April 23, 2014 1:43 pm

An important step in the invention process is the creation and testing of a prototype. It is not only a useful tool in the marketing and licensing of your new invention but also can help you, as the inventor, to know if your idea really works. Whether put together from objects found around your home, manufactured by a third party, or even a created as a 3D printed model, many industry professionals consider an invention prototype an essential part of moving your idea to the next level.

Why Prototype?
A prototype is a model of your invention with which a user can interact. A good prototype allows you to test your idea and make sure it works in reality as well as in theory. It enables you to receive input and improve your design. Speaking with potential licensees would be very difficult without a working prototype to prove that your idea works.

Practice Makes Perfect
Inventors generally go through three types of prototype design and creation.

The crude prototype is a very basic model that allows you to get a better idea of how your invention will work. This does not need to be a working model; its job is simply to allow you to think about how your invention will function. Going through this process may give you ideas on how to improve your invention’s functionality.

working prototype takes the next step. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but it should allow users to go through the steps required to move from Point A to B. The working prototype should be able to perform some real-time functions. Unless your invention is one that can be created from materials to which you have access—i.e., zippers, fabric, or wires—you may need to seek the help of a third-party in its creation.

A great innovation in the creation of working prototypes is 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing. This process allows for the creation of working models faster and less expensively than ever before. Making changes to working prototypes through this method is also much less of a hassle.

The final prototype, or manufacturing prototype, is a mock-up of the new product to be introduced to the market. It looks and acts just like the production unit, following the specifications that will be used in the mass-manufacturing of the product. Most manufacturers will create a final prototype as one last check that all the pieces fit together to create a functioning product.

Is the final prototype really the final model? Nope. The last step before full-scale production is called prototype manufacturing, or pilot production. These models are created using short-run manufacturing technology and may be used for broad field testing.

Where to Start
If you have not yet created a prototype, don’t think past the first crude model. Take it one step at a time. Make a drawing of your invention. Keep copies of all your sketches. Create a non-working model of your invention using found materials, such as wood, paper, Styrofoam, or anything else you have on hand or which may be readily available at a home improvement store, to test its size and form. There is no right or wrong way to do this, so give yourself permission to be creative.

Moving Forward
You feel strongly about your invention and want to take your efforts to the next step. Utilize your innate creativity and get started on your invention prototype. Have you gone through the process of prototype creation? What worked best for you? Share your comments below!

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