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  • How to Get Your Product from Idea to Prototype to Production

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    With easy access to 3D printers, design software, and crowdfunding, inventors can easily create a prototype of their product. However, they need to select one of the following types first:

    • Presentation Prototype: This combines off-the-shelf components with production-grade materials to balance design quality with cost considerations. The result is a working presentation that represents how the final product will look and function. This process determines the viability of a product before committing to mass production.
    • Proof-of-Concept Prototype: This prototype demonstrates the technical aspects and functionality of a product rather than its intended appearance. Entrepreneurs rely on off-the-shelf materials to piece it together and avoid production-grade materials to save money.
    • Visual Prototype: This is typically the first kind of prototype used by inventors to demonstrate the dimensions and shape of an intended product. It is non-functional and doesn’t utilize the same types of materials that would be expected in the final design. A visual prototype may appear as a painting or raw material to highlight the general concepts of the invention.

    Options for Rapid Prototyping

    Inventors who don’t have years to devote to the production process turn to rapid prototyping to reduce the time spent determining if a product is viable. First introduced in the 1980s, rapid prototyping is a catch-all term for a process that uses additive fabrication to create a working prototype as quickly as possible. The following types of equipment fall under the classification of additive fabrication:

    • 3-D Printing: A printer’s inkjet head applies a liquid adhesive to powder layers as they pass through it.
    • Electron Beam Melting: An electron beam, which is more powerful than a laser, creates and repairs dense metal parts. It also melts metal power layers such as chrome, steel, and titanium.
    • Fused Deposition Modeling: This warms pellets and plastic filament strands as they pass through a nozzle, melt into place, and harden.
    • Laminated Object Manufacturing: The machine uses lasers to cut rolled pieces of material into the desired shape.
    • Selective Laser Sintering: A laser melts thermoplastic layers of powder, polymers, and other types of material.
    • Sterolithography: The laser beam of the equipment passes over the surface of liquid photopolymer resin and causes it to harden. The object then lowers and passes over a UV laser a second time.

    Advancing to the Production Stage

    Before moving on o production, inventors need to determine the type of materials to use and the minimum quantity to order. Most factories require a purchase order and a minimum deposit of one-third of total costs before starting production. The remainder is due when the factory ships the goods.

    It’s essential to choose a production partner wisely, especially if it becomes necessary to create custom tooling. Although the inventor owns the tooling, it is unlikely to fit the specifications of another plant. An entrepreneur must trust the production partner to create a quality product that represents him or her well. Additional considerations, such as product packaging, contracting with a shipping company, and storing inventory, should also be decided before signing a contract with a manufacturer.

    Lastly, inventors need to account for the added costs of building a company around their product. Expenses such as website development, hiring a bookkeeper, and displaying the product at trade shows can add up quickly and take a huge bite out of profits if not worked into the budget.

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