Everyone has inventive ideas from time to time, however, what happens if you feel your product idea has commercial value and you want to take it to the next stage and even build a business around it? Do you first need a prototype?

Although you don’t need a prototype in order to file a patent application, the benefits of having a prototype and the process of achieving it, could be said to be invaluable.

In this article we focus on some the advantages of having a prototype and some of the key considerations if you decide it is necessary and it needs to be built professionally.

We look at:

  • What is a prototype?
  • Why do I need one?
  • Finding a prototype manufacturer and the cost of a prototype

What is a prototype?

Firstly, the implications for an inexperienced inventor – and even the experienced product design team – of taking a new product to market are potentially considerable. With this in mind, anyone seriously considering launching a new product should set out to be as thorough and rigorous as possible and for it to be successful the product will need to scrutinised and tested. To do this, you may require a prototype.

A prototype is a depiction, example or even a finished and functioning product. You need one if you intend to test your idea, to improve your product and its component parts and ultimately to show or demonstrate it to investors, manufacturers or buyers for example.

Examples of where prototypes are required range from architectural models (for planning and marketing purposes), industrial models, prototype toys and even interactive models and models for advertising.

Everything from pens to kettles, computers to kitchen utensils, for example, started out first as an idea, then a prototype model, before becoming the finished product. It may be possible to put a rough model together yourself or you may wish – or need – a fully realised and working finished product put together by a prototyping company.

Why do I need a prototype?

Before you undertake to make a prototype, either by yourself or by a prototyping firm, there are some things you need to consider and which might require a few important decisions.

These include:

  • Why do I need a prototype?
  • How much does a prototype cost and how much am I prepared to spend on a prototype(s)?
  • How many prototypes do I need?

Prototyping gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your idea to potential buyers, get their feedback and perhaps improve the product. A good prototype can also encourage investment because they can see it in action and it will be easier for anybody wishing to provide funding, to better understand the value of the product.

Perhaps you need a prototype engineered to a high standard and built by professionals for presentation to potential buyers or investors, or you need a one-off model for photography or market research and feedback. You may simply need to test that a part works and require a batch of small component prototypes.

It is possible several prototypes will be required before your idea – and product model – is complete, since the need for refinement or amending design faults for example, is not uncommon.

Finding a prototype company and the cost of a prototype

If you require a prototype but lack design skills perhaps, or you don’t have the expertise and knowledge to build one yourself, you might decide to use a prototype manufacturer. The cost of such a prototype and even the number of prototypes you require will vary considerably depending on your needs, the complexity and size of your product, the level of detail or functionality you require and the prototyping process you use.

Often, prototyping firms charge by the day but they can provide quotes based on the length of time they believe the building of a prototype to your specification will take.

You should try and find a number of companies with some experience of building similar products to yours, or in the same sector or industry and check examples of their work and obtain quotes from them.

If you require a number of prototypes, perhaps to show to and leave with potential investors and buyers, it may be more cost-effective to have the prototyping firms quote for a number at the same time. Some prototype companies may be better at small volumes or one off models, while others may be better and quicker at creating greater numbers of prototypes.

You should check whether the prototype manufacturer will be managing the whole process or outsourcing any of it and what tools and equipment will be used in its creation.

Finally, check the length of time the process will take and ensure that if you need a prototype building quickly, the quality will not suffer.