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Prototyping: Is It Art or Science?

Prototype | prōdəˌtīp |NOUN a first, typical or preliminary model of a part or whole representation of a product from which other forms are developed.

This word means different things to different people.  A prototype can be anything from a few pieces of duct tape surrounded by bubble gum to a company’s first working device catapulting them into the marketplace. Some people view prototyping as a furiously chaotic process with uncertain results fraught with unnecessary time and budget implications. I have heard repeatedly “Don’t waste your time messing around, just design it.” On the other hand, there are many successful companies who rely heavily on developing products using prototypes such as Apple for the iPhone which has recently released images of numerous prototype iterations before it was released. Some people view prototyping as some form of magic performed by only the most gifted wizards and other people view this as nothing more than engineers methodically tinkering to solve impossible problems. The question arises: is prototyping an art, science, or a war waged on the laws of physics: challenging the impossible to arrive at the best product?

“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Despite hours of planning and effort, many company’s development initiatives are run in a state of semi-controlled chaos.  However, these initiatives are vital to a company.  A company without innovation and a product pipeline is doomed to fail.

There are many different tools and techniques to control the chaos and move a product through to production.  One of the most valuable tools to effectively manage your innovation process is to prototype. Your prototyping strategy, when well executed, can make the difference between success and failure. Many people believe that it will take more time. In reality, prototyping will save time and money while reducing a project’s risk. Prototyping isn’t just something that is only done at beginning of a project but is a process that evolves from general or feature specific prototypes into complex system that will look and work just like the finalized production device.  The key to successful product development is to plan your prototyping strategy, understand the objective, and align the strategy with the corporate goals.   Prototypes are used for many things including:

  • Reducing risk and increase your speed to market.

  • Validating early concepts internally as well as with investors.

  • Learning, communicating, integration, and milestones.

  • Detecting unanticipated design problems.

Unless you are working as part of a large well-funded organization, small medical device companies typically require outside funding to launch a product. However, it is extremely difficult to raise money with just an idea or a sketch. The investment community has moved to a more risk averse stance over the last 10 years making it even harder. They are looking to make sure that any investment they make has the greatest chance for success. So how do you get your great idea off the ground? You start prototyping and create a device that although it may not be fully refined is indeed representative of the finished product. You can also create feature specific prototypes that will reduce the risk in adding new features into the design. Technology has enabled companies to develop better prototypes using commercially available components, 3D modeling, 3D printing, and open source software. You can locate components that range from small single board computers, sensors, plastic components, extrusions, medical balloons, enclosures, and many other things that can be combined relatively quickly into a prototype. Often a quick prototype made from 3D printed parts and a single board computer can be accomplished very cost effectively while yielding great returns. You might be able to include a new feature, reduce material costs, or just reduce your time to market that will give you a leg up on the rest of the competition. Northeast Biomedical, Inc. is a product development firm that specializes in the design and development of medical devices and equipment. We work with companies at all stages of your development from the research through product launch. We have experience with a wide variety of projects including: minimally invasive catheters, optical diagnostics, stent systems, spectroscopy systems, instrumentation, automation systems, and specialized electronic equipment. We offer the following services:

Give us a call at (978) 649-5555 to start your development program today! Email: Website: Phone: 978-649-5555 Follow us on Twitter: @northeastbiomed

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