having the most epic design in the history of epic designs if the cost of production makes it impossible to produce? No one wants to pay $350 for a phone case (unless that phone case also makes you breakfast in the morning. Bacon. We like bacon.) If a prototype can be produced that is cost effective for the company without sacrificing quality, then chances are that the finished product will sell as long as there is a market interest. And that company will make a nice little profit in the process.
4) Prototypes raise CONSUMER INTEREST.
Conventions and design conferences are great ways to get your product out there, but carting around a CAD drawing does little for investors and consumers who need tangible examples of the product on which they wish to spend their money. That’s like ordering a pizza and having the empty box delivered to your door. Prototypes need to emulate every aspect of the actual product within the specified tolerances. Suppliers are key here because you want someone who will create the very best prototype for the occasion. Visiting suppliers before utilizing their services helps weed out those that are sloppy and those that are superior, just like sampling pizza parlors. Mmmm, knowledge.
5) Prototypes INSPIRE FUTURE IDEAS.
Industrial designers love prototypes because they help flush out mistakes in current designs and pave the way for new designs. Prototypes have the ability to show how today’s “big thing” is actually not that big and can be improved upon. Even though a designer may not know exactly how to improve a rendering by looking at the CAD drawing, a prototype may be able to show improvements clearly and even inspire the designer to try something new that he or she would not have known was possible without seeing the physical prototype.
And since prototype is usually another word for the phrase, “I need it yesterday!” Quickparts is a great resource for engineers who are constantly under a time crunch. Simply create an account online, submit your 3D design, get a quote, and have it printed. Fast. Each customer is assigned a project manager to ensure production goes smoothly, so you never lose that personal touch.