Prototypes: The Various ‘Hows’ & ‘Whys’

In the modern age we live in, the term “prototype” now has such a broad and varied scope.  By definition it is a first, typical or preliminary model of something, especially a machine, from which other forms are developed or copied.  However, the ways in which a prototype can be created, and the various mediums, techniques and materials that can be used are almost limitless. 

Here at INPEX, we have seen a recent shift in product development and prototyping. Specifically, inventors and intellectual property owners are relying heavily on the use of both virtual prototyping using CAD models, rapid prototyping machines and 3D printers.


What do CAD Models do?

  • Make 2-D drawings for a provisional patent application
  • Generate a photo realistic rendering
  • Create an animation of your product to demonstrate how it works or to use it in a video
  • Generate the files needed to make prototype parts

What are the benefits of 3D printing?

  • 3D printers speed development along because a concept can be printed the same day it is designed.
  • They help to save money as they serve as a substitute to costly injection molds or typical manufacturing tooling costs.
  • 3D printing allows users to verify the design or detect design flaws and then make any necessary changes quickly and easily.

Why create a prototype at all?

Clear Communication: It can be difficult to simply describe your product verbally, and without a visual, it can result in a complete misinterpretation. While even a conceptual picture of the product is better than the description, a tangible product, in hand, clears all lines of communication. There is no ambiguity when holding a physical representation of the product.

Feedback: A prototype allows you to test the market, especially when unveiling it at a tradeshow, showing it to potential buyers or investors, or raising capital by pre-selling on Indiegogo or Kickstarter. Getting buyers’ responses to the product before it actually goes into production is a valuable way to verify the product has market potential.

Get the Feel: One thing that a picture or virtual prototype lacks is the way something feels in your hand. If you want to ensure the ergonomics and fit of a product are just right, you must actually hold it and test it.

Personalization: With standard mass-production, all parts come off the assembly line or out of the mold exactly the same as the parts before it. With 3D printing, individuals can personalize, customize and tweak a part to uniquely fit their needs, which allows for custom fits in the medical and dental industries and helps set people apart in the fashion and jewelry world.

Builds Your Imagination: With recent technology advancements in the fields of digital art and design, the possibilities are not only accelerating, but they are limitless. It is possible to 3D print almost anything. In a relatively short time, an idea, concept, dream or invention can go from a simple thought to a tangible product in hand.

Square Holes?… No Problem: The limitations of standard machining have restricted product design capabilities for years. With the improvements in additive manufacturing, now the possibilities are endless. Geometry that has been historically difficult or impossible to manufacture; like holes that change direction, unrealistic overhangs, or square interior cavities, is now possible and actually simple to construct.

Fail Fast, Fail Cheap: The ability to test ideas quickly and discover what doesn’t work accelerates discovery and can introduce inventors to a better solution in less time. 3D printing allows a product developer to make breakthroughs at early stages, which can lead to better products and less expensive dead-ends.

When facing these diverse and modern techniques, it can be easy to lose sight of what kind of prototype you will need for your specific idea, or why you are even creating one to begin with. Almost every product has gone through extensive research and numerous trials before finding its way on to store shelves, including multiple generations of prototypes in various materials.

Therefore, just as important as the ‘hows’ of creating a prototype are the ‘whys’ of creating one. Once you know why you need to create a prototype, you will have better guidance as to the best way to turn your idea into a physical product.