After recently writing a blog post on my vision for the future of 3D printers, I wanted to expand more broadly on my thoughts on prototyping technologies, and particularly on rapid and lean prototyping for mechanical designs.
“Lean” started in the context of manufacturing automobiles, and has since been taken to describe prototyping and customer development for software startups. Many software/web startups do not win because of a science or technology invention. Instead, user experiences and marketing are what drive success. I think people are realizing that this can apply to hardware as well, and the increasing ease of prototyping is helping to drive the increase in hardware-based projects and startups such as those seen on the design section of the crowd-funding platform Kickstarter. Of course, hardware continues to have the challenge that production and distribution continue to be more difficult than for software.
I will outline here the tools and methods I use in prototyping hardware.
Duct tape, super glue, spray paint, and a dollar store full of imagination are possibly the best (and maybe least expected) prototyping tools. I’m a strong advocate of the super-alpha prototype: the more you can build quickly, the faster you can find what you don’t know. It’s also easier to get excited about a project when you have something tangible to show people (potential customers!).