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7 Guidelines Every Design Engineer Needs to Know for Pilot Prototyping

May 12, 2014

When design engineers come up with a new product concept, the step prior to production is to create a prototype of the item in order to test it for form, fit and function. But these steps can be taken even further, as some designers and engineers may wish to put their product into the hands of customers or end users before it's green-lit for production. It's this beta-phase that is known as "pilot prototyping."

Here's a look at seven guidelines every design engineer needs to consider during pilot prototyping:

  1. Don't skip the pilot stage. While you may have a great idea, an idea is only a concept until it's tested in the real world by a potential end user. That's where pilot stage comes in - you're essentially creating your idea to determine whether or not the product has any economic value. 
  2. Understand and observe. There's a huge benefit to functional pilot prototypes. Not only is a designer able to test for form, fit and function; but also how it looks, what it sounds like and how it will be used. Observing the product in its intended environment then allows the designer to make any changes and adjustments for the better.
  3. Consider the manufacturability of your design. Is your design easy to manufacture? Or will it be more complex to be manufactured, thereby increasing costs of the end product? When you design your product, you should design with manufacturability in mind. This allows for a smooth transition between the various phases of product development.
  4. Get to know your machinist. Machinist and toolmakers are the professionals with the technical know-how regarding their craft, which is to create the mold required to actually make your part. The better you're able to collaborate with your machinist, the more trust you'll have in them and the more ideas and recommendations they'll be able to give you as it pertains to your latest project.
  5. Understand the technology: There are many different types of prototyping technologies, from 3D printers to Direct Metal Laser Sintering to Plastic Injection Molding. Get to know the technologies and materials available so you can choose the best process for manufacturing your product.
  6. Modularity: The best prototypes can be easily and quickly adjusted so that they can meet a customer's wishes. So it should go without saying that you should keep modularity in mind during this phase of product development. Remember that it's the end user who ultimately decides how they want your product to work.
  7. Document everything: Retain what you've learned from the prototyping stage to the production stage. It's this information that will help you make any adjustments along the way. 

Today's prototyping technology is as advanced as it has ever been and it's only continuing to make strides to further advancement. Pilot prototyping accelerates time-to-market and ensures that your product will meet the needs of the end user. Successful prototypes require several guidelines and factors including thoughtful design and collaboration by team members to provide a product that offers superior benefits and a strong competitive advantage. With today’s technology, designers and engineers have a distinct opportunity to assess where challenges may arise and address early in the development process.

What factors do you consider when preparing for a design and prototype project? Leave a comment to let us know!

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