The art of prototyping

Prototyping is of course a subset of manufacturing.  The first units of a product that are built.  But it’s also an art, to get quality products suitable for evaluation, testing and show-and-tell out the door quickly and inexpensively, without the benefit of tooling, manufacturing work instructions, and the like is challenging, and takes a fine touch. Or sometimes a bigger hammer.

And makes a bit of a mess.

Some aspects of prototyping require specialized equipment.  CNCs, laser cutters and plastic printers are mainstays for mechanical prototyping, while modern electronics often require a full surface mount assembly line.  That’s not us, but we have a large network of such vendors as part of our supply chain offering to get the job done at the right cost.  But best case these expensive tools only provide pieces and sub-assemblies–there is still work to be done to integrate everything into a complete system.  And there is often handwork needed too, both the avoid high up front tooling costs but also for speed and the ability to make changes on the fly.

We’ve gotten pretty good t prototyping, but the challenge for us is that each new product has very different requirements. Printed plastic parts may work great in one application, but the next requires machined aluminum.  Hand built breadboards or vector boards may work perfect in larger systems but custom PCBs are needed for form factor prototyping. Assembly methods may be as easy as screws or glue, or may require complex gigs or extreme efforts for waterproofing or EMI shielding.  Been there, done all of that.

Prototyping is of course part of the product development process, so most of our efforts in this space are naturally focused on products that we are helping to productize.  But we’re open to system integration prototyping gigs on interesting and challenging products that someone else has designed as well.

Chuck

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