Prototypes are used by manufacturers, product developers and designers as a working model to observe, monitor and analyze the functionality and performance of a product during the stages of product development. IoT prototyping and producing prototypes can be costly and time-consuming, however it can prove invaluable to make use of prototypes during the stages of product development to ensure taking the best possible product to market. There are different types of IoT prototypes with various functions, that enable manufacturers to test the smart product before it is manufactured using the final components and materials. IoT prototyping and prototypes in general can be divided into the following main categories:

  • Mechanical Prototypes: These prototypes are used to test the mechanics of a product and are most useful for products with moving or electro-mechanical parts (components that combine electrical and mechanical features such as motors). Prototypes will often undergo mechanical tests, which can relate to product size, weight, durability and other features.  
  • Design Prototypes: These are used to test design elements such as aesthetics, ergonomics, product dimensions and the appearance of materials that will be used in the final product.    
  • Sales Prototypes: Used to showcase a product to buyers and potential clients for presentation purposes, usually with a focus on the design and functional features of the product.   
  • Production Prototypes: This is a prototype of the product in an advanced stage, usually with the production hardware already installed in it and is produced by the manufacturing factory. A production prototype can be used for quality assessment, sales benefits and for undergoing manufacturing process tests.   
testing-a-prototype
Testing a product concept using a prototype

The benefits of IoT prototyping for smart product development

In the world of smart product development, the use of prototypes tends to be even more important than in other product environments for a number of reasons including the following:

  • When electronics are added to an existing product in order to transform it into a smart product, it’s important to test the electronics on the physical product before making the decision about which electronic features to implement.
  • Prototypes can be used to test behaviors, software and firmware interactions in advance, that will affect the final smart product. For example, they can help to identify possible conflict areas of the product related to the operation of a microphone, speaker and location of the Bluetooth antenna.
  • In the world of smart product development, numerous changes and iterations are usually required and prototype iterations provide the opportunity to make a series of necessary changes before the final smart product is produced.
  • Prototypes are often used as a sales tool to promote the smart product to buyers, or to internal company members, to showcase final product functionality and performance.
  • A prototype provides a valuable opportunity to see your smart product come to life and hold the product in your hand, to literally get a feel for the end-user experience.
  • Prototypes also provide an opportunity to test out the design of the smart product. Although virtual simulations and image rendering can be useful, a physical prototype provides the unique opportunity to see how the final product will appear.

Factors influencing use of IoT prototypes

The time and resources spent on producing prototypes may vary depending on the needs and limitations of the company. The following factors can influence the quality, quantity and type of prototypes required:

  • A company with high levels of technological expertise, is less likely to require prototypes that demonstrate a technological solution. This is often the case if the company has engineers that already have a sophisticated understanding of connectivity options, component behaviors and other electronic related features.
  • Companies that make use of third party factories for smart product production, often tend to spend less time and money creating a fully designed prototype; as it is often more cost-effective to have factories create the prototypes during the various stages of product development.
  • A company’s previous experience with smart product production can significantly influence the decision about which type of prototypes are needed. With more smart product development experience a company might rely on using only one prototype before going to production. Alternatively, newcomers to smart product development might decide to use different prototypes along each step of the product development process.

IoT prototyping can prove invaluable during the product development process as an effective method of saving time and money and ensuring the best possible final product. And for smart product development prototypes can prove invaluable to ensure that the various components are well integrated with the software, firmware and hardware to take the best possible product to market.