The Art of Prototyping

March 17, 2014

By Beau Robertson

Prototyping is the art of bringing concepts, ideas and designs into the real world to be evaluated and tested. This allows engineers and designers to evaluate if the idea is worth pursuing or to use it as a visualization or presentation tool to illustrate the idea to others in a very real way.

Miriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines the noun prototype as “an original or first model of something from which other forms are copied or developed” or as, “a first or early example that is used as a model for what comes later”.

While these definitions are true, I tend to think of prototyping in slightly different terms.

In the world of product development prototypes are a designer’s proving grounds. This is where ideas are put to the test, hypotheses are either proven or disproved. A model is built and tested then refined. Then it is built again and tested again and so on until it proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the idea or concept has merit. Then and only then does it deserve to be duplicated thousands of times and sold across the globe to customers who are willing to spend their hard earned cash on that thing that was once just an idea.

ProtypeTazThe techniques, methods and processes used to create prototypes are as varied as the people who use them. With the advent of rapid prototyping (RP) technologies such as stereo-lithography, laser sintering, polyjet and the like, anyone who can create a 3D computer model can print their part in just a few hours in a variety of materials. These techniques have proven to be a very valuable tool for designers. However, material selection is still quite limited and many of the materials used in these processes don’t behave exactly like their manufactured counterpart. Because of this care must be taken when deciding on how to prototype a particular part in order to represent how it will behave in a production situation. In many cases a low tech and more hands on technique is preferable.

Here at Light and Motion we strive for efficiency. Having the ability and the know how to simulate, test and prove out parts and assemblies before making a large manufacturing investment is a key element to our success. Ultimately, the more we test and prove out our products before we build thousands of them, the better they will be which in turn creates a better user experience for our customers.

Beau Robertson is a mechanical engineer at Light & Motion.  Beau can be found on his skate board when not in the office working on the CAD designs or operating the CNC machine (above photo) and 3-D printer.