You might have a rough idea of the product you would like to build, or you may have a basic drawing of it. However, potential customers, investors, and manufacturers want to see a working prototype. A working prototype should exist before you try to go into mass production, too. The question for many is, how can you get one? Here’s how to take your design from idea to prototype.

Create a Detailed Drawing

If you only have the idea, then you’ll start with a concept sketch. Drawing the item will help you visualize it in greater detail. What shape will it take? How large will it be? What features do you want it to have? Aim for a basic working product. You can add features to a later version, and you don’t need to worry about painting right now.

The next step is creating a 3D rendering. Note that you can hire a drafter if you don’t know how to use 3D drafting software. The 3D model will allow you to see exactly what the prototype will look like. You can make changes on the digital drawing board and save various versions of it. You can inspect it from any angle or add photo-realistic effects to create marketing copy. But the most important use of the 3D model is to create the plans for your first physical prototype.

Protect Your Intellectual Property

Don’t just send the product design to someone on the promise that they’ll build a working prototype. Verify that it is a legitimate prototyping service, 3D printer, or manufacturer. Consider getting a non-disclosure agreement in place before you hire someone to build your product or create code for it. The only exception is if you already have a patent for it. On the other hand, it is much easier to get a patent if you already have a physical prototype.

Build a Physical Prototype

When you have a 3D model, you can break the model into pieces to determine the dimensions of each piece part. Or, you could have a 3D printer print the initial prototype based on the specifications outlined in your 3D model. If you are designing electronics, then you’ll need a parts list and the appropriate parts.

You can use the Octopart electric component search engine to search for passive components, electromechanical components, sensors, or power products that fit your design. Then you’ll know the manufacturer and part number to order for a sensor, industrial control panel, or wire that fits your model. Once you have all the parts, you can assemble your prototype or arrange for the prototyping service to make it for you. 

If you’re building something with intelligence, try to find working code that’s available so that you can import that instead of trying to write software from scratch. You can also hire a coder to come up with the software you need.

Improve the Design

A working prototype is an accomplishment because it is proof of concept. However, there is probably room for improvement. You could take apart competing products to learn how they build items. You could learn how to solve various performance problems or identify better materials to use. However, you shouldn’t copy someone else’s design, because that’s a violation of their intellectual property rights. If found out, you could be sued.

Once you’ve demonstrated that the final prototype works, you are ready to show it off to potential investors or hire a manufacturing firm to make the product while you begin taking orders.

Prototyping is the critical step between concept and mass production. It is a difficult process filled with trial and error, but it is necessary if you want to get a patented, profitable product.