As part of your new product development, you will have to look at creating a prototype of your idea. In other words, this prototyping process turns your idea into reality.

By definition, a prototype is an early sample, model, or release of a product built to test a concept.

There are multiple ways of creating a prototype product from a rough build of cardboard, string and tape, through to fully CNC machined pre-production style prototypes.

Chinese manufacturers often try to jump as early as possible to a ‘looks alike and works alike” version of the prototype, but that is often a mistake when the product is totally new and relatively complex. A more simple proof of concept often does a better job of validating key assumptions, since it has a faster turnaround time.

Some issues can be caught before prototyping: don’t skip the design review

An experienced R&D engineer or manufacturing engineer can review your design and put his/her finger on a few issues. Here are a few examples:

  • Your design might force you to buy highly-customized and expensive components, but your budget might not allow for that
  • Assembly might be quite difficult (meaning that quality and cost will be affected), or even impossible
  • A key feature of your product, as planned, might be impossible to test and validate in a factory.
  • You did not think of the full range of actions the end-users will take with your products (e.g. need for resistance to drops on the floor).

That’s why we always suggest a thorough design review with our clients, before we start working on prototypes.

The iterative prototyping process: plan, build, test, adjust

The key element of the prototyping and development phase of your new product development program is the improvement cycle of iterative prototype builds and testing.

Here is a flow chart that shows a simplified iterative cycle:

continuous improvement cycle through prototyping and development

(Notice the similarity with the PDCA cycle.)

Very seldom are we able to get to an approved look-alike and work-alike prototype in 1 round. For simple products, there may be a need for 2 or 3 iterative rounds, and for more complex products it is sometimes more than 4 or 5 rounds.

The more innovative the product design is, and the higher the requirements on the finish, the more rounds will be needed. Large companies like Apple go through dozens of rounds before they launch the first version of a new product (and dozens more on its packaging).

The continuous cycle of this phase provides test data output, and the development team can make decisions based on that output for the next iteration (design change, then prototype build, then test again).

At each decision point in the cycle, the question of ‘can design be signed off as acceptable’ needs to be determined.

If the decision is no, then the cycle must continue until all issues with the design have been resolved.

Moving on to the next phase in the new product development process

If the test data shows the product if fit for production and no other design improvements are necessary, the answer is yes and the project can move into the next phase. Here are typical steps that follow an approved prototype:

  • Preparing tooling for mass production
  • Working on certifications
  • Preparing the testing stations to be placed at strategic locations in the manufacturing process
  • Confirming checklists for incoming QC, in-process QC, outgoing QC
  • Preparing a process control plan, work instructions for operators, and training the operators

Read these blog posts for even more information about prototypes

Want to learn even more about the prototyping process? Try these posts from our blog over at

Our thorough new product introduction process guide, written specifically for hardware startups, will also help guide you through the NPI process and successfully bring your new product to market! Hit the button below to read it (no downloads required):

NPI process guide CTA


For more help on this subject, you can contact us to discuss your project requirements.

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