Rapid Prototyping

One of the biggest challenges a designer faces is validating their design works. The more complex the system design becomes, the more difficult it becomes to accurately predict the behavior of the system. Development of full scale prototype takes time and could prove costly both in terms of time and money if mistakes happen. This is where rapid prototyping comes into play. Rapid prototyping allows the designer to start with a low precision model (developed using paper and pen) and move to increasingly higher precision prototypes as the design iterates. Each iteration provides data which helps a designer to understand the shortcomings of their design and improve it for the next iteration. The positives of doing rapid prototyping are that they help provide a visual of the future state of the system, eliminate errors and prevent time consuming and costly modifications in the final stages of the project. Some of the pros of rapid prototyping are:

  • To decrease development time on final product
  • To decrease costly mistakes
  • To increase effective communication of the design
  • To minimize engineering changes
  • To eliminate redundant features early in the design

Some of the techniques that can be used for developing a rapid prototype are:

  • CAD Design
  • Cardboard/Wood
  • 3D Printing
  • Laser cutting

When developing prototype, the major thing to focus on is the purpose of the prototype. The prototype can be of two types:

  • Vertical Prototype: in-depth functionality of a few key features
  • Horizontal Prototype: Complete visual representation of the model with no underlying functionality

It is important to keep in mind what the purpose of the prototype is. A good rule is to focus on the 20% of the functionality that will be used 80% of the time. While it always useful to develop prototypes that pertain to different subsystems to check their validity and effectiveness, the complete model plays an important role too. It helps you to determine different properties of your design, such as the weight and dimensions of the system. You can determine whether you are overshooting your target and where the scope of improvement is.

The important thing to keep in mind that rapid prototyping does is that it helps you to test and fail early in your design process. Quickly developing systems and testing them allows you to understand the failure modes and work towards eliminating those. Faster you develop and test, more time you have to build a robust and fail proof system. Ra