When it comes to mechanical and/or electrical products, importers often wonder what level of perfection they should aim for when it comes to pre-production prototypes.
Chinese manufacturers can move very quickly for a few weeks, and then get distracted by another shiny project. And many projects get stalled after the buyer asked for one or two revisions that became obvious once prototypes were made. Therefore it sometimes makes sense to start with a very simple prototype version, to move fast and keeps the investment low.
There are three main types of prototypes you should consider:
- Working Prototype or ‘works like’
- Non-working Prototype or ‘looks like’
- Works like / Looks like
Which one is the most appropriate to you? Well it depends on what your objective is.
Working Prototype (works like)
This type of prototype basically proves your concept in a working model, from moving parts to electronics; it will show you how the finished product would perform.
This prototype does not need to look pretty or polished as its main function is to prove functionality and performance. They are great for testing each subsection as well as the complete system integration of the entire product.
Non-working Prototype (looks like)
This type of prototype is all about looks, and ultimately could just be a non-working shell of your design. From a marketing and branding point of view, you could use these prototypes for photo shoots, website images; these could be used at exhibitions to show potential buyers and distributors the ‘next big thing’ you are releasing.
One advantage is that Chinese suppliers won’t be able to display it on their trade booth or in their showroom. Any potential customer will understand right away that there is still a long way to go before getting into production.
Works and Looks like Prototype
This is a fully functioning physical model of your concept, from both a functional and design point of view. This level of prototype is just one step away from full production and is normally produced once you are sure all the design features are finalized and everything has been verified and ready to move into production.
When should I use what type?
Throughout the New Product Development process you will need to verify your idea and concept, and as the product moves through the development stages you may need a number of different prototypes. The ‘Working Prototype’ will provide you with that platform to test and develop all the features of the product. At this stage you may not have the overall look or shape as you need to finalize the ‘working aspects’ of the product.
The non-working ‘looks like’ prototype can be commissioned once you have the layout complete and you know the overall size of the product.
You may need a number of iterations of both the working and non-working prototypes throughout the product development cycle, but ideally you would just need design of the fully functional ‘works and looks like’ prototype.
Any other tips to share?