Understand hardware prototyping [Concept and Steps]
Prototype means any first version or model of something on which other products are based or formed. Hardware prototyping is the first and foremost step to design a product.
Through prototyping, you assess an original idea, and prototypes help in getting an idea about the product, whether this concept is attainable or whether it will go on the right track or not. The prototype allows you to test your product development ideas without financial restrictions.
To start a prototype development process, it is necessary to evaluate the purpose of making hardware and all the costs to complete the manufacturing process.
Startups grow into a large business with the use of electronic tools, and electronic engineering made our lives more advanced and comfortable. In this article, you will read a complete guide on how to develop hardware prototyping for startups and what are different kinds of prototyping.
What is the meaning of Hardware?
Hardware is any physical part of a computer system that contains circuit boards, integrated circuit chips, and other electronic materials.
An example of hardware is a screen on which you read this document, whether it's a laptop, mobile, tablet, or computer screen.
Today, IoT (internet of things) devices become an integral part of our lives. IoT devices expand internet connectivity beyond standard devices like computers, smartphones, etc. People become habitual of using IoT devices in their daily lives. From smartphones and laptops to simple fitness trackers and smart door lock, IoT made our life easier.
But an IoT device is not as simple as it seems. A lot of engineering tools are used by designers to make it useful.
This is a golden opportunity for innovators and manufacturers to share their ideas to investors. Sometimes patents get the chance to shape their concept prototypes in an innovative design. In the United States, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) provides security for a new design or invention. However, some specific requirements need to be met. These requirements are:
- Novelty: The concept must be innovative.
- Usefulness: The concept or invention must be useful for customers.
- Creativity: The product design must be unique and creative. You should not copy from anywhere else.
The patenting process is useful for innovators or entrepreneurs if they want to make money from it. Apart from licensing, you also get the protection of your intellectual property.
Benefits of hardware prototype
A prototype may be helpful during the patenting process. During a prototype's early stage, product patenting are beneficial in several ways, which are described below:
- It provides you with security and protection so that no one will copy your design.
- It provides you with complete copyrights to stop others from copying, manufacturing, importing, or exporting.
- Patenting gives your product a prominent position in the market.
- Patenting increases your communication skills to negotiate with investors and buyers.
The steps involved in the prototyping process
A prototype process helps show a final design of your product, whether its physical or digital. The prototype process defines how a finished product will look like and how it will work. Here are some steps followed during the prototyping process, whether you are struggling to launch hardware or software.
The first step in a hardware startup is to design a concept sketch. Creating a digital drawing is time-consuming as compared to a rough sketch. Therefore, drawing a rough design on paper is a quick and easy way to provide proof of concept. Rough sketching is also helpful in securing your rights against others by giving evidence of creativity.
Suppose it happens that the product you designed on a paper is already in the market or similar to your design. In this situation, you have to change the design so that your final product will look unique. However, you can improvise your design by adding some new tools to meet the requirements.
During this stage, you will know the flaws in your products before investing your time and money into creating a prototype. Moreover, this stage also helpful in determining which feature should be added or remove to get the final product.
Once you create and finalize the sketch designs, you move to another method of product development called virtual prototyping. This process involves computer-aided design (CAD), computer-aided engineering (CAE), and computer-automated design (AutoCAD). You can make a 2D or 3D designing software for the validation of a design before prototyping.
A 3D design is more valuable for a hardware product because it is easy to rotate and observe the 3D design from a different perspective. A (CAD) provides detailed information about the rough draft. The CAD software helps draw 2D and 3D designs to show the final look of your idea. Sometimes the design becomes too complicated through digital rendering, but you can simplify it according to your choice.
If you do not know the use of technologies like digital software, you can approach a professional for this work. He will make a 3D design so you can near view the parts of the final model.
Build a Physical Prototype
When you finish creating digital designs or 3D printing of the product, create a physical prototype of your final model. A physical prototype should be simple and easy to practice your ability using everyday households like electronic components. You can also buy the material required for prototype devices from the market. For example. Shapelock is a plastic material that can be pressed into any shape when heated under hot water.
If you create a physical prototype, it will give you many benefits that are described below in a list:
- You can check the functionality of your design.
- You can check how different types of materials affect the functionality of the physical prototype model.
- The bill of materials will give you an idea of cost for a particular design.
