Prototypes have long been used in manufacturing, design, computer programming, and electronics to de-risk product development. A prototype might be a simulation of the end product or an early version that is progressing down the actual development process.

A prototype allows both builders and potential customers to evaluate whether the product is being developed correctly, such that it will solve the problem it intends to solve. Depending on the purpose of the product and stage of the prototype, it can help answer questions like:

  • Will it fit; are the dimensions correct?
  • Will it fit aesthetically; does it look good?
  • Is the design usable?
  • Does the core technology work?
  • How close to solving the problem is it?

Hardware entrepreneurs, especially, rely on prototypes. Just as with batch-and-queue processing, the further down the path mistakes are discovered, the more expensive the resolution. If you are queuing product components between production stages and find a component problem far down the line, you have a stack of unusable parts, often already integrated with other parts.

Similarly, if you wait too long to test your product in a real environment, the harder it will be to uncover the problem, and development done down the line from the problem will have to be redone, perhaps completely re-engineered.

Today, engineers use computer modeling to predict problems and employ 3D printers to produce prototypes very rapidly, within days or hours, that can be tested in the ...

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