An idea is transformed into an actual, finished product through many phases. The development of a product idea begins with design work, which should employ a variety of experts and their competences. In order to enable the process of presenting and commenting on plans, it must be possible to document them in a clear and understandable fashion. In addition, all financing parties that are available to provide funds for product development investments will require proper design documentation on the product under development.
In the early stages, the description of the product plan can be based on oral explanations, diagrams and calculations, work flow charts or diagrams that are used to clarify the product idea. Instead of writing up textual explanations, a better and clearer way is to prepare pictures and drawings that present the final result in a visual format. In order for a two-dimensional image to provide as accurate a depiction as possible of the end product, the drawings are usually created with 3D modelling, or CAD, programmes. Three-dimensional models or miniatures created from cardboard, paper or other material that is easy to manipulate can be used to demonstrate the planned result.
A modelled three-dimensional image can be considered to be a kind of prototype of the product, but before the manufacturing phase, the product’s physical properties must be tested and evaluated with a more realistic prototype. The prototype can also be a virtual, computer-generated 3D model that can be rotated and viewed from different angles. A functional prototype is an actual, concrete product model that functions properly. However, at this point the model has been manufactured separately by hand instead of through mass production.
Proof of concept
The proof of concept method can be an alternative for a functional prototype or a phase of the product development before the creation of the functional prototype. Proof of concept means the functional validation of an idea, since it is normally a theoretical or conceptual presentation that proves the product idea can be realised.
Evaluating a prototype
A prototype is used to determine a product’s quality, features, materials and manufacturing methods, along with its appeal, usefulness, visual appearance and other matters affecting its competitiveness.
The following viewpoints, at minimum, must be taken into account when evaluating a prototype:
Is it functional, durable, visually appealing, ecological, affordable and safe to the user?
From the perspective of the manufacturer, is it feasible for implementation, eligible for mass production, producible with cost effective equipment and affordable in terms of materials?
Can it be easily marketed: are its benefits and use obvious, and is its visual appearance convenient and appealing?
Does it adhere to official regulations, decrees and requirements?
Is the design successful: visually balanced, clear and appealing?
The concrete prototype can help to conceptualise the dimensions and features of a product in use: usability, comfort, convenience and external attributes. The prototype can also be used to obtain opinions on the product and its use from test users.
Support for challenges and costs in the pilot phase
In the testing phase of a product or service project, it is important to find pilot customers who will be the first to take the product into use. Especially when developing export products, it is important to find the first spearhead groups to serve as the reference customers of the new product.
The design, development and implementation of prototypes requires competent manufacturers and expertise in the utilisation of prototype models. This means that SMEs should seek expert assistance from the Foundation for Finnish Inventions or the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment.
The prototype phase, and especially producing a functional prototype, requires the entrepreneur in question to make considerable investments that may not result in returns. Various allowances and loans are available for Finnish SMEs engaging in product development to encourage them to take this risk.