Creative prototyping

Having been in the product development business for a lot of years, I’ve built a huge number of prototypes of various size, shape and functionality.  In many cases we used 5 axis CNC routers, laser sintering technology or other advanced techniques. Prototyping is  a crucial step–often iterated–along the road to productization.

But now and again simple is better.  An entrepreneur came into our office this week, a fellow we have worked with off and on for the last couple of years.  He wanted to show us a prototype he had made for a respiratory product.  I should add that he built these two prototypes while  stationed in Afghanistan–he’s a medic in the Army Reserve.  So his prototypes were not exactly made using the latest CNC technology, rather using glue and bandage scraps in a battlefield version of paper-mache.  Not at all functional but they showed quite clearly the challenges, and enabled an engineering discussion over what the main issues might be.

I’ve done this myself as well, perhaps not as often as I should.  A few months back I took scissors and a piece of cardboard to mock up a bracket design to address a confuzzling reliability issue. It solved in a few minutes what we had not been able to resolve in weeks of emails and countless 3D CAD models.

Which is not to say that there is not a place for sophisticated prototyping methods, but each  method should be scaled to match the problem being addressed.  Getting it just right, not too much, not too little–lagom to my Swedish colleagues (see my previous blog on the power of the word lagom)–can save money, time and provide clarity.

Happy prototyping.  Hooah!

Chuck

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