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Chris Booker (Vital Spark creative) and Sam Baynham (Dynamic Edge) joined Dr Alejandro Veliz Reyes (Lecturer in Digital Design & Fabrication from the University of Plymouth’s School of Art, Design and Architecture) to deliver this Innovation Surgery about the relevance and process of prototyping when it comes to bringing a new product to market.
An architect by trade, Dr Veliz Reyes is led by inquiry into material systems and how materials and material systems can be tested through digital technology. He stressed that there are different ways to approach prototyping and it can appear daunting to those producing a prototype for the first time. Prototypes should be used as a design tool to help deliver an idea through a longer project lifecycle.
Dr Reyes suggests the benefits of using Technology Readiness Levels as they provide a framework to deliver a project, technology or product. Risk can be minimised as you move through a sequential process, gaining information that guides the delivery process.
One of the limits of prototyping is the test environment. What is being tested will impact the environment it is tested in. Having a controlled environment, such as a lab, means that certain products and technology can be demonstrated enabling a more informed perspective. The aim of a prototype is to bridge the gap and minimise risk between ideation and employability. Taking an interrogative approach at all stages is key: starting with proof of concept where ideas are externalised and made visible in a conceptualised abstract way by using a basic modelling process (using Lego or paper) through to piloting in whatever constitutes a relevant environment that allows for an element of experimentation. This stage can benefit from involvement with academics to facilitate studies using university facilities.
An industrial pilot stage can explore the viability of robotic technologies in construction to test scalability. These stages are vital if funding is going to be sought. Being innovation-ready means that you have already done some work and engaged with prototyping. Being investor-ready means that you have already de-risked through prototyping.
Dr Veliz Reyes was joined by Chris Booker from Vital Spark Creative, a product design engineering company, offering a product to shelf service to companies and individuals.
Chris emphasised the importance of research along with truly understanding the problem that you are trying to solve. Being sure not to define your idea too soon, instead keeping it broad to begin with and trying to include as many features as possible is the best approach for developing a product idea.
Tooling, particularly injection-moulding, is an expensive part of the process so being sure about the project before this stage of the process is crucial. This is why prototyping is important in exploring and refining ideas. 3D modelling is not always the answer but is useful for the refining stage and it can be an answer to producing low volume products rather than committing to injection moulding. The benefits of 3D printing include speeding up and improving the product development process, creating items that would be impossible to mould or machine and a variety of output technologies.
Sam Baynham from Dynamic Edge, a company that specialises in 3D prototyping, CAD modelling and finance management emphasised the importance of awareness of long-term costs. Part of the business’s consultancy is in focusing on a cost awareness cycle of repetition and iteration. Each part of the process can add to the costs and it may pay off to spend more on the initial prototype as manufacturing may end up costing more.
Sam posed the question: is there a minimum viable product? Sometimes it is about gathering momentum by getting people testing and using the product in order to garner interest rather than trying to create a completed article.
If you are interested in finding out more about prototyping and CAD Design then contact your Business Innovation Advisor to request access to the recording.