Home 9 Articles 9 “I have an idea…” Getting your Brainwave from Hair-brained Scheme to Functioning Prototype

“I have an idea…” Getting your Brainwave from Hair-brained Scheme to Functioning Prototype

First of all, what exactly IS a prototype?

Prototypes are the first version of any invention, especially a machine or device. It’s the model you base your final product on. The process of building a prototype is highly creative, often imaginative, and usually pretty iterative. It’s all about moving from a half-baked idea to something you can hold in your hand, or set up on your factory floor, or attach to your boat… This is the “use-case”. Prototypes take many forms, from a “hack-up” made from stuff you have lying around to a designed, engineered, and fully functional device.

Does Enginuity make prototypes?

We sure do! And we kind of live for it.

Prototyping is a truthing exercise, a bulls**t detector. Is the idea viable? Can it make it to market? Are you complying with the rules of physics? Is it a “perpetual motion machine”?

We do get a few of those!

The prototypes we make are myriad, weird, and wonderful. They stretch from a piece of 2×4 with coke cans, paperclips, and duct tape to very elegant machines with custom electronics.

Need a prototype? Here’s how Enginuity can help.

1. Product discovery: What the heck is the problem, anyway?
We dearly love a complex and challenging technical problem. When you come to us with your idea, we’ll wrap a multidisciplinary team around it and work through a series of steps to understand the nature of the problem, who we’re solving it for, and the best ways of tackling it. During discovery, we evaluate the feasibility of your idea from concept to design to prototype and fabrication. It’s lean, fast, and creative; it results in a design plan including engineering requirements and specifications as well as a budget and timeline.

2. Proof of concept: The “hack-up” prototype.
This is the conceptual design phase. Say you want to design a widget to solve a specific problem. What’s the quickest, easiest, and most creative way to do it? We’ll run four or five different concepts — this is the repetitive, or iterative, part. Then we’ll take the two best designs to the next step, physically building a “hack-up” prototype. We might make it out of wood, plastic, 3-D printed parts, yogurt containers, duct tape, and a paperclip; or it might be a lot more manufactured. Then, and this is the important bit, we ask ourselves, “Can this problem be solved in the way we imagined it?” If the answer is no, we go back and try again. If the answer is yes, we’ve broken the back of the problem and we move on to the next step…

3. Preliminary design or “bench top” prototype: This one might actually work!
This is where we figure out what we need from mechanics, electronics, industrial design, and other parts of the Enginuity team. We also look at what we need to design the product the way we eventually want to see it. The result is usually semi-functional on the workbench, but isn’t yet taking its final shape. The idea is to move toward a fit-for-purpose prototype that proves the functionality of the design.

4. Detailed design: Where the rubber hits the road.
The engineering starts here. What materials do we require? Do we need moulds? What supplies are available? Do we need to design or make parts of the prototype ourselves? This can be pretty involved and takes time, but it’s worth it. Why? Because this is where you get a functioning product that actually solves the problem you want to solve.

5. Mini production run: It’s not just about you.
New products almost always spring from a practical need — usually your own. The very worst thing you can do is come up with an idea, make a million of that thing, and then nobody buys it because you only have one data point: your own emotionally attached brain that came up with the idea in the first place. In other words, your great idea might not seem so great to everyone else. A mini production run allows you to share your product with others, get feedback from “early adopters”, and work those lessons into the final design — there’s that iteration again!

Prototyping never really stops — it just becomes more elegant as you go down the road.

Whether you have a serious engineering challenge, a passion for invention, or need a prototype to unlock the next investment round or funding cycle, each step of the process gets you through a milestone and closer to the heart of where your innovative passion is taking you.

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