- With a physical prototype, you have the opportunity to look closely and describe your product.
- The physical prototypes are beneficial if you are looking for investors or customers to sell your product.
- The simple prototypes help explain the idea and function of the product.
Sometimes, you need to design more than one prototypes to finalize the best design for hardware startups. If you know how to make physical designs like prototypes, you can do it by yourself. But if you don't know how to design a product like prototypes, you can approach a professional for rapid prototyping.
Another solution to build prototypes is to use a modeling program to design a digital version for a hardware startup.
Locate a Manufacturer
If you have made the physical prototypes of your product, you should consider the cost of manufacturing. You can estimate the cost of manufacturing processes to assess the financial feasibility of manufacturing your design. After getting an estimated cost for production, you can do some design changes if your budget exceeds.
Types of Hardware Prototypes
When you decide to develop a new hardware product, you will hear about different types of prototypes. To bring a commercial product to the market, a single prototype is not sufficient for this purpose. Digital designs are very advanced now, but still, a new product requires multiple prototypes repetition. Here are some types of hardware prototyping that you need to design your product.
Proof of concept (POC)
As the name suggests, POC is the earliest design of your product to present your idea on a paper. It is the first step in hardware startups, and you have all the rights reserved for the product design. The fundamental goal of POC is to present your idea at the lowest costs possible.
For electronics hardware products, a POC prototype will be designed on electronic development kits like Arduino or Raspberry Pi.
For prototyping a new product, it is essential to divide the task into parts, the appearance of the product, and the function of the product. A looks-like prototype is working on the appearance of the design like look, aesthetic, form and feel of a product. This type of prototype is done with 3D printing technology, but for some products, computer numerical control (CNC) machining is a better solution. The benefit of using CNC is to get the desired production plastic instead of 3D printer resins. For hardware startup, clay and foam prototyping is cheaper than 3D printer resin.
The functionality of the product comes in a works-like prototype, which means the internal electronics. Just like Arduino in POC, a printed circuit board holds and connects all electronic components. If you know how to develop these prototypes, you will save thousands of dollars on development fees.
An engineering prototype is a combination of both works-like and looks-like prototype. The development of design in terms of appearance and functionality comes together in engineering prototypes. At this stage, you remove all engineering and manufacturing risks.
The pre-production prototyping is close to the final product, ready for the customer view. It may work and look similar to works-like and looks-like prototypes, but the main difference is its manufacturing. Like 3D printing, silicone molding or mass production, a technology named injection molding is used to get the desired result. The requirements for mass manufacturing are also different than manufacturing a few prototypes or a small batch manufacturing.
Engineering Validation Test (EVT)
After the engineering prototype, it is time to test the model to check whether it works the same as specified. This step includes testing of different prototyping tools to ensure its proper functioning. A lot of stress tests are conducted to ensure that there is no hidden problem.
Design Validation Test (DVT)
It is a complicated stage, and it ensures that the product meets cosmetic and environmental specifications. Almost 50 to 200 units are required for DVT that can be done with low volume manufacturing.
Production Validation and Testing (PVT)
At this stage, the main focus will be on improving scrap rate, assembling, quality control processes to optimize the production line. A development team works and examines the device and its parts for the proper functioning of the device. If manufacturers found everything right, then the hardware is ready to sell in the market. In this way, the best high-quality hardware with prototyping tools and better materials launches in the market for customer view.
PCB Design and Prototypes
Before running a full production test, engineers make sure that the printed circuit board or PCB is working correctly. PCB is an essential part of electronic devices, and engineers run a trial in the initial designing process to check PCB-based solutions. Engineers develop PCB prototypes to test proof-of-concept of the simple design before reaching the complex finished product. This part is essential for designers to test their strategies, and it will reduce the cost in case there is any complication.
Through this article, you will know the challenges faced during the prototyping process. Prototyping is the earliest process for a hardware startup and a complicated journey. You can hire a professional for rapid prototyping if you are not experienced in prototyping. A professional will provide you low-cost rapid prototyping for devices. The development process does not include all prototypes, but one or two prototypes are necessary to develop different parts of the device. Remember, today, the hardware business is killing the market with its innovation and its use in our daily lives. Do you have a startup plan that is an innovative one in its use? What are you waiting for? Go and make your dream comes true.
